Anxiety robs us of enjoying life. It’s the great thief of our time and you should view it as your biggest enemy.
In 1998 I was on an extremely turbulent flight that caused me some long-term flying anxiety. Some passengers screamed and others prayed out loud. What probably lasted 15 minutes seemed to go on for hours. After this experience, I thought I was fine, but I was wrong.
A few months later, I was scheduled to travel. Before this flight, flying was exciting and fun. However, my excitement had turned into anxiety. My mind became consumed with thinking of ways to avoid flying. Without knowing it, I was feeding my anxiety. I ended up canceling my trip.
3 Ways We Feed Our Anxiety
We keep our problem fuzzy, unclear, and undefined. We often don’t even admit we have the problem in the first place and make some other issue our focus. The first step in solving any problem is to admit you have one. Write down specifically what you’re worried about or the main issue you need to face.
Anxiety loves when we focus on the worst-case scenario. The main job of anxiety is to keep you safe and prepare you for whatever danger you may face. Our minds get consumed with thoughts like “She will dump me”, “he will laugh at my proposal”, “I’ll get fired”, “I’ll get cancer”, “the plane will crash”, “we’ll go bankrupt”. There are endless potential worse-case scenarios, 95% of which will never happen.
We avoid addressing our problems directly and this is what feeds our anxiety the most. We make excuses rather than facing the core issues through getting help from resources and other people, and taking the actions we know deep down we know will help. I’ve had clients avoid opening their mail for years to avoid dealing with financial problems.
How I Fed My Fear of Flying
- I lived in denial that I had a problem. I told myself that I was weak. My embarrassment led to my problem staying fuzzy. (Ambiguity)
- I told myself that my next flight would be just as bad or worse, and I convinced myself that next time I would have a panic attack. (negativity)
- I did whatever I could to avoid flying. I avoided asking for help or helping myself. (avoidance)
“I never worry about action, but only inaction” – Winston Churchill
3 Ways to Starve Our Anxiety
#1. Clarify The Core Issue
I don’t let myself forget that this is an issue for me. I’ve been open with friends and family about my anxiety. I actually now have very little fear of flying. Flew to Europe twice over the last year, but I try and keep the tools I’ve learned.
#2. Best Outcome Focus
I no longer focus on the worst-case scenario and instead focus on the most likely scenario, of having a safe flight, instead. I focus on the opportunity and benefits like the fun activities when I arrive, making memories, and having enjoyable conversations on the plane. Instead of being consumed by the problem (fear of flying) I engage something hopefully. Yesterday on a long flight back from Paris, I consumed a great book, hung out with my daughter, journaled, did some work, and watched a good movie.
I started to research flying and talking to my pilot friends. I read parts of a book on the subject called Flying Without Fear. My counselor friends gave me advice on coping with anxiety. My friend Nate, who is a pilot, flew me from Wichita to Branson on a Cessna while I sat as a co-pilot. I went to see my own therapist to work on this fear which helped me deal with the root issues, some of which I wasn’t even aware of.
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A Simple Solution
I had this poem hanging above my desk for many years. Read through it twice. If you take what it says to heart, it will lighten your load.
Look to This Day
“Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence;
The bliss of growth
The glory of action
The splendor of beauty
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day!
Such is the salutation to the dawn.”
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