How I Accidentally Overcame My Fear of Flying With a Video Game

Airplanes used to scare me. My aerophobia was not so strong that I traveled everywhere by train, but it was bad. I had to force myself to get on a plane and the days leading up to any trip were spent worrying about an upcoming airline test instead of planning a vacation.

My pre-flight ritual was to have a couple of strong shots to “relax”, try to convince myself that flying is statistically really safe, and practice positive self-talk like “you can’t be such a fucking weakling.” , Could you?”

As soon as the plane took off, I spent the entire flight holding on to the armrests, staring straight ahead and wishing the plane didn’t fall out of the sky. “Fear of flying” is not quite the right description of what I had. It was the fear of breaking.

I intellectually and logically knew how airplanes worked, but some primal force overtook me as soon as the wheels left the runway. A vehicle made from thousands of pounds of steel simply shouldn’t fly. It’s unnatural.

I resigned myself to terrorizing planes for life, but then, on a whim, I downloaded Flight Simulator from Microsoft. It wasn’t a conscious decision to confront my fear; it just seemed like a cool game.

During my first virtual takeoff, I felt an amazing echo of my real-life phobia – that familiar feeling of heaviness in my stomach as the plane took off. But it didn’t last long. Before long, I was flying planes all over the world, taking off in storms, making sketchy landings on tiny runways, and buzzing over national monuments.

I didn’t realize it, but what I was doing was like a kind of home exposure therapy, and it ended up helping to reduce my fear of actually flying.

How exposure therapy treats phobias

If you have a phobia—an uncontrollable, irrational, and prolonged fear of a particular object, situation, or action—you are actually in luck. Almost all phobias are treatable and can be cured, and exposure therapy is the gold standard of treatment.

Simply put, the idea is to expose yourself to what you fear until it stops bothering you. If you manage to stay calm in the presence of spiders, airplane flight, and high places for long enough, you calm down in front of them.

This is usually done in several steps. First you study what you are afraid of – if it is spiders, you read books about spiders. When you get comfortable with this, you can move on to viewing photos or videos of spiders. From there you can look at the caged tarantula. Finally, when you feel ready, you take the spider into your own hands and are now the master of your fear.

The trick, however, is not to go crazy in the early stages. Our instinct is to run from something we fear, but running actually increases our fear. That’s why, if you’re afraid of cotton, you shouldn’t show up on Show Mori and be harassed by a man in a cotton ball suit . Funny but doesn’t help.

Back on the plane

After homegrown exposure therapy, I was quietly flying a fake plane, but when the time came for my next real flight, I still spent the days leading up to it in a familiar state of fear. However, when we were in the air, something changed. I was a little nervous, but only a little. Previously unexplained mechanical noises now make sense from my experience playing Flight Simulator – the grinding noise is a retractable landing gear, not the start of a mechanical failure! Turbulence is common; this happens all the time in Flight Simulator due to the haptic rumble of the joystick.

Flight Simulator is as realistic as possible. I’ve been flying virtual planes in the worst weather imaginable and flying utterly ridiculous, and yet only crashed if I aimed my plane purposefully at the ground and there were a plethora of warning buzzers and indicators on the way down. All those hours of video game “experience” just melted away my fear of crashing.

Now I like to fly. I like to have a few hours just to read a book or something, and I never think about a fatal plane crash.

Should I seek professional help for a phobia?

While I am irrefutable proof that some phobias can be treated on your own, you will almost certainly have better results if you do it with the help of a mental health professional, especially if your fear is severe or debilitating. Research shows that even a single session with a therapist can have impressive results, and self-guided approaches are far less effective. Unlike Maury Povich, a skilled therapist will guide you logically through the stages of exposure, provide a soothing presence, and give you mental tactics to deal with the anxiety you feel at first. This is usually achieved through mindfulness techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Technologies against phobias and anxiety

There are many apps you can download that claim to treat mental illness, from post-traumatic stress disorder to phobias and panic attacks, and while they probably don’t all work, the general idea of ​​using computers as part of treating specific phobias is a growing body of evidence. that it is effective. VRET (Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy) has been shown to help people with certain phobias. For example, this virtual experience for people who are afraid of heights seems to work well even without a flesh-and-blood therapist. Augmented reality apps for influencing spiders show similar promise and are available now if you want to check them out.

When it comes to more serious anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, things are a little more complicated. Initial research is promising , but more research is needed.


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