Flying this weekend

I took this myself! Photo by anxietygirl.net

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:

Look for the Helpers

mr rogers billboard

 

 

 

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.

 

Keep Moving Forward

Monday Inspiration

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Reading Material: Getting Comfortable with Discomfort

Photo by Lia Leslie
Photo by Lia Leslie

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!

The November Project for Fears and Phobias?

November Project members run the Harvard Stadium steps early on a Wednesday morning. November Project™ is a FREE fitness movement that was born in Boston as a way to stay in shape during cold New England months. It is now operating in multiple cities across the country. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
November Project members run the Harvard Stadium steps early on a Wednesday morning. November Project™ is a FREE fitness movement that was born in Boston as a way to stay in shape during cold New England months. It is now operating in multiple cities across the country.
Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Have you heard of The November Project?

The November Project gathers people on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 6:30am in cities across globe to run stairs, hills, and whoop it up as they meet their fitness goals and create life long friendships.

Reading this article and thinking about my own DIY anxiety support group started my wheels turning – why not create a November Project style group to help people face their fears and phobias? Community exposure work! Imagine showing up at 6:30am on a Monday morning and riding elevators for an hour with a bunch of folks who also feel panicky about elevators.  Or, meeting to walk across that scary pedestrian bridge with 50 new friends who don’t like heights, but are all hooting and hollering “Keep Going!”.  Agoraphobic? How about an urban hike and throwing in a little social anxiety work with conversation at a local coffee shop afterwards.

Let those images sink in. That good exposure work would happen a few times a week, be done in community and finished before you even started your work day. How powerful would that be? This is taking the idea of a DIY anxiety support group one big step further. Imagine the decrease in isolation – people who get it! And the increase in people’s ability to tolerate discomfort and anxiety through consistent work in facing their fears.

I’m going to keep my wheels turning and see what I can create. How about you? Is this a project you could start in your city or home town with the common goal of mental fitness and well being? Without fear standing in your way, imagine the possibilities!

Finding your people – a guide to starting a DIY anxiety support group

Photo by Matthew Sleeper
Photo by Matthew Sleeper

Recently, I posted a page called “Finding Help” which talks about the steps to finding a great therapist. But, maybe you’re more of a self help kind of person and just want a community of people who you can talk to openly about life, including anxiety. Pull up a chair and let’s talk!

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A few years ago, I invited some fellow Anxiety Girls to work through Reid Wilson’s book “Don’t Panic” and set exposure goals for ourselves. There’s just something about being accountable to someone else that helps with goal setting in any arena. It’s also comforting to talk with people who really get it.  My sister-in-law & I joke that it’s nice to have people with whom you can let your crazy out. Because whether or not you can see it – we all have a little crazy.

We met for coffee every other week, at first, to discuss the book and our goals.  As we got more comfortable and grew in our relationships, we hit the roads to do some exposure work together – highways, bridges, traveling distances were all part of our repertoire.

The group joined me as I drove highway routes and bridges that bothered me.  Another time, we literally drove back and forth across the same bridge for 45 minutes, coaching and cheering on another Anxiety Girl as she faced her fears.

Life has gotten busy, though, and there are times where we don’t meet for months. That’s just the way it goes.  But, it never seems to fail that one of us sends a a catch up email or text.

This past winter, we sat down in the hopefulness of a new year and imagined doing something big like an Anxiety Girl road trip. Laughing, we envisioned a reality show based on our superheroes. Anxiety girls take off cross country in an RV, armed only with a GoPro camera, travel journals and lots of snacks. By the time we got to the west coast, surely we would be anxiety free!

One of us said, “Yes! That sounds amazing – AND – what steps can we take right now to work toward something bigger?  What if we started with a smaller road trip? You know, just for the day? Getting out of town would target highway driving & traveling distances, while we got to spend time together. And maybe we could go for a hike & grab brunch.” A month later, two of us took that trip! We both had moments of high anxiety and had a fabulous time!

In the future, we’re hoping to plan an adventure by plane or train.  Or maybe we’ll take that cross country trip. Who knows? You may find us riding roller coasters & sky diving this time next year. 🙂

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So, getting back to you . . .

Are you finding yourself facing anxiety alone and wanting community? Maybe it’s time to gather a few friends and start your own DIY anxiety support group.

I’ll be honest, this wasn’t my first attempt. I gathered some folks together many years ago to work through a workbook. It was great at first, but not everyone worked at the same rate. Some folks wanted to talk but not do the workbook.  Others were uncomfortable hearing about other people’s fears.  Life got busy, then it just fizzled. I really hungered for community, though, so I tried again a few years later and it took.

Here are some tips for getting started:

*If a DIY support group is in your future, start by talking to a few people who are interested in getting together to talk about anxiety.

*If you don’t think you know anyone with anxiety (really?), start by trying to open up the topic (when appropriate), step back and listen. Oftentimes you’ll find an “in” and people are relieved to know they’re not alone.

*Invite people to get together wherever suits – go for a hike, head to a coffee shop, meet out for a drink.

*Share what feels comfortable. Listen. See what people are looking for in a support group. Do your expectations match up?

*Maybe this becomes an anxiety book group. If so, check out the list of books in the menu titled “Bookshelf” for inspiration or find a book that works for your group.

*Maybe this is a goal setting group with regular check ins for accountability.

*Maybe folks just want to get together socially and talk with others who get it.

*And maybe you want to go crazy, get out in the world and do some exposure work together.

Whatever you do, go find your people!  It may take time. It may not take at first. It might be just 2 or 3 of you. That’s ok.  Make the time to get together and support each other. A bigger life is out there waiting for you!

Want to read more about DIY anxiety support groups? Check out this great article by Jessica Spires about how she started an informal support group in a pub. If you’re someone who wants something more formal, check out this thorough guideline on creating peer support groups.