How to Handle Anxiety Like a Zen Boss

My client Shannon is scared to fly.

Like, really scared.

If you visited her home, you’d see ‘Fear of Flying’ DVDs sprinkled among her movie collection.

If you bumped into her before a flight, you’d likely be asked many questions about your thoughts on aircraft safety.

And if you happened to be behind her in an airport security line, you’d literally FEEL her anxiety, it’s THAT strong.

Yet, she still flies.

She’s boarded many planes over the past decade. Nothing bad has ever happened to her. Deep down, she knows she’s going to be okay, but that doesn’t stop the rollercoaster of fear she feels in the weeks, days and hours leading up to a flight.

That’s the thing about anxiety, rarely is it logical.

Nearly 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. In Canada, that number is closer to 3 million.

Neither of those statistics take into account the minor feelings of anxiety that creep up on us at different times in our lives. If they did, they’d be much higher.

Shannon opened up to me about her fear of flying about a month before she was scheduled to fly cross-country from New Jersey to California for a holiday.

She was pumped about her trip to the west coast, but her excitement was clouded by the feeling of dread that filled her when she thought about having to get a on a plane.

She burst into giddy panicked laughter while she spoke about her fears and how on one hand she knew she’d be fine, but she still couldn’t shake the nerves and butterflies.

We spent a few sessions processing her anxiety. We talked in detail about where it stems from and came up with strategies to help her cope.

On the way to California her experience definitely wasn’t flawless. A cancelled flight and a lost wallet perked her anxiety. But she made it.

But on the way home she was like a Zen Master.

One thing you should know about Shannon is, like me, she’s really into signs.

So you can imagine how she could’ve felt when the morning of her flight she saw a black cat cross the road behind her hotel. Then when she got to the airport and her lunch bill came to $66.60. And when she boarded the plane and discovered she was seated in Row 13.

I mean, COME ON!?

She could’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. She could’ve totally freaked out. But she didn’t. She was even able to watch the take-off and landing from the plane window, which believe me was HUGE for her.

How did Shannon go from freaked out to blissed out? By opening up and trying out the steps below… 

Four Steps to Handling Anxiety Like a Zen Master 

1.Become aware.

I coached Shannon on the importance awareness plays in healing anxiety. Awareness is always the first step towards transformation. I mean, how can we begin to fix something if we don’t even know it’s broken?

So I told Shannon to pay really close to attention to what anxiety felt like in her body. Was there tightness in her chest, butterflies in her stomach, sweat dripping down her palms? I also told her to note the thoughts that accompanied her fear. What were the images and scenarios swirling through her mind that filled her with the sensation of dread?

By learning to recognize what anxiety feels like you then begin to process, release it and shift into a more positive mindset.

2. Be the witness.

This concept might be a little trippy to grasp at first, but once you “get it” it will change your life. Trust me. Here it goes…

You are not your mind. You are not your thoughts. You are actually the witness to your thoughts, a silent observer.

Once you’ve become aware that you’re struggling with anxiety, become the witness. Notice your thoughts and detach from them. Become the “watcher” of your mind.

By detaching from your thoughts, you take away a lot of their power. You don’t become absorbed in the worst-case-scenario thinking that can take you down the rabbit hole and keep your there for minutes, hours, days even.

3. FEEL it.

Once you’ve noticed your anxiety and detached from it, simply allow the sensations of fear to pass through your body. Don’t get upset with yourself for being upset. Don’t try and suppress your anxious thoughts.

If you simply notice your anxiety, detach from the thoughts, then freely allow yourself to feel your emotions, they will dissipate quite quickly.

Feeling painful emotions is hard and people tend to try and do everything they can to avoid it. We numb ourselves with drugs and alcohol. We ignore, suppress and override our feelings. We tell ourselves to “get over it.” But all that does is bury the pain. It gets buried, then it grows and festers, become bigger and bigger until before we know it we’re leaving in fear everyday.

So feel it. Just feel the anxiety. Let it flow through you. And be okay with it. Ups and downs are all a part of the beauty of the human experience. Without the dark, you’d never be able to appreciate the light.

4. SHIFT

Once you’ve allowed yourself to feel your feelings, shift. Shifting means taking positive action so that you can get back to a high-vibe state. During our session Shannon and I brainstormed a bunch of things she could do shift her out of her fear-based thinking while on the plane. Here’s a short-list of what we came up with…

+ Doing “brain” activities like crossword puzzles and word searches

+ Filling her iPod with positive podcasts and her favourite uplifting tunes

+ Watching a movie on the in-flight entertainment

+ Writing in her journal or colouring in her adult colouring book

Shifts can even me as simple as saying a short mantra to yourself, taking a quick walk outside or reading an inspirational quote.

We all suffer from anxiety in varying degrees at varying times in our lives. Learning how to handle it in a healthy way is one of the best habits you can create. Trust. 

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you struggle with anxiety?? How do you handle it? Let me know in the comments below.

With love,

Alex