A few days before my flight and after many supportive texts between my Anxiety Girls, this beautiful collage showed up on my doorstep with a note that said, “Just a reminder of how lovely and strong you are!” Another morning this week, a friend left a bouquet of daffodils after hearing that my Grandma had passed away. Messages of love and support and strength came pinging in all week, in fact. Even though I blog about anxiety, I don’t share it with everyone in my day to day life. But the friends & family who knew I was struggling this week came out in force and I couldn’t be more grateful. Spoiler alert – I made it home safe & sound after two good flights! Worst part- the anticipation. More to come soon.
So, my sweet 97 year old Grandma just passed away on Sunday and I’ll be boarding a plane tomorrow to fly to her funeral service. She was a strong and gentle soul who gave the best hugs and loved us all unconditionally. Flying kinda terrifies me. But I loved my Grandma & it’s important that I show up to support my Dad and family so I’m doing it anyways.
If you’re someone who experiences anxiety/panic, especially around flying, you know that I’ve been a hot mess of anticipatory anxiety this week. Upset stomach, waves of adrenaline, moments of sheer terror as I imagine being up 35,000 feet in the air.
What’s frustrating is that, just like any anxiety producing situation, it will all be fine no matter what. “Good gracious”, I tell my brain – “All this fuss and distress over a 2 hour plane ride is ridiculous!”
What terrible thing has happened in the past? Sure, I’ve felt waves of panic while on a plane before. The feelings and thoughts are scary when you can’t leave the situation, but they pass. And, really, what are you going to do? To the best of my ability, I ride the waves of adrenaline – I work on allowing the feelings as much as possible – and sometimes I even get bold & ask for more (paradox). After that, I return to what I was doing before. Sometimes I have to do this over and over until the sensations go away, but they always do. Promise. And honestly, on every flight I have a moment where I love looking out the window, admiring the beautiful clouds.
I’ve also felt super anxious before a flight only to feel fairly calm during the whole ride. But in both cases, I’ve lived to tell the tale and the worst thing that happened was I felt scared. I have never gone all Ricky Bobby on a plane or impersonated Kristen Wig in Bridesmaids.
So what am I doing to prepare & cope? I’m not a big meds person, but I always take a little xanax when I fly. My doctor prescribes me just enough to get me there & back. It’s not perfect, but does help relax my body. Maybe someday I’ll choose to fly without meds, but for now I’m totally ok with it.
I’m also watching flight videos to try and quickly desensitize and have skimmed Capt. Tom Bunn’s book about flying without fear. In between I may have sent out a few prayers to God that I wake up with an on/off switch for my amygdala. I just think that was an error in our design.
Maybe the biggest thing I’m doing to cope, however, is committing to showing up tomorrow. When my sweet brother (who loves to fly) picks me up to go to the airport I will get in the car. He’ll drive & I’ll be shaky for a few hours as we head to DC. But along the way we’ll sing, play the license plate game and together we’ll board that damn airplane.
Here’s what I’m carrying on board for some healthy distraction tomorrow. And following are some videos I’ve watched this week to get ready.
My carry on bag of goodies:
*Journal and pen -inside the journal I’ll write myself some reminder notes about how to handle anxiety when it shows up
*Grown up coloring book and pretty pencils
*Laptop with a few movies downloaded, plus Harry Potter on Audible.
*Magazines with pretty pictures
*Knitting – I may knit something mindless or start another one of these cute hats.
*Some homemade Cowgirl Cookies, plus other snacks, gum & mints
*A picture of my family
Some games I like to play on a plane:
*Choose a stranger on the plane and write a quick story about who you think they might be. You know, like mini-bio or where they’re headed after the plane lands. When I flew with my buddy Allison this past summer we alternated paragraphs, which makes it even more fun.
*Any game that involves the alphabet – an ABC list of names you would never name your baby, a list of places where you’d like to travel, a list of your favorite book characters.
*Who farted? Yeah, this is getting pretty mature. But laughter is the opposite of fear and this is a funny game. Can you tell who may have just farted on the plane?
A few resources I’ve used this week to prepare:
*These videos are great for info & desensitization.
This video is amazing – a Dad who works for Southwest created this video for his son who is on the autism spectrum:
Anybody see the movie Talledega Nights with Will Ferrell? When I’m feeling panicky, I always look the same on the outside – maybe a little distracted, but my same normal self. But on the inside, I’m always worried I’ll turn all “Ricky Bobby” and break into a run, trying to escape. You’ve got to appreciate the human imagination and all its glory. Can you relate?
Love this clip:
Children of the 70’s who grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood know that he famously encouraged us to look for the helpers in times of crisis and suffering. Spotting the helpers meant we were not alone – that we could trust in a basic sense of goodness in humanity.
Now, you and I both know that he was talking about real life crises – natural disasters, poverty, war. But one day his words hit home for me as I was taking a little drive.
Let me tell you a story.
A few years back I was doing exposure work on this one particular bridge/highway combo. It was just one of those spots that seemed to remain difficult for me no matter how many times I drove it. Because it was a challenge, it became my “go to” route for exposure whenever I would feel my overall anxiety popping up.
