Traveler's Recital

Anxious about flying – Consider “Mind Taming”

Anxiety occurs when we lose control of our thoughts and the negative ones begin to take control. A mind out of control is never going to be happy. I am not a therapist, and this article is not going to eliminate your fear of travel or flying, but it might give you some direction for finding relief.

Meditation, visualization, and contemplation are the three pillars of what I call  “mind taming”. This is the name I give to the process of getting your thoughts back under your control rather than letting them control you. Actually, it was Buddha’s idea that our mind needed to be tamed. As “mind taming” is my term, so are the definitions I give below. These are not the standard definitions either from eastern or western philosophy.

Meditation helps break the cycle of negative thoughts that often occur in our minds by helping us think of nothing, or to think of something that does not evoke an emotional response (e.g. a meaningless mantra or music). When these cycles of negative thought are allowed to continue, they actually feed upon themselves and create a stronger and stronger emotional experience that can spiral out of control. Anxiety or panic attacks are the most obvious example of this. Most people are able to eventually let go of these negative thoughts without meditation. They either grow tired or bored with them before they become toxic. Other people are actually stimulated by them rather than becoming tired. These people have more difficulty letting them go without supplanting the negative thoughts with some non-emotional replacement.

Visualization can accomplish the same effect as meditation, but is considered slightly more difficult to do. Meditation is sort of the opposite of thinking. Visualization is not quite the opposite, but still can break the cycle. It does so by replacing the negative thoughts with thoughts that are calming. This only works if you can visualize something calming without allowing negative thoughts to impose. For example, if the visualization is of relaxing on a warm, deserted beach, an idea that might be calming for many, you might begin to worry if you are safe on a deserted beach. Clearly that would not work for you. If safety is a major concern, any visualization that asks you to imagine yourself being alone might be difficult to do without negative thoughts intruding. Many things that are called meditation, are actually guided visualization in my definition. Many so-called meditation classes are actually guided visualization…or guided imagery, not meditation. Visualization can be used to deal with fears or phobias by working through a guide visualization of that which you fear. This is never going to be a good first step. You must first be in a relaxed, non-fearful state before ever beginning a visualization of something you fear.

Contemplation is the focused thought on some positive idea, or an idea that you need to gain insight into. This is not a very effective method for breaking the cycle of negative thought. There is research that says you will subconsciously begin to believe, to some extent, things that you repeat over and over to yourself. A mantra such as, “In this moment I am warm, and safe and loved” is one such mantra that can be used for contemplation.

Anti-anxiety medications work by either putting you to sleep, or by making it hard to think. When it is hard to think you are more likely to let go of some of the negative thoughts rather than struggling to keep hold of them. This may have the same result as a good meditation…although the side effects and addictive properties are not good. The use of anti-anxiety meds, combined with guided visualization, can be effective because the meds help break the cycle and the guided visualization gives you something else to think about without requiring concentration…something not possible with the drugs.

There are plenty of people and organizations that provide help dealing with anxiety. Find one and give it a try. If it does not work for you, you should always feel free to move on and try another. The types of meditation, visualization and contemplation are almost limitless.

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