How to melt claustrophobia and panic.

airport flight meditation

What happens when you have a simple mindfulness practice that you can rely on?  Something you can pull out on demand, when you feel yourself starting to lose it and you absolutely need to be grounded and calm?

Here’s a story from one of my students, and how a simple practice has made a massive difference:

When I am overly tired or under high stress I get a little claustrophobic in elevators.  The feeling passes quickly enough so I haven’t worried about it, but in the last year I seem to feel that way a little more often than before.   

I was travelling back from a long, fun-filled weekend in Charlotte, NC last month and was scheduled to fly from Charlotte to Atlanta, then Atlanta to San Francisco.  I hadn’t had much sleep but the flight from Charlotte to Atlanta was fine.  I boarded the plane for the second leg of the trip okay and had a middle seat.  

All was well until the planes doors were closed and one of the passengers had to leave the plane because there wasn’t a seat for him.

I’m not sure why, but watching the man walk up the aisle and wait to exit the plane caused a lot of panic or anxiety in me.  I sat straight up in my chair and tried to get control of myself.  It seemed like the more I tried to focus the more my mind rapidly reeled and spun these crazy thoughts: “The plane is going to crash”; “That man planted a bomb”; “He knows something we don’t”.   I got to the point where I felt like the only thing for me to do was to unbuckle my seatbelt and bolt for the door.  I was about to make a scene.  

I put my head on the seat in front of me trying to gain control when I suddenly thought, go to your meditation place.  I immediately started breathing deeply and kept repeating “let go of your thoughts and focus on your breath”.  By the third breath, I felt the pounding in my chest start to calm and by the fifth breath I had relaxed enough to move my head from the seat in front of me and notice that the woman sitting next to me was speaking to me.   I kept breathing deeply but I knew I was back to myself.

I’m not sure why I went into that panic mode, but I am so grateful that now I have an answer to my claustrophobia and any future panic.  I have my meditation place and I’ll always have it with me and that is peace in itself.

The last paragraph makes me so happy.  Yes, it’s just like that.  Once you have this ability to access your source of calm presence, you become really free, really powerful.

Life will always throw you curve balls.

There will always be unexpected moments of panic, fear, or uncertainty.

But now, instead of being captive to those moments, it’s possible to connect with the peace you bring within yourself.  It is always there, if you just remember how to find it, and use it skillfully.

In this case, the question isn’t, “How can I never feel claustrophobic or panicked?”  But, rather, “When I do feel that way, how will I handle it?  What tools do I have to support myself when I find myself in that place?”

We all have our own versions of that.  And meditation becomes a very useful tool.