Wellbeing and mindfulness aren’t just for retreats, spas, and other calm environments. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. While placing yourself in a soothing environment, like sitting in a favorite room in the morning while enjoying a cup of tea, is important for calming mind and body, the power of mindfulness can be fully experienced in the midst of chaos.
Returning from a recent trip, my sixteen-year-old son and I sat at our airplane gate when simultaneous pings sounded from not just our phones but from the phones of passengers around us. It was the airline informing all ticket holders that the flight had been delayed for at least an hour and a half.
The stress and tension became palpable. Groans and curses escaped from lips. When an airline employee appeared at the counter, things seemed to become worse, for now there was a target for anger and frustration.
To be sure, hearing that one’s flight has been postponed can be a problem. For my son and me, it meant that we would miss our connecting flight and, because it was already evening, would have to wait until the next day to fly. Inconveniences of varying sizes came with this flight delay. Then, the next day, we almost missed our plane due to another incident with the same airline coupled with some glitches in security.
Despite this, my son and I actually enjoyed this travel experience, and while we would have preferred to return home as scheduled rather than a day later, the time wasn’t stressful or anxiety-provoking. The key to a positive airport experience despite veritable chaos was the right mindset: mindfulness.
Mindfulness is Just Being and Doing
After the fact, I asked my son what it was that kept him so calm, content, and level-headed rather than stressed, anxious, uptight, or angry. After a good twenty seconds of contemplation, he shrugged and responded,
I don’t know. It’s just how I was.
That is mindfulness at its finest. Mindfulness, at its core, is not thinking things to death but instead is simply being and doing. (The word “simply” is a bit deceiving. It refers to the fact that mindfulness doesn’t involve tricky rules, techniques, and other requirements. “Simple,” in this case doesn’t necessarily mean easy.)
As it was for my son, the airport experience was a matter of just being in the moment for me, too. Rather than thinking and agonizing over the possible problems that could arise, I used mindfulness to exist in each moment, being how I wanted to be and doing what I needed to do.
Worrying about what time the plane would finally arrive and whether we’d get home that night as planned would increase stress and agitation, but it wouldn’t change any outcome. My own subjective thoughts and emotions could change, but the outcome, entirely dependent on the airline and its airplanes, would not.
By being mindful, focusing our attention on the moment at hand, we can all create a sense of inner peace and wellbeing no matter what external circumstances we are facing. There are specific ways mindfulness can foster calm among chaos.
How Mindfulness Keeps Even Airport Stress at Bay
Mindfulness is about living, breathing, and staying present with yourself in the sphere in which you have choices or control. Mindfulness is catching yourself overthinking, agonizing, worrying, or stressing out and then bringing your attention to yourself in this moment. Turn your mind away from worries by acknowledging them and then gently telling yourself, “…and right now I am…”
In the airport situation, you may be upset that your flight has been delayed and you’re waiting in a long line of angry people, worrying that you might not fly today or even tomorrow. Catch those anxious thoughts and stressful feelings. Then add a reminder of your present moment, your only reality.
You might catch yourself thinking, “I might not get home tonight. I might miss tomorrow’s important meeting at work and parent-teacher conferences. That stupid Rick is going to upstage me because I won’t be there. I’ll look like a terrible parent, too…” When you shift away from this by adding, “…and right now I’m standing in line doing what I can do to get home. I can contact my family and my boss, and then I can relax and read my book while I wait in line to figure things out. I’ve been wanting to chance to read. Now I have it.”
By reminding yourself that you have choices in the present moment, even if they’re small, can help you stay grounded in the present moment and just be and do what you need to do.
Some other ways to use mindfulness to your mental health advantage:
Check in with yourself. Ask, “What’s in my control? What is not?”
In the airport, neither I nor my son could change the flight delays or the fact that we would miss our next flight and have to fly the next day. We could, however, choose to make the situation positive, thus reducing stress and anxiety. But how to make it positive? By living in the moment (yes, even though the moments at first seemed negative).
Choose your perspective.
Mindfulness emphasizes what is happening now, in this moment. It’s natural to worry about what is going to happen next: is the flight going to be rescheduled or cancelled altogether; when am I going to get to fly; will I arrive at my destination on time or will I miss important things; what are they going to do with the luggage I already checked; there are so many people in front of me in this line that there might not be a seat for me.
These worries, while normal, will do nothing other than increase stress and anxiety. You can’t control the answers to any of those questions. You can, though, choose to be in the present moment. Enjoy the company of those with you. Smile at others. Play a game of scrabble on your phone while you wait. Focus your thoughts and feelings on the here and now.
Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life. —Thich Nhat Hanh
Breathing washes mind, brain, and body with soothing oxygen. Taking slow, deep breaths helps the brain function properly, regulates the nervous system, and keeps the body working well, too. In her article Decrease Stress by Using Your Breath, Dr. Emma Seppala explains that research shows that breathing helps us develop and maintain a healthy mind as well as healthy emotional responses to things going on around us.
Seek and find.
To be mindfully aware of the positive moments in the present, use all of your senses to seek and discover
- things that are pleasant (beauty around you, the company of loved ones)
- things that are funny (the airport we were in had a life-sized cow painted like the sky and grass, and it happened to have a very nice butt)
- connections with people, both enjoying who you’re with as well as smiling and reaching out to others
Ultimately, my son and I arrived home. A day later, sure, but we were still home. And we enjoyed the process and each present moment. Mindfulness truly did keep us stress-free in an airport.