Let me walk you through some realizations and observations I had while up in the air.
I recently came back from vacation to Florida. Before leaving, these were my thoughts: “I can’t wait to be back already.” I dreaded the trip so much that I couldn’t see past the flight.
I just wanted to land safely back home and live to tell the tale. And I did, yay! I am now here to tell you the tale. I even made a deal with the universe that if I made it back, I would set out to write a book this year…so yeah, watch out for that one as well, else karma is coming for me.
Yes, I have flying anxiety if you haven’t figured it out. Quite bad. After traveling to over 25 countries, you’d think I’d be over it, but it’s only exacerbated in recent years, especially after having kids.
And to be honest, it went even further than flying anxiety. Having lived in Europe for 2 years, our use and need for a car has significantly diminished, so I haven’t experienced driving anxiety in a while.
But knowing that we were going back to Florida, one of the worst states when it comes to driving, I had many sleepless nights driving down the highway every day with the kids.
For funsies, normally, in the Netherlands, we spend about 5 hours in the car in a regular month. Here’s how much time we spent in the car during our 10-day trip in Florida – 30 hours! Granted, we went to Orlando, down to Miami, and were out and about.
But let’s table driving anxiety for another day and return to flying anxiety. Before I let you in on the 4 eye-opening insights about social anxiety I had on the plane, I want to give you some background first.
Now, I’ll say that most of my thoughts on the flight weren’t “oh, I don’t like turbulence.” Still, more like, “the plane can take a NOSEDIVE any second!” and “I can’t believe I’m going to die for Florida!” and “My kids are so innocent in this. I’m such a terrible mom!” type of thoughts.
I had to consistently remind myself that “planes don’t just fall out of the sky,” that “engineers stress-test planes under much harsher conditions,” and that “the plane is supposed to move like this and be flexible to withstand the pressure outside.“
It worked for a while. Until the next time the seatbelt sign came on, and a hit of turbulence shook us. The same goes for dealing with social anxiety.
Chances are that you LOGICALLY know what you should be doing, how you should be acting (or not), and the solution to your triggers, yet no matter how much you want to be objective about it, the moment you run into an uncomfortable situation, you revert to your old habits.
So, I tried a different strategy.
During the turbulent moments and the free-fall drops, I repeated certain statements to calm myself down or at least not go into catastrophizing mode. Else it would have been much harder to pull myself out of it. I stayed on top of my anxiety because I technically narrated my feelings back to myself.
So, for example, when we were in a steady light turbulent flow, I’d tell myself, “I can handle this,” because I didn’t feel the plane go down.
When the turbulence would pick up, and my stomach would drop a few times in a row, I’d tell myself, “Now, this I cannot handle; this is a hard phase.” Free of judgment.
Throughout the flight, I’d go back and forth on those statements. I also tried to gather courage from other passengers not impressed by the turbulence. I felt like they knew something I didn’t.
Kind of like when you look at someone easily showing off during a conversation and being all charismatic; it feels like they’re holding on to a secret formula we’ll never have access to.
During moments of calm, I repeated the statement, “I’m safe. I’m still here”, over and over.
And while doing so, I realized that I was approaching my fear of flying the same way I approached social anxiety at the beginning of my journey, when I had no tools to manage it.
Not having the insights about social anxiety to help, you’re going in blind, and you’ll have a harder time being comfortable with yourself. There’s a reason why they say that “knowledge is power,” but I’ll add that “knowledge is power when it’s applied”.
There’s no substitute for effort, but you can speed up the process if you understand and take these 5 ways seriously. This is your starter pack; what you do with it is up to you.
When you’re unsure what to do and feel like an invisible force is holding you back, you will automatically look around and see if others feel that way too.
At the height of turbulence, I looked around to see if everyone else thought these were their last seconds too. Turns out, it was mostly just me. The passengers around me were chilling, sleeping, and chatting while I was trying to keep my cool as my 2-year-old looked up at me and said, “mama help me, I’m falling.”
All I could wish for in those moments was to have those people’s peace of mind—their knowledge to calm me down. Yet, no matter how much I wished for it, I wasn’t them.
There are many tools and strategies to help you manage your social anxiety without wishing it away or wishing you were someone else. But they all involve significant effort. Managing my flying anxiety is possible if I put in the time and effort.
I’ve just decided that I’m going to grind my teeth and make it through the ride (or not) as best as I can because I don’t travel that often. I don’t have the time or space in my life to tackle this anxiety as well.
Looking at the other passengers, I was not privy to the work they’d done to reach a state of calmness during turbulence. Maybe they were just great at hiding behind it, or they have a great history with flying that makes them immune to it. The same goes for when we see someone that’s socially confident.
We don’t know how much work they’ve done to get to that point, whether or not they had to work through their trauma or social anxiety. We can assume they’ve probably put in the time and effort to improve themselves. Unless they were just born with it, you know?
If you’re at the point in your life where you’re open to putting in the effort, I highly suggest you download my free guide with the 5 quick ways to manage your social anxiety to get started.
Unless I were outright screaming that we were all about to crash into this massive ocean, no one would have known I was panicking inside.
This whole time, I assumed everyone around me was composed and at ease during turbulence because that’s what I could see from the outside, yet if you were to look at me, you’d think the same thing! There was no indication in my person that I was on the verge of breaking down.
Most of the time, no one has a clue as to what’s going on in your head. You think you’re coming off too strong, too rude, too anti-social, and so on, while those around you believe you are acting perfectly normal.
What goes inside does not reflect on the outside. Unless you display some physical symptoms, but they have to be prominent for someone to notice. The cool thing about social anxiety is that it mostly plays out in your mind.
How is that cool, you ask? Because it means you come off infinitely way better to others than you think we do!
Logic can only take you so far before ingrained habits and old thought patterns re-emerge. As I mentioned earlier, thinking about statistics, lift theory, and safety protocols did NOTHING to make me feel more at ease.
The odds of being in an accident during a flight is one in 1.2 million, and the chances of that accident being fatal is one in 11 million.
Ok, but there are roughly 100,000 flights that take off and land every day all over the globe, with about 500,000 people estimated to be up in the air at any given time. Meaning that, on average, daily, six million people are flying.
Now, I’m not great in math, and what I might say won’t make sense, but if those are the numbers and the stats, there is A POSSIBILITY that I’m the unlucky one. That’s all I have to say.
By the way, as an FYI: Conversely, your chances of dying in a car crash are one in 5,000. Thought you’d like to know that since we’re on the topic of fiery deaths.
Similar to social anxiety. I can tell you how many people experience it, how common yet invisible it is, and how cognitive distortions play out in your mind. Still, unless you genuinely can disassociate from the thoughts and feelings you have about it, my efforts are futile.
What does help, though, is experience, challenging your mindset, understanding yourself, and repeating that you can handle any situation. Oh, and of course, listening to my podcast, You’re Worth Knowing. By listening in, you can learn to experiment with the best strategies for you.
As for me, you can imagine how elated I was when we landed back home. Feet on the ground. Solid ground. We are planning trips shortly, but I’ll give myself a few weeks’ break before I return to dreading a vacation and wishing I was already home.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode and if any of these insights about social anxiety make sense.
While on a recent trip from Amsterdam to Florida, while in panic mode that the plane would drop, I had 4 insights about social anxiety.
I went from being scared to ask a question out loud to hosting summits online. I love coffee, french crepes, and working from home. My mission? Help others build their social confidence to make friends, have conversations, and be comfortable around people!
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