Recently I was on a long international flight and I happened to be seated next to two older gentlemen. I had the window seat and I just wanted to look out the window and not interact with anyone. I wanted to pop in my headphones and ignore everyone and everything around me. I felt anxiety about flying and the reason for my unplanned trip was also a factor in my increased anxiety. I wanted to get lost and absorbed in the podcast episodes I downloaded and forget for a few hours that I was experiencing a major shift in my life.
When the two gentlemen got settled into their seat, I could tell they did not know each other, however they greeted each other with a lot of kindness and warmth. I stopped the podcast episode (but left my headphones in) so I could listen to what they were saying (okay, you know you would have done that too!). They both smiled at me and I waved at them and as we were waiting to leave they started talking about where they lived and why they were travelling. I found myself getting really annoyed and could sense the anxiety increasing. I wondered why they couldn’t just be quiet.
I continued listening to them talk and found myself softening on the inside. I’m not one to strike up a conversation randomly with people I don’t know, but these two men seemed so comfortable with each other. Actually, one was offered a seat closer to his wife and he laughed while saying “I like it here by my new friends.” I smiled at his response. As I listened to them talk about their life experiences and shared encouragement with each other, I noticed I was less annoyed and felt the anxiety level decrease. I was actually somewhat comforted by their interactions.
When we got our customs/immigration forms to fill out on the flight, I noticed they both were looking for pens so I offered them two of mine (yes, I carry multiple pens, ha!) They smiled, said thank you, and we filled out our forms. After, they returned the pens and turned their discussion to me and asked how I was doing and mentioned that I was such a kind person. They talked about how they observed differences across generations and also offered me a lot of pretty awesome life advice. The longer we talked, the more at ease I felt. I found myself caring about them and thanked them for being kind as well.
When it was time to disembark, they both made space for me to get out before them and prevented anyone from rushing or getting too close to me. When we got into the terminal and went our separate ways, I felt a little sadness. They won’t know how much their interactions and talk with me helped soothe the anxiety. I wondered what made a difference? Here’s what I believe:
- listening to them allowed me to get outside of myself and focus on something and someone positive
- their positive and uplifting energy was stronger than the anxiety and fear I felt
- by interacting with them, I was able to laugh and share fun stories – anxiety can’t take up much space when that’s happening
- I felt safe talking with them. that safety allowed me to interact without thinking they were creepy or harmful
- I basically distracted myself by focusing on their positive and cheerful interaction
Have you ever felt anxious and was able to self-soothe by being around others who were safe?
Next time you are around others, notice how your body reacts and responds to their presence
~ Karisse C