I have a secret for you:
I don’t like flying.
I don’t like the idea of being in a pressurized tube thousands of feet in the air, hurtling along at ungodly speeds.
I don’t like being trapped in a confined space from which there is no escape.
I don’t like turbulence.
I really don’t like the feeling of being utterly helpless in my seat, unable to pilot the craft, but absolutely convinced that things would be much better if I was in the co-pilot’s seat.*
And while I can usually maintain my composure on a flight, there have been times on particularly bumpy rides when I’ve had to grip my husband’s hand tight, and even a couple episodes of silent tears.
No, I don’t like flying. But I absolutely refuse to let my anxiety about flying limit my ability to take advantages of the opportunities and experiences that flying enables.
In the space of just a few weeks, I’ve flown to Las Vega, Fort St. John, and Chicago. All of these trips were amazing. All of them gave me the opportunity to meet and connect with people, share experiences and knowledge, and see new and interesting things.**
And the more I fly, the less I fear it. I was even fairly composed when it came time for my flights to and from Chicago. Exposure helps a great deal in working through this fear. The longer I go between flights, the more anxious I become. When I fly several times in short order, I’m able to get through it fairly easily.
Once I’m up in the air, and my amygdala tries to claw its way into my consciousness with visions of horrible, terror-filled final moments, I help quell it by consciously (and sometimes vocally) marveling at just how amazing the whole thing is.
Isn’t it amazing that humans were able to figure out how to do this? Isn’t it amazing that we can actually keep a thing this size airborne? Look at the patterns of farm fields, at that mountain, at that snaking river, don’t they look amazing from this high up?
Yes, this strategy of choosing to be amazed instead of frightened feels completely fake at first, but if I keep it up I actually start to believe it. I start noticing things instead of living inside my own head, staring blankly at my own anxiety. I start to settle down, and even to enjoy myself.
If speaking gives you the same jolt of fear that flying gives me, don’t avoid it. Expose yourself to it as much as possible, even if it’s in a tiny gesture like voicing your opinion in a meeting or standing up to ask a speaker a question. Drown out your anxious thoughts with thoughts of wonder or amazement, or simply by noticing interesting things around you. Isn’t it amazing that everyone is here on a common purpose? Isn‘t it incredible that we’re able to videoconference with people living halfway around the globe? This is incredible – these people genuinely want to hear what I have to say, and I have this amazing opportunity to say it to them. This remote presenter actually vibrates when I only have two minutes left in my talk – this is the best gadget ever!”
These tactics might sound overly simple or silly, but they really do help. You might not eliminate your anxiety (I still get a bit nervous when I fly), but you will help work through it. And by doing that you’ll be sure that you never miss out on the opportunities and experiences that public speaking enables.
*This notion is complete nonsense. I have no idea how to fly a plane. It does, however, say something about my latent control-freak nature.
**This is also why this blog has been relatively quiet over the past month or so.