On a recent flight, I was sitting next to my worst nightmare.
The Old Me.
As usual, I came prepared: lists of things to do, tons of content and a good mindset. However, before takeoff, when the guy next to me kept popping up in his seat and shaking his legs and shifting around his body weight, I knew I was in for a challenge.
This poor bastard was experiencing some pretty intense anxiety symptoms. And every time his wife asked him if he was OK or told him to “relax,” I could see that he was petrified to have any attention cast on him.
Anxiety is contagious. It can transfer quickly to those susceptible to being anxious, especially in close quarters. Whether it’s the proximity effect or a change in the Oxygen/CO2 balance in the air, I’m not smart enough to know. But I know it’s real. I see it in my own relationships, sometimes as the transmitter, sometimes as the transmittee.
Initially, I wasn’t happy about this challenge. I started to dread the flight, worrying that I would take on these anxious feelings as my own.
That’s when I gave myself a pep talk, and permission to bask in the reward of “doing the work.” After a decade of acceptance, awareness, studying, and cognitive therapy, not to mention a legacy of success of on many flights, in many situations, I needed to summon up some confidence.
One thing that was effective to become Teflon for other people’s anxiety, in this case, was shutting out my surroundings. I guess similar to a horse wearing blinders, I put on my big headphones, blasted the music, and threw myself into some visually and mentally stimulating activities.
Each time I became aware of my seatmate, I made sure to throw myself into an activity in order to distract myself.
As soon as we landed, and the passenger popped out of his seat, the way I knew he would, he apologized for being so fidgety during the flight.
I told him it wasn’t an issue at all and that he did a great job.
He replied with one single word, that didn’t surprise me at all: “Xanax.”
“Hey man, whatever works,” I replied. “You did a great job.”
I think I did a pretty great job, too. 😉