Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fears about plane crashes

Sep 16, 20226 minute read

People with Harm OCD may experience fears related to the theme of plane crashes and air travel. Harm OCD involves intrusive, unwanted thoughts, images, or urges of harm coming to oneself or others. Someone with Harm OCD may also worry that they could harm themselves or someone else by accident. Additionally, they may fear that they could act impulsively on any intrusive impulse or urge which could harm themselves or others.

In the case of Plane Crash OCD, individuals may worry that they need to engage in compulsive behaviors to prevent harm from happening to themselves or others who are traveling by plane. For example, an individual may find themselves tapping the door of the plane a certain amount of times when entering, only having good thoughts about the flight or repeating certain phrases to ensure nothing bad will happen during travel. Likewise, if they are worried about a loved one flying by plane they may have intense urges to excessively hug, pray, text or call before they board the plane to ensure nothing bad happens. The individual may find if they do not engage in these behaviors then they fear that they may be responsible for anything bad that could happen, such as the plane crashing.

Individuals with fear of plane crash OCD may find it incredibly difficult and distressing to travel by plane which can lead to avoidance of this type of travel when at all possible. Additionally, if a loved one is traveling they may find themselves feeling overwhelmed at the possibility that something bad may happen, or may even want to convince their loved one not to travel.

Plane crash OCD – Common Obsessions

  • What if the plane crashes during my flight today?
  • If I don’t tell my parents to have a safe flight before they board their plane, will it mean that I am responsible for causing their plane to crash?
  • If I watch or hear something related to plane crashes before a flight, what if that increases my chance that my plane will crash?
  • What if there is a terrorist attack on a plane today?

Common triggers

Individuals with Plane Crash OCD may be triggered by situations involving traveling by airplane, being around planes or airports, and hearing about or experiencing traumatic or stressful plane travel.

Triggers are situations, events, or environments that can cause someone’s intrusive thoughts and fears. When triggered, an individual with OCD may notice an increased intensity, duration and frequency of intrusive thoughts, images or urges. Triggers are important to be aware of, as they help understand OCD’s patterns and themes.

Fear of plane crash triggers include:

  • Airports
  • Preparing for plane travel
  • Airshows
  • Loved ones traveling by airplane
  • TV shows depicting plane crashes
  • News stories or articles about plane crashes
  • Take offs or landings
  • Turbulence
  • Terrorism 

How can I tell if it’s fear of plane crash OCD, and not normal levels of anxiety about flying?

One way to tell the difference between anxiety and OCD is knowing that OCD follows a cycle of obsessions, emotional responses, compulsions, and temporary relief. 

Let’s break this down. Someone experiencing plane crash OCD may have the thought: “What if my plane crashes today?” This thought makes them feel anxious and scared. Due to the distress they are experiencing, they engage in compulsive behaviors, such as seeking reassurance from others that their plane will not crash, excessively reviewing plane safety statistics, only having good thoughts before boarding the plane, or even canceling their plans and making alternative travel arrangements instead. Because these behaviors cause a temporary sense of relief, these behaviors become increasingly hard to resist when thoughts and fears return in the future.

Many people do experience some level of anxiety when traveling by plane; however, they do not feel compelled to engage in behaviors to alleviate this feeling. They may have the thought “what if my plane crashes today” and find the thought unappealing, then sit with their anxiety and worry and move forward.

Plane crash OCD can be impairing or problematic when it causes you to make choices that are not in line with your values or goals, such as not being able to travel by plane when necessary, involving others in your rituals or compulsions, and having significant distress around yourself or others traveling.

Common compulsions

When people with a plane crash OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may engage in compulsive behaviors. Compulsions are any behavior that attempts to help reduce the distress one is feeling. Although compulsions may work in the moment they only provide temporary relief to the intrusive thought and individuals with OCD find themselves feeling stuck, having to engage in compulsive behaviors to feel better each time they experience distress. OCD demands 100 percent certainty and therefore is never completely satisfied. This can leave individuals engaging in more compulsions over time, which can further leave them impaired.

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with OCD fear of plane crashes include:

  • Avoiding travel by plane
  • Seeking reassurance from others or providing self-reassurance that a plane crash will not occur
  • Replacing any bad thoughts about plane crashes with good thoughts
  • Excessively checking flight trackers, weather, or the news
  • Checking details about their plane before or during boarding
  • Having certain words, colors, numbers or objects to ensure something bad will not occur
  • Repeating actions or attempting to feel “just right” before, during and after a flight

How to treat fear of plane crash

Plane Crash OCD can be debilitating for people who struggle with it, but it is treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a trained ERP therapist you can experience decreased anxiety and learn to practice effective management skills when traveling by plane. An ERP therapist will work with you to help recognize obsessive worries and any compulsive responses to them. Then, together, you will collaborate on exercises to help practice learning more effective ways to respond to your triggers and anxiety, without resorting to compulsive behaviors.

For example, someone with OCD fear of plane crashes who finds themselves compulsively avoiding any and all things related to planes may practice exposing themselves to planes again in manageable ways. At first, this may involve reading stories, watching movies, and going near planes/airports to practice sitting with their anxiety and practicing non-engagement responses to their OCD intrusive thoughts and worries.

The good news is there is help out there for Plane Crash OCD, which can help you live a life more in line with your intentions and goals, and less aligned with your anxiety and fear.

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

We look forward to working with you.

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