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Air travel anxiety

I don’t have a fear of flying. I’ll happily decide to fly, book a flight, and get on it.

What I don’t like is the fear when things get bumpy. Take off, turbulence and landing. The fear of “oh crikey, what’s happening?” The fear that triggers a deeper impulse to protect myself from dying, but that trigger and impulse can’t translate to  action while you’re belted into a seat and at the hands of the pilot and co-pilot. The fear that doesn’t achieve much beyond give me a very unpleasant experience.

Given the pointlessness of this particular fear – I can’t change anything external, I’m not the pilot; it’s probably safe anyway; the bumping around will stop and I’ll walk off the plane unscathed – I wanted to find a way to lessen it, something that would ease its passage, that would release less anxiety (and the consequent effects of anxiety) when the flight gets bumpy.

So what do you do? Sit through the fear? Try to make it go away? Something else?

Enter mindfulness of sensations.

This little practice is founded on meditation. You might be able to do it without a meditation practice, but I imagine it’s an easier thing to do if you’re more used to identifying and experiencing yourself consciously, like you do in meditation.

When things get bumpy during your flight, acknowledge it in your mind. Don’t push it away. Just let it be there.

What works for me is to think “bobbly bobbly”. It’s hard to panic about a sensation that’s bobbly. It feels like being on some kind of fairground ride. Not pleasant, but not panic-worthy either. As we bobble around, let it in.

And let in discomfort or resistance: “I don”t like these feelings” you can say to yourself.

It’s simple and it works. The discomfort lessens.

Part of the discomfort is the tension between how we want things to be – steady, smooth, comfortable – and how things are – bumpy, jolting, unpleasant. By acknowledging the actual experience, uncomfortable though it is, this tension is released and we’re left with just the sensations of bobbling around.

Two notes:

  • If you hit turbulence and you don’t have your seat belt on, you might not be unscathed. Belt up!
  • Turbulence is highly unlikely to ever cause an accident.
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