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Life According To Lenson

When Mother Nature Strikes the Airport
Posted by Eileen Lenson on Jan 18, 2014 - 1:26:17 AM

UNITED STATES—This new year brought with it deadly blasts of arctic air, wreaking havoc on travelers across most of the country.  Record cold single digit temperatures that could cause frostbite in minutes forced school closures.  The extreme cold caused train schedule disruptions, homeless shelters to be filled to capacity, and weather related deaths throughout the country due to exposure.  Some of those most severely impacted by the coldest weather experienced in two decades were air travelers.  Thousands of scheduled flights underwent extended delays and cancellations, creating days of chaos for stranded travelers. 


Unlike the upbeat 52 researchers, scientists and tourists stranded for two weeks aboard the Russian ice-locked ship in Antarctica, not all travelers were able to cope well with the delays.  Josh, a client of mine traveling for business, found himself grounded for two days at an airport due to flight cancellations.  In a telephone coaching session, he reported feeling powerless, anxious and angry, while also concerned about missing important work related meetings due to his inability to travel.  He needed help managing his stress.


I taught Josh three techniques for dealing with adversity. 

Remnants of the aftermath of mother nature on an airplane.


1.  Gratitude:  We tend to go in the direction in which we are thinking.  If we are experiencing events in a negative manner, then our outcome will likely be negative.  Josh was certainly headed in this direction.  I assigned Josh the task of ending each negative thought or comment with a positive statement.  For example, to the end of the thought, "I hate being stuck here", would have to added "...but I sure am glad I'm not stuck outside in the four degree temperature." 


Josh was skeptical, but he engaged in this task.  I called him twice the first day to ask if he was remembering to complete his sentences with gratitude.  Josh didn't hit a home run with this exercise, but it was a new task and he felt it did stop some of the downward spiraling of negativity.


2.  Progressive muscle relaxation: Sitting down, with eyes closed and hands on the lap, one begins by breathing deeply and slowly.  One learns to be mindful of where stress is located in the body, and then gives it permission to be released.  Any distractions or thoughts that enter into the process are gently acknowledged without judgment and then dismissed.  One then begins to visualize stress being removed from the body, starting at the top of the head and progressing down through the eyebrows, lips, chin, neck, and so on through the fingers, belly, and eventually down through the feet and toes.


The entire process can take anywhere from five to 20 minutes.  When practiced over a period of time proficiency is built with this skill, and eventually can be practiced with eyes open, even when standing.  Josh eventually was able to use this technique when waiting in the long food lines and at the ticketing booth-counters.


3.  Generosity toward others:  When we are upset, our attention is nearly fully focused on that issue.  In this case, Josh was preoccupied with concerns related to his travel, his work, and his inconvenience.  His self-absorption was making his stress greater because his world was filled up with concerns about himself.  Research has shown that being able to focus on something other than oneself is beneficial in reducing stress.  One's world is expanded, and no longer are problems the only thing focused on. 


I charged Josh with finding an individual or group of other people at the airport who were stranded, and whom he could help.  Although reluctant, he eventually found himself sitting in an eatery next to a young mother traveling with her four year old daughter.  As any parent knows, traveling with children is challenging at best.  But to be doing so alone, and then find oneself jammed in an airport for hours - or days - on end, could be the recipe for parental nightmares.


Sensing the woman's frustration, and imagining how his own grown children would be coping in such a situation, he engaged the child in calming and distracting activities.  Josh's engagement gave the mother some much-needed relief.  Surprisingly, Josh found his own blood pressure going down, and felt calmer and more accepting of the fact that he was going to be grounded in the airport for quite some time.  He learned that he had a choice; to either fight it and be stressed, or accept and make the most of his experience.


With a small amount of planning, and a moderate amount of effort, anyone can learn to reduce stress.  This is achieved by adapting to, rather than fighting, the truth that you have to be where you are at the moment.  These stress reduction techniques will not make your problem go away.  But fortunately, by employing the skills of gratitude, progressive muscle relaxation, and generosity, stress will no longer control you. 

Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW, Board Certified Coach, is a life and business coach in private practice.  Prior to becoming a life coach, Eileen was a licensed clinical social worker for 20 years.  Eileen has previously worked as a Shock-Trauma social worker, and spoken internationally on grief and bereavement.  Over her career, Eileen's writings include the book, Succeeding in Private Practice:  A Business Guide For Psychotherapists (Sage Publishing), contributing author to Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society, and writer for multiple magazines and newspapers throughout the country.  For further information or to schedule an appointment, write to her at, or visit her website at, or call her at 949-244-5100.


Cliffside Malibu




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