Did you know you are a flight attendant?
I don’t enjoy flying. It gives me anxiety even though I work at a Depression/Anxiety Treatment Center as a child psychologist. It’s crazy to me to think that we are going to put 100 tons of metal, people, and their luggage thousands of feet in the air and keep it there. I know there’s all kinds of science to explain why and how this works but the emotional part of my brain has a tendency to take over and enlist the survival part of my brain, sending me into fight, flight, or freeze mode, and leaving the rational part of my brain off-line.
While I’m sitting in that cramped metal tube, my mind goes through an exhausting process of imagining disaster on one side and the psychologist part of me telling myself I’m worrying for nothing. Even though I’m reading to occupy my mind, back and forth, I move between panic and deep breathing exercises until the inevitable happens…We hit a little rough air. It doesn’t take much, just a bump or a shimmy and I’m looking for the flight attendant!
The flight attendant, you wonder?
Yep, I’m looking for the flight attendant so I can see the look on their face. They have all my attention. I want to know if they look concerned or not about the bumpy ride. They have the experience to know if that bump was normal. They, at this moment, are my leader and I’m looking to them to know what to do next; panic or go back to my book.
You are a flight attendant somewhere in your life. It may be at home with your family, or at work with employee’s or co-workers, it may be at church, or in the community. Regardless of where you are or who you are, there are times when you are going to be in a position where others are looking to you, when life gets a little bumpy, to see if everything’s going to be alright. They won’t know if the look on your face is related to things that impact them or just something very personal you are wrestling with…they will naturally assume that it’s related to them.
As you think about the depression/anxiety treatment and circumstances where this might be true, remember three very important things:
1. Child Psychologist Principles “They don’t have all the info and will fill in the blanks with worst case scenarios.“
The reason I’m looking to the flight attendant is because I don’t have the experience or knowledge to know what’s going on so I can know if I should worry or not. In the absence of information, I fill in the missing information (We humans are built to “complete the story”), or in other words, I fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, due to human nature, I will fill in the blanks with the worst-case scenario…the worst things that could happen. In this instance (being on a plane), worst case scenario is that we are all going to die in a big fiery crash.
2. Child Psychologist Principles “They see you as their leader and take great stock in what you say and do.”
As I find the flight attendant, I assess their reaction to the rough air we just experienced. If their face shows concern then I immediately assume that my worst fears are confirmed and we are going to crash and die. If they don’t look concerned then I am able to convince that part of my brain responsible for identifying threats that there is no threat and I can go back to reading my book and relax. There’s not much in between ground here. So, remember, when you walk into work, or the house, or into a meeting, all eyes are on you wanting to know if you look distressed or not. Based on that they will decide if they should worry that disaster is eminent or they can relax and go about their day.
3. Child Psychologist Principles “Generally, people can deal with bad news but they can’t deal with bad information.“
You may be thinking; “So, I have to pretend everything is alright all the time?”. That’s not what I’m saying at all. It’s important to allow others to know what I am dealing with because when I don’t they will just fill in the blanks with the most negative things they can think of, ultimately creating more work for me. I must be intentional about this. I want to be careful in how I present information and do it with the attitude of finding solutions. If it’s done this way most people will jump right in and help me solve the problems we face.
Whether you like it or not, you are a flight attendant and people are watching you to know if they are going to be okay. So, if they are going to be okay, make sure that’s what they can read in your face, your language, and your behaviors. It will definitely prevent a lot of damage control and cleanup work for you in the long run.