- When you think about flying, you think about catching your flight.
- When you’re catching your flight, you think about being at the airport.
- When you’re at the airport, you think about the moment you take off.
- When you’re taking off, you think about landing.
- When you’re landing, you think about the return flight.
How many times have you found yourself doing one thing and thinking about another?
All of us go through life with so many things in our heads – obligations, demands on our time, commitments, plans – that it can be difficult to slow down and live in the present. It’s like being overwhelmed – with a thousand things to do and not enough time to do them – has become normal. And so our brains are in a constant whir, oftentimes doing one thing and anticipating something else, and not stopping to realise that living like this can be damaging, lezding to exhaustion, insecurity, fear, and a feeling that life is getting “out of control”.
Transferring this to air travel, something similar happens: you want to have everything “under control”, and this leads us to continually anticipate what’s coming next, things that might happen, and repetitive thoughts that create a feedback loop of anguish.
Mindfulness as a Way of Life
This is a discipline which can let you live life in a lighter, more conscious way without “fighting” against yourself. The term refers to living with your full attention focussed on the present, and you don’t even have to be “relaxed” in order to practice it – mindfulness is simply the ablity to observe reality in each present moment of daily life, fullu accepting it for what it is without judgment. And it’s a way of being that for nervous or fearful flyers can be helpful when they’re faced with a stressful situation like getting on a plane.
Cultivating the skill of mindfulness – through meditation and other techniques – can make you aware of the relationship you have with your thoughts and feelings, in addition to learning to see them with perspective, in irder to find a space of calm and well-being in yourself.
And this ability can be critical when it comes to the fear of flying because when you’re faced with a flight, your thoughts tend to beome more present than ever, and not in a good way – so it’s invaluable to have a resource to help you come to term with these thoughts rather than fight. In fact, it’s positively liberating.
Putting Mindfulness into Practice
As we pointed out in a recent post, each of us typically has some 70,000 thoughts per day, and it’s normal for our minds to jump from one to another without stopping. But we also do have the ability to be mere observers of what happens in our heads without having to enter “the game”. This task can be challenging, though – and even more so if those thoughts alert you to a danger, as happens with the fear of flying.
Look around during your flight, you’ll find a number of ways to help focus your attention on the present moment and let you make mindful use of your five senses. For example, focus on a specific smell; look at a certain object and appreciate its colours and shape; touch something that makes you connect with different textures; listen to the sounds around you, trying to identify them; or even carefully savouring a sweet or snack, appreciating its taste. To create this space of focussed attention, it’s also helpful to have an anchor, something you can return to. The important thing is not that you don’t get distracted when you practice it, but that when this happens, you redirect our attention to the here and now.
Another very helpful excercise is to focus on your breathing, which will help you manage your nervous system. In fact, breath control is the most readily accessible technique you have during a flight. The nature of the mind is to wander, and your job is to take note of this and gently return to your focus of attention, by breathing (don’t force it too hard, or it will not be relaxing). Observe how the air enters your nose slowly and appreciate all the sensations that accompanying it – the smell, the dry air, the temperature – and little by little with all the attention you can, exhale the humid air, seeing how your body deflates until it is completely empty. Feel how the air enters and leaves your lungs, observe how the abdomen inflates when inhaling and how it returns to its position when exhaling. Simply observe everything that happens in your body, without judging, without questioning. Then repeat this process each time your mind wanders, and gently try to bring it back to the present moment. It is important to become familiar with this way of breathing in order to master it and be able to use it at different times of the day; this way it will be easier to do it when we need it.
Remember that the best way to experience the feeling of mindfulness is to practice it, so you’ll want to try these techniques before you fly, so you can be ready when the moment comes.
Because the place is here and the moment is now…