Calm in the Face of Stress

My brain seems to be wired to produce metaphors for many of my experiences. This short story is one I’ll share.

I was on a particularly bumpy flight in a small turboprop aircraft. The turbulence was somewhere between moderate and severe. It was quiet in the cabin as everyone was just trying to cope. Seconds seemed like minutes.

I found that I was tightly gripping the armrests to brace myself from the aircraft’s numerous jerky movements, and I had tightened my seatbelt as tight as I could make it. I’m sure that my countenance was one of concern and dread. Gripping the armrests and trying to brace myself from the turbulence raised my stress levels, and I was becoming quite tense. I could feel the adrenalin surging through my muscles, and yet there was nothing that I could do that would change the situation at all.

Then I had a moment of introspection: was all of this gripping and being tense making any difference? Was it helping in any way at all?

Realizing that my efforts to steady myself were doing more harm than good, I took a deep breath, loosed my seatbelt (a little), and let go of the armrests. Doing so felt like a step of faith.

The turbulence continued to toss the plane about. It was still quiet in the cabin. But I felt a change.

After several moments, despite the turbulence, I was more relaxed. The seconds didn’t seem so long, and my stress level decreased. A few times, my reflexes caused me to reach for the armrests when we hit big air pockets. To compensate, I crossed my arms to help resist the temptation to grip the armrests again.

Things got better still. I was able to close my eyes, and soon I was completely relaxed, despite the plane’s continuing to shake violently.

After the flight, I thought of the experience many times. I began to recall how, during difficult moments at work or home, I would try to hang on and maintain a grip on the situation to control it. Using what I learned on that turbulent flight, I began to be more relaxed, particularly in circumstances where I had little control to begin with. There’s no point in getting worked up in situations where one has little or no control.

I’ve long had the reputation of being the “cool and calm” one in a wide variety of situations, including some pretty scary experiences. The experience of that flight has helped me to up my serenity game still further. Does tensing up and gripping the safety handles really help?

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