Three times a week, for about a month, I drove this loop over and over again, 45 minutes at a time. Students of anxiety will tell you that exposure practice needs frequency, intensity and duration to be effective.
One day while I was driving, I started to get that scrambly, panicky feeling as adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was having a hard time remembering that in all my experience driving while anxious, I’ve never had to pull over because it was too intense. Not once. I worked on simply saying,”Yes! I want this discomfort!” but the part of me that wanted to escape quickly was gaining strength.
Just at that moment, I noticed there was a crew of workmen on the side of the road and a sizable pull off just before the bridge began. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? If I really needed help I could simply pull over and ask those guys!
It was like the heavens opened up and the universe provided me with my own highway support crew! I laughed out loud and decided to view their presence as a little gift. Each time I passed by the pull off and gathered strength to cross the bridge, I said, “Hey Fellas! Thanks for being there for me!”
A little while later, I passed by a police officer hiding amongst the trees, looking to catch people speeding. Instead of rationally checking my speedometer to make sure I was within the limit, I smiled again. “Wow, there are helpers everywhere today!” I later texted the story to my husband who noted that most people get anxious when they see a cop on the side of the road. I responded with, “Well, you know, one persons speed trap is another persons ride home!”
It’s kind of amazing how significantly my levels of adrenaline dropped as I utilized the combination of humor, paradox (seeking out anxiety on purpose), gratitude and was distracted by my imagined “out” – the ability to pull over with support. Was the imagined “out” a crutch? Absolutely. But, it also gave me the boost to keep going while saying yes to the anxiety for another few rounds that day.
This isn’t news, but it’s amazing how our beliefs and imagination have the power to either turn on or turn off physical sensations. It works both ways – our beliefs and our imagination can either send us reeling with panic & anxiety or strengthen us with the knowledge we can handle whatever comes up.
Sometimes you just have to find a way to keep going, to stay and linger with your fears and sensations a little bit longer. The best way is to experiment with acceptance and even asking for more. But in aiming for perfection we sometimes wait and wait and never get out the door.
So, today, do whatever it takes to make your world a little bigger. It turns out there are helpers everywhere. We are rarely alone in our pursuits and challenges. But the most important help we will find is right there waiting, inside of ourselves.
I just signed up for Sharon Salzberg’s 28 day meditation challenge. Want to join me? After you sign up, she’ll send you a daily meditation in the form of a 5-10 minute audio file. This mornings was 8 minutes with an intro – easy peasy. Research has been busting at the seams with all the benefits of meditation. 5-10 minutes a day. That’s not so bad, is it? Join me!
So, how have you been doing since the US Presidential Inauguration on the 20th? Like many of us, I’ve been in a whirlwind of stress as each new day we’re surprised by a new atrocity. Most of the time, our anxiety is based on something irrational and despite our worst fears and imaginings, things turn out all right. But this political climate is different. Our country needs us to stand up for all human rights, acceptance, inclusivity and love. And, action always feels better than being frozen in fear.
Let’s look at some ways to get involved!
Donate to your charity of choice. Some of my favorites are Doctors without Borders, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU. Be a micro-philanthropist – even $10 makes a difference. And you can be creative – maybe you can’t drop $120, but you could consider a scheduled donation of $10 a month.
Join the Women’s Movement and commit to 10 actions for the first 100 days. The first action is simple – write down your thoughts and ideas on postcards about what’s important to you and how’ll you stand up and fight. Then send them to your Senators – easy peasy! Want to take it a step further? Host a postcard writing party or potluck!
Keep up the Momentum:
Here are two great sites for daily and weekly calls to action:
*Subscribe to Project 1461 for their Daily Call to Action.
*Sign up for Jen Hofmann’s Weekly Action Checklist for Democrats, Independents, and Republicans of Conscience.
Stay Inspired – check out Vox as they interview young people during the Women’s March.
Maintain Balance – don’t forget to take good care of yourself. It’s going to be a long haul.
Check out this little superhero – a wise teacher (at the ripe old age of 9) who shows us how to use self talk when facing challenges! Love her!
This weekend’s reading material theme is getting comfortable with discomfort.
To start us off, check out Reid Wilson‘s new blog on Psychology Today – his latest post is titled “Winning the Battle Inside Your Mind”. It’s the story of how Reid, a psychologist & anxiety expert, worked through his own experience of panic, finding a way to Keep Going when his brain was shouting inside to stop.
Next up we have Leo Babauta from Zen Habits. I love the title of this post – “Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe“. I saved this to Pocket a while ago & find myself referencing his ideas whenever I need a boost. If you can master that everyday moment of discomfort – whether it’s anxiety, procrastination or prioritizing what’s important -nothing will stop you from achieving your goals and living a big life.
Finally, check out: “How Exercise Shapes You, Far Beyond the Gym“. In it, Brad Stulberg reminds us that what we gain most from exercise isn’t just physical fitness – it’s the ability to sit with and even embrace discomfort in life whenever it pops up. And, if you didn’t get a chance to read Healthy Habits in September, there are many more links to articles on the benefits of exercise & meditation in combatting depression & anxiety.
Happy Reading and have a beautiful weekend!