Have a Pleasant Flight, by Jennifer Costanza, LMFT
I recently traveled from California to the midwest to see my family. Typically, travel in general, though I really love it, does cause some fear and anxiety to arise in me. All sorts of crazy-making thoughts may pass through my head with minds of their own. These thoughts can make me feel really out of control. So, as I usually do, I attempted to make a conscious effort to NOT ALLOW the feelings of fear or anxiety run me. I wanted to manage them and the perfect scenario presented itself. Let me explain.
I flew from San Diego to Dallas for the first leg of my trip. My final destination was to be Minneapolis, Minnesota. This first flight was uneventful. Just a few stray thoughts arose that I needed to manage. These thoughts did not become a problem. We landed a few minutes late in Dallas, however, and I only had 20 minutes to catch my next flight. It was in another terminal and on the other side of the airport. It was only accessible by a train system. I ran and made it to the gate just as they were finishing boarding. I sat down, got comfortable, then just a few minutes later, the pilot announces on the intercom "We are having an issue in the cockpit with our main computer. It is not working properly, so we need to have a maintenance crew member come fix it. We have no idea how long it will take, but it could be an hour or two."
Hmmm, computer problem? In the cockpit? Did I want to stay on this plane? I don't like this! My thoughts began to take off in a horrible direction.
The pilot said we could all get off the plane, go eat, relax, stretch our legs, then check back in when they were all fixed and ready to board again. So I deplaned.
At this point, I realized I wanted this experience to be positive and not full of worry. I did not want to allow my mind to take me to the worst-case scenario. So, I decided to make my way over to a restaurant near the gate. I ordered the Texas chili (since I was in Dallas, of course). I got comfortable, relaxed and truly enjoyed that time. The chili was delicious and probably the best I have ever tasted! What a treat and it beats the airline peanuts and pretzels any day.
After the amazing chili, I waited another hour before they announced they were ready to re-board the plane. I made my way down the jetway and realized there were about 1/4 of the people on the plane than the first time we boarded. I thought I was either the crazy one to risk a flight after the main computer in the cockpit failed or I was going to be very fortunate to have the entire row to myself and lie down to sleep for the flight. I took the time to reason with myself. I realized I would much rather take a flight in a plane with a brand new part, that has just been thoroughly tested, than wait another 5 hours for the next flight. I was calm and felt at ease. I was in control of myself.
It was a beautiful flight with no issue at all. I slept, and stretched out across the entire row. It was really lovely.
I felt very proud of myself after all was said and done. The thing is, we always have a choice in what we allow ourselves to think or believe about uncertainty. We can worry ourselves out of doing life the way we REALLY WANT to do it. We can let fear or anxiety control us, and freeze us up, or we can manage it with our powerful minds.
Clients frequently say to me "But I can't control my thoughts." I reply "You actually are the ONLY ONE who can control your thoughts, and that is good news." This tends to create a major mind-shift for them when it comes to the belief that fear and anxiety will take over without any sense of ability to control them. This is simply not true. Each of us has ALL the control to manage our own fear and anxiety. We actually can choose what to focus on and what not to focus on in our minds.
A word about fears...most are UNFOUNDED. Yes, there are occasions when fear is necessary to bail us out of a dangerous situation. This is where the "fight or flight" mechanism actually becomes useful. However, MOST of the time, fear is just an annoying and intense feeling. It is uncomfortable, but remember, it is just a feeling that won't hurt you. It can be well-managed by acknowledging that it is there, soothing it, and allowing yourself to just let it be there to pass through. Soothing self-talk like "I am okay and I just feel uncomfortable." can be very helpful. This self-reassurance goes a long way.
Also, notice where you are allowing your thoughts to go. Are you letting them spiral to the worst-case scenario, or are you counteracting the worrisome thoughts with more reassuring ones? Always check your thoughts and if you are catastrophizing, re-direct your thought to something pleasant or calming. In addition, check to see if you are making assumptions that may not (or probably aren't) true. This is very common, especially for those who struggle with worry and anxiety.
Finally, take some deep breaths to slow your heart rate and supply oxygen to your brain. These breaths will also begin the release of endorphins (the "feel-good", natural chemicals) from your organs to physiologically calm your body down.
All of these managing techniques combined are extremely powerful and can alter the way you feel. They can assist you through feelings of panic, fear, worry and the physical sensations that may also be present. They can allow you to be in control of yourself and help in feeling more comfortable with life's uncertainties. It is a matter of management, being intentional and mindful of what you are experiencing, then making adjustments, as needed. Fear and anxiety are normal in life and are there for a reason. Anxiety is supposed to help motivate us, not incapacitate us. Fear is meant to help us in times of real danger, not scare us when we are perfectly safe. Management means keeping these normal feelings within the limits in which they are adaptive and helpful.
The techniques mentioned above are very effective, but do tend to require practice. Practice will allow them to become habit. It is good to remember that it won't always be perfect, but it can get better, easier and improve with effort. Anything we become good at doing requires practice. That is part of being human and we get to be human.
If anxiety, fear or panic is controlling you and your life, we can help you master these techniques if you find them difficult to develop on your own. We are here to help, so please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule with one of our experienced therapists. We look forward to hearing from you.