Anxiety during holiday travel

As the holidays approach, many people are making travel plans to see loved ones or to take a long-anticipated vacation. Although often exciting, travel plans can become particularly stressful for individuals who have fears of flying in airplanes. While many people worry about the possibility of a plane crash, often people also have fears about their ability to tolerate their anxiety while on board. Those of us with fears of heights or enclosed spaces may feel particularly anxious about getting on a flight. Many of us who experience anxiety on airplanes have been reassured by our family and friends that flying is safer than riding a bicycle, yet the anxiety is still there!

If your fears of flying are interfering with your ability to travel, Dr. Martin Seif’s article on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website provides useful information on overcoming the fear of flying. Some highlights include:

  • 20% of the population report that their fear of flying interferes with their work and social functioning, as air travel is increasingly required for certain job opportunities and to visit friends and relatives living in different cities. Plus, driving to Hawaii is not an option!
  • Treatment of anticipatory anxiety before a flight may be the most important treatment component, as fearful would-be airplane passengers may cancel a flight or avoid planning a trip involving air travel altogether. Avoiding flying actually increases the amount of anxiety you experience the next time you have to take a flight.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy addressing fear of flying involves a combination of psychoeducation about anxiety, gradual exposure to feared cues, sensations, and situations associated with flying, and an introduction to anxiety coping strategies. Since accessing airplanes or airports for treatment purposes can be tricky due to security regulations, there are fear of flying treatments available in conjunction with local airports or via virtual reality simulations.