One of the first airplane trips I can remember was when I was eight. We were going to Pakistan, by way of London, which would mean I’d get to see my cousins in the UK for a bit.
I counted down the days until the flight and was so excited to fly for a long period of time. I snuggled deep into blankets and watched movies (on one huge screen at the front of the airplane), and I was disappointed when it was over.
Then, in 2007, I started traveling every week for work. It never really bothered me, the travel. It was kind of fun, and I was racking up VIP points on airlines and hotels.
And then we took a flight to Malaysia in 2012. I remember that there was intense turbulence for three hours. And ever since that flight, I get terrified of flying. If the plane moves ever so slightly, or bumps for a few minutes, I get nervous, stop whatever I’m doing and try to control the plane with my mind to prevent it from crashing.
It got to the point where I had to take an online fear of flying course. The course taught me two things that made me feel much better:
- If you’ve ever put your hand out of the car window on a hot day, you’ve probably noticed that you can kind of do this wave motion with your hand and the air will feel kind of thick. That’s because the car is moving so fast that the air actually becomes thicker around it. The same thing happens on a plane, but the plane is moving even faster than the car. The effect is that the air outside of a plane is like jello, and the plane itself is like a little plastic figurine stuck in that jello. So you won’t fall out of the sky.
- Turbulence does not cause airplane crashes, faulty equipment does. And every piece of equipment has 2 or 3 backups on an airplane. Most pilots have never had to activate even one of these backup systems in decades of flying.
Since then, I’ve recovered a bit from my phobia of airplanes. Now, when turbulence happens, I just keep repeating this mantra:
You’re safe, you’re safe, you’re safe. This is a nuisance, but you’re safe.
I smile to myself. I think about all the fun activities I’ll do when I’m off the plane. It gets me through. And most times, even for the rocky flights, I don’t remember them much afterward.
That feeling of going through something turbulent but safe is something that has now transferred to other pain points in my life.
When I was a classroom teacher, and the class got out of control occasionally, I’d repeat… this is a nuisance, but you’re safe. And it would keep me from escalating.
When my son is sick and I’m on my last bar of human battery life, I repeat to myself… this is a nuisance, but you’re safe.
That amygdala, that lizard brain, gets activated during any kind of turbulence. And it takes all the strength I have to use my mantra to activate the front of my brain, the part that soothes the lizard, or at least puts it in a cage.
It’s a nuisance, but I’m safe.