“We are unable to fix the problem with this aircraft, so we will have to disembark you and find another aircraft to take you to your destination.” With this announcement the tension and anxiety palpably rose in the plane. We had already been delayed by three hours in Chicago on a sweltering 100-degree heat day, and it looked like it was going to be a longer wait yet. Despite the controlled air conditioning, there was no control about how people felt regarding this delay. They stumbled off the plane furious and frustrated.
Many of us have found ourselves in this predicament at one point or another, and not just about travel. It seems that we are becoming increasingly unable to handle the fluctuations and unpredictability of our daily lives. In today’s society we have hair trigger sensitivity to discomfort and inconvenience. Returning into the chaos of the flight terminal, everywhere I turned, anger was either simmering in muttered tones, or breaking out into flames of verbal abuse at flight attendants and airline staff. That evening, it seemed to me that we were not so much at the mercy of delayed flights, but of the uncontrolled emotions that streamed from the anxiety of not being in control, and threatening to take over our very lives. Yet learning to deal with these emotions is a key factor in how we take care of our health.
We know from countless studies that this kind of anger is bad for us. Anger is “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage,” according to Charles Spielberger, PhD, a clinical and community psychologist who is well-known for his development of the State/Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). In an article, The Psychology of Releasing Anger, he remarks that “physiological and biological changes occur with this emotion – such as depression, hypertension, increased heart rate and blood pressure.”
So how do we manage anger before it spirals out of control? The article continues that studies have shown that neither “letting it out,” nor turning it inward towards ourselves tempers or controls anger. In fact, either process may do more harm than good. What Speilberger points to in his studies is that anxiety plays a major role in the anger issues we experience. So dealing with anxiety is where I start in bringing about a healthier way of dealing with the unforeseen events of daily life.
There are many theories about dealing with stress and anxiety. However, the one I find that is consistently effective is prayer. Contemplative prayer is a wonderful, quiet place to go to – yes especially in an airport. My first thought is always to turn away from the anxiety, and from the situation, to the knowledge of the presence of God right there – to a place of safety and sureness. That evening, in the midst of the chaos I felt a quiet reassurance that reached deeply into my being. This kind of prayer is not pleading with God to get me a plane. but rather a time to feel loved and reassured. And when one is ready, this assurance of goodness can be shared with others. And that is what I did next.
In the crowd was an elderly Mennonite woman and her daughter, whom I had met on the previous connecting flight. They looked lost and afraid and spoke very little English. I went up to them with a reassuring smile and we spoke about their home and family – just familiar things. Pretty soon I was chatting with all kinds of people, and listening to their stories, opinions and worries. It became a time of making new friends, instead of simmering with frustration and nervous reaction to every new announcement on the loud speaker.
The journey home that night was buoyed by gratitude, an abiding sense of peace and a deep affection for my fellow travelers and the crew. Realizing that I did initially feel anxious about getting to my destination helped me to connect with others who felt that way. I knew that I did have a choice about how to react. That is incredibly empowering, and health giving.
Anna Bowness-Park is a Christian Science practitioner of spiritual healing, and spokesperson for Christian Science in British Columbia. Feel free to contact me with your questions or comments.