Why Does Turbulence Scare Me But Not Others?

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Anxiety is often caused not by the situation itself, but one’s thoughts about the situation. Here’s an excerpt from my book entitled “Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways To Manage Your Busy Mind” on the subjective nature of thoughts:

People’s judgments and interpretations become their realities. Consider the following situation where one person interprets an experience as fun, while another interprets the same experience as dangerous: A family with a young child travels home from Disney World on an extremely turbulent airplane. As the plane pitches, the little one giggles with delight. He loves it; the bouncing plane is like another Disney ride. When the plane finally stabilizes, the woman in the next row sighs with relief, releases her white-knuckled grip on the armrests, and exclaims, “Thank goodness that’s over!”

As William Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

If a traveler has anxiety, one of the first questions to reflect upon is: Am I reacting to something real, or am I reacting to an imagined outcome? Simply looking a situation directly in this way can often reduce anxiety.

Another helpful technique is focusing on the breath. Always available and accessible, awareness of the breath is a good way to interrupt a cycle of anxious thoughts. (Gently rest attention on the breath, noticing the pace of the breath, or your chest rising and falling, or the coolness of the air as you inhale and the warmth of the air as you exhale. Every time your mind wanders, gently direct it back to the breath, even if your mind wanders every few seconds.)

And finally, focusing on your feet touching a floor is a good way to “ground” yourself, especially when you are 25,000 feet in the air. (Bring your attention to the soles of your feet. Notice where they connect with the floor.. Are any part of your feet making firmer contact then others? Notice the temperature of your feet and the ground. Bring awareness to any other aspects of this connection. Anytime your mind wanders, bring them back to the connection of your feet with the ground.)


Joy Rains is a leading meditation speaker, author and guide, known for her clear instruction and soothing voice. Joy brings others the simple explanations she longed for when she first discovered meditation in the mid 1980s. She’s provided training to hundreds of people in the Washington, D.C. area, including on-site programs at The United States Food and Drug Administration, Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health, American University, and The Washington National Cathedral.

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