The folks on the Taking Flight Fear of Flying support forum are conducting an interesting experiment, going on a simulated flight from the US to Australia, as a tool to explore some of their Fear of Flying issues and anxieties, and practice strategies for dealing with long haul flight. It is a great thought experiment, and leads to some interesting discussion about preparations and experiences you will encounter when you fly.
Here’s a post I made on that forum regarding your passport and, more importantly, a simple exercise you can try to reduce anxiety and improve your awareness of the beautiful world around you…
One of the first things to go when you are severely anxious can be your “situational awareness”. That is, your awareness of the things going on around you.
Our brains are like old Windows 98 computers… they have a limited capacity and the software in our minds normally do a great job of task sharing to get the most out of old underpowered hardware.
If we are overly anxious, however, it is a bit like opening a 100MegaByte PDF on your old computer… everything else stops as the computer devotes it’s entire resources to the task you have given it. Thus little extra tasks, like knowing what is happening to your left, or right, or behind you, does not occur.
It’s important stuff… a car driver is much better and safer if they already have a mental picture in their minds of the traffic around them before they change lanes, rather than merrily staring out the front window and having to acquire this information as they turn the wheel.
But it doesn’t happen when you are stressed or overly anxious. This is probably an evolutionary adaptation that places the best survival value in opening that 100MB file, rather than keeping everything else functioning too. A lion is worthy of our full attention!
However, we ain’t in the jungle now and a lion is not chasing us. There IS value in keeping the extra functions running, and here’s why…
The human mind and human body are inextricably linked. If you are anxious your breathing rate will increase, but conversely if you lower your breathing rate you will become more relaxed (and the more you practice it the more it will help). Such experiments are the rationale for all of the breathing relaxation exercises.
So here is something a little different for you to try. It is my belief that other symptoms of anxiety can be used in reverse, just as the breathing exercises. Reduce the symptom and you will reduce the CAUSE of that symptom. Wanna try? (it’s very easy!)
The goal is to expand your bubble of awareness of what is happening around you…
- Allow yourself to become aware of what is in your peripheral vision. Were you aware before you thought about doing this?
- Listen to the sounds around you to inform your picture of what is happening behind you (and all around you). Little sounds, traffic noises, birds tweeting… it’s all information that can feed the building of a complete picture.
- If there are people around you, add their emotions to your map of the world around you. Are they happy? Are they sad? Are they focussed on their own thing, or are they interacting with others? What does their body language tell you about them?
That’s just a few examples of things to build your situational awareness. Eyes open or eyes closed… it does not matter.
How do you feel when you try this? By giving your Windows 98 mind other tasks you are preventing it from devoting all of it’s energy into feeding your tension tornado. The 100MB file is simply not that important, and does not deserve your total attention. Reduce the symptom and you will reduce the cause.
Give it a try and tell me if it helps.
But I opened this lengthy post with a reference to your passport, so I should get back to it. When travelling internationally your passport is your most valuable possession. DO NOT leave it in your suitcase! Also, DO NOT leave it in an unlocked bag on an airliner. This is a simple personal security observation… it NEEDS to be on your person or in a secure (preferably locked) carryon bag, because you can’t watch your bag at all times. Further, because you may be suffering some anxiety on board, your SITUATIONAL AWARENESS may be reduced. You will be distracted; You may not be aware of the the people around you; You may not sense their motives; You may not see if they slip a hand into your bag.
So a simple precaution is to keep important documents (passport, tickets, cash reserve, a credit card) on your person. There are some great travel baggage solutions for this (money belt, passport bag around your neck under your shirt, that kind of thing). There are always shops at airports that sell this kind of thing, but be aware that you may need to take it off for security screening… a lockable piece of carryon solves this problem. Whichever solution you choose, it is a good protection for if your situational awareness drops from time to time.
But also, practice increasing your situational awareness. What is happening around you? You will feel better if you know!
Tags: anxiety reduction exercise, fear of flying, passport, relaxation exercise