Emotional Turbulence

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We boarded the plane, content, suntanned and happy, full of positive emotions and two weeks of great memories. As we fastened our seatbelts the pilot warned us to expect a few bumpy moments after take-off.

Meh, well, it was raining so I’d kind of expected it. What I wasn’t expecting was the constant rattling for the next five and a half hours.  At one point the cabin was rocking and rolling so much that the noise became overbearing. I heard my son ask: ‘Daddy, are we landing?’ But we were still somewhere over the Pacific and a long way from San Diego.

We’ve all been there…you get on a flight expecting it to be uneventful and then ‘boom’ the turbulence comes from nowhere.

1/3 of people probably stay asleep and are unfazed, another 1/3 are terrified and search frantically for their Xanax while the remaining 1/3 know it’s going to be OK but suffer through the whole experience. I fell into the final third. I knew in my gut everything was OK. The flight attendants were half asleep for God’s sake.

But still I gripped my seat!

As my grip tightened, I countered back with the thought, ‘What’s that going to do, Nicole?’

The next moment I trusted the voice of calm and slowly unfurled my fingers from the seat.

From there I breathed and began to relax with an audio book. That worked – until it didn’t – and when my coping gave out I gripped my seat again like my life depended on it.

That was me on repeat for over five hours, rocking and rolling like the turbulence, between trust and mistrust.

Some five or so hours later we landed safely and got back to our lives.

Soon after that brush with inflight turbulence, I went through a period of emotional upheaval and my mind immediately went back to the airplane experience.

Just like on the airplane, I knew the turbulent emotions were survivable.  It was uncomfortable but not so bad that I thought I couldn’t get through it.

But still I tightly gripped those old useless ways of coping. You know them – scrolling through Twitter, getting cranky, opting to stay in rather than get out and exercise. I craved the familiar, the safe and secure, even if I knew it wasn’t necessarily what was best for me in those circumstances.

Then eventually I started to let go and trust.

What I noticed is that when I could let go and trust that I could get through – that everything was OK – I had real moments of peace even with this discomfort. Of course, when I scared myself, I grasped again until I could gently relax.

I was easy on myself just like I was on the airplane. I also nudged myself to let go, trust and go with flow. Back and forth. Back and forth.

And I got through. I felt stronger, better after facing the discomfort.

Be gentle with yourself when you are facing pain. Also, notice when and where you are gripping and try letting go and trusting yourself, even for a moment. Don’t worry if you go right back to grasping what is familiar or use an old coping mechanism.

Slowly, gently, gradually, nudge yourself out of that. You will eventually let it go and trust.



Nicole C Weiss LCSW

Nicole WeissEmotional Turbulence

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