Often times when I fly I experience a bit of anxiety. My claustrophobic brain worries about being in a tight space without fresh air for several hours, being trapped in a middle seat, and of course a dreaded crash. Most of the time I acknowledge the fear and get lost in some in-flight entertainment, thank goodness for free, semi-functioning WiFi and some gripping downloaded podcasts. What I had not experienced before was extreme turbulence. Not just any turbulence, but the kind where passengers are gasping and families were embracing each other. I went from total calm to extreme panic in seconds thinking that an accident was imminent. I griped the seat handles hard and started to have an anxiety attack.
While my eyes were closed I heard giggles coming from the seat next to me. I opened my eyes and the 8 year-old boy who I met an hour earlier had both hands up as if he was on a roller coaster ride. He was belly laughing every time the plane shifted and shouted for more. I couldn’t believe how happy he was. When I looked over he must have seen the panic in my eyes and grabbed my hand and asked me to ride the roller coaster ride with him. My scared brain fought this request, wanting to stay in a state of panic, but his silly request and warm smile won be over and so I went, hands up while the plane was jumping all around. He asked me where I was from, and I told him Cleveland, Ohio. His dad leaned over and asked him to ask me if I had ever been to “Cedar Point” one of the largest amusement parks in the world, and he was so happy to hear that I had been. I told him about the fastest coaster in the park, the Top Thrill Dragster, and told him what a thrill it was to wait 2 hours in line for a 30 second experience. He had a million questions and told me “mam, just pretend we are on a coaster when the plane drops”. Every time the plane would hit a bump he would look at me and giggle and put his hands up. His kindness and innocence warmed my heart and helped me to calm down.
I started to think about the transformative thought model that I have been teaching my coaching clients, how thoughts about circumstances create our feelings not the circumstances themselves. Here was a classic example. Turbulence on the plane being my circumstance. But there were two different thought processes: mine which created tremendous anxiety and his which created joy and laughter. I also noticed his father was calm and asked him what he thought about the turbulence. He told me that he was a frequent flyer and that it was always bumpy when landing in Chicago. From experience, he knew that the wings could handle even more wind. I started to adopt his way of thinking, and the panic was gone.
When a circumstance is beyond your control, i.e. a terrible traffic jam, a turbulent plane ride, or a screaming toddler, remember to acknowledge the fear, remind yourself what Ekhart Tolle teaches. “Worry pretends to be necessary but never serves any purpose.” So, go ahead and adopt a new thinking pattern if you want to lessen the anger or anxiety you are experiencing. If turbulence was the cause of my anxiety, then everyone would also be panicking. However, my 8 year- old hero next to me was not. He was thinking about roller coaster rides, and so, as silly as it was, so was I. Hands up my friends.
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