Friday, October 28, 2011

Anxiety Girl Tackles Flying

only, I don't think of her as Anxiety Girl.  I think of her as Adventure Girl.  Or, my best friend.  We've been through a lot of adventures together.  Our first adventures were in a Dilbert-like office where our job descriptions lacked a creative outlet so we made up our own.  We often plotted sitting on the steps outside--a pint of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia between us and two spoons.    An opportunity arises for her--to leave the office world completely and enter the world of outdoor education.

"What an amazing opportunity!  You can't say no!" I persuade.
"If you think it is so amazing, you should come with me," she responds.

And so we go, the two of us, on a new adventure.  Down to a remote part of Alabama to live in a log cabin on top of a mountain.  Our new job description is hiking, rock climbing, ropes course, teaching, singing and playing.  Weekends we travel to the Smoky Mountains to camp in pouring down rain, to Mardi Gras, to the St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah.    We are passionate about our jobs and our lives.

old photo of a marathon adventure

The passion translates to new opportunities.  I return to school to complete a graduate degree in Education.  She returns to a rewarding career in social work.  Through it all, our adventures continue: a marathon, crazy weekend biking trips, triathlons. 

Soon we include husbands and then babies in our adventures.  But along the way of "growing up" and becoming responsible for our families, a little seed of anxiety sprouted and grew.  Like kudzu, it spread, creeping around until it takes over parts of our lives.

One manifestation of the anxiety is fear of flying.  After several years of avoiding airplanes, I decide to fly.  It wasn't easy.  For weeks before my flight I would burst into tears just thinking about it.  Even seeing airplanes in the sky made my stomach tight.  I spent more time focused on the 90 minute flight than I did thinking about my destination! 

Last week I got an email from my friend about her upcoming family vacation.  "I’m at the point of almost crying every time I think about getting in a plane.  Yuck."   Knowing I recently survived a flight, she asks me for tips.  Here they are:

 My Completely Non-Professional but Effective Flying Tips

Think about the destination:  Whenever you start feeling anxious about flying, force yourself to picture a safe landing.  Picture yourself walking off of the plane feeling happy.  Anticipate the adventures of your vacation.

Plan distractions: I can't focus enough to read on a plane but I like easy crossword puzzles and looking at the pictures in People magazines.  Think of something you enjoy to occupy your mind.

Invest in good headphones: Airplanes are loud and have lots of weird noises.  Bring along your ipod with lots of happy songs and some really good sound reduction headphones.

Set small goals: Break the trip up into 15 minute segments.  Decide on a reward each time.  My rewards always involve chocolate.

Meditate: Sometimes I wonder, instead of worrying about everything and praying as a last resort, what would happen if I prayed about everything and worried as a last resort?  I write down Bible verses on two index cards and carry them with me on the flight.  The first is Philippians 4: 6-8 and the second is Philippians 4:11-13.

Medicate:  Some people like a glass of wine to take the edge off.  I got myself so worked up about my overseas flight that I finally talked to my doctor.  She prescribed a small dose of xanax, which really helped.

Write: I bring my journal on the plane and write about the trip itself.  Here's an excerpt of the entry from my last flight:

8:35 am: I feel nauseous, on the verge of tears and a little shaky.  I've already gone to the bathroom about six times this morning--my bladder succumbing to a state of "nervous pees."  My heart is pounding and I feel a bit of bile collecting at the base of my throat... 8:47 am: We are moving...9:30 am: Regretting the decision to get coffee.  The flight attendant is very friendly but he filled my cup to the brim.  Now, too hot to drink, I am picturing the turbulence spilling it all over my lap...9:40 am: We're going through some clouds.  the plane is swaying and bumping.  I know the turbulence is normal but again I feel a surge of tightness in my chest.  Discreetly, I dab my overactive armpits with my beverage napkin...10:00 am: I'm glad to have finished my coffee...10:10 am: We're starting our descent.  Only 20 more minutes in the air.  Home stretch--I can do it!

And last, but not least, Define yourself:  If you think of yourself as Anxiety Girl, you will be anxious.  You are Adventure Girl, able to fly high above the sky on the way to your newest adventure.  You can do it!

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, I love you Allison! Four days from now we'll be all settled in our destination and the first flight will be behind me. I really am looking forward to a new adventure . . . but couldn't the pilot fly a little closer to the ground and have buttons to press if I wanted to get off? :) I talked a lady recently who LOVES to fly - she said she loves everything about it, taking off, the sounds and smells of an airplane, looking out the window, landing, etc. It reminded me that so much of our lives are about perspective. I'll let you know how it goes & thanks for the encouragement and great ideas! (p.s. - wow, do we look young in that marathon photo!)