We will be expecting about 20 minutes of turbulence. The seatbelt sign is on so please stay seated.

After hearing this on the loudspeaker, I quietly freaked out. I started to list out my weaknesses: I don’t do well with heights, I get motion sick, and I’m in the middle seat…definitely not an ideal combination with turbulence.

I glanced over at the six year old next to me and she was calm and relaxed. I looked at the people surrounding me – one was reading a book, two were asleep, and another quickly typed away on her computer. I felt my palms get sweaty, my heartbeat increase, and my thoughts beginning to race.

What do people do when this happens? Why am I the only one freaking out?

As a mental skills consultant, I thought about the people I’ve worked with and what I would normally recommend to them.

Breathe. Okay, that’s easy…I’ve been doing it my whole life. How to breathe properly is one of the first things we teach our clients. Diaphragmatic breathing and box breathing are two basic methods. I immediately picked box breathing because as a trained dancer, counting helps me stay focused on a task and be consistent.

Breathe in 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2-3-4, exhale 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2-3-4.

I closed my eyes, held on to my armrests, and practiced breathing for seven entire minutes. While breathing did not take away my fear of heights nor the bumpy movement itself, it allowed me to have more control over my body – I wasn’t focused on my racing thoughts of the plane crashing to the ground but instead on the numbers that would keep me focused on what I could control.

We all face turbulent moments in life. There are bumps in the road which slow us down like a school pop quiz, flat tires that stop us from moving like a failed idea, and head-on collisions that take time and attention to heal like a sport injury. We can’t control what kind of turbulence comes at us, but we can be mindful of our reaction and how we handle our responses. For me, in my literal example of turbulence, I needed to go back to the most basic human behavior, breathing.

While we can’t control what type of turbulence life throws our way, we can learn how to best cope and deal with it. By applying mental skills to everyday life and deliberately practicing new tools, we can try to give ourselves a softer landing.

– Sarah Beacham –