Combating Flying Stress with Digital Mindfulness

Late flights, lost baggage, crying babies, cramped seats.  These days, flying can be stressful.  Perhaps it is the process itself, or, extenuating circumstances that are outside of your control (um, being physically removed from your seat).  Or, maybe we just don’t put our experience in the right context, as pilot Patrick Smith did so eloquently in the Opinion Section of the NY Times this past week.  Regardless – the friendly skies have proven to be not-so-friendly recently.

I have a friend who flies a significant amount for work.  While normally a mild-mannered guy, ‘Steven’ recently had a Twitter melt-down on a flight when he experienced what he felt were a string of injustices (paid for extra legroom in economy which did not materialize, no room left for baggage, etc.).  After about five tweets to @Delta, I jumped in and suggested tongue-in-cheek that he take a mindfulness app with him on his next flight.  Such apps support the practice of meditation or mindfulness by way of guided sessions or relaxing music.

Pleasantly surprised, he took me up on it.  Actually, he went five steps farther.  He agreed to download five different apps and try one app on five different segments over a two-week period.  This was a big commitment, from someone who had not considered meditation or mindfulness in the past, nor had been aware that such apps existed!  Let’s see how he did…..

First flight to put mindfulness to the test – Atlanta to Chicago

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 11.25.35 AMSteven started out with a morning flight from Atlanta to Chicago for a quick day trip.  His app of choice for this flight was Whil.  Whil promises “Everything’s gonna be alright”, and offers tons of content based on your choice of mindfulness training goals.

For this trip, getting to, and through, the airport offered Steven moderate stress.  As he settled into his seat, he opened the app and had his choice of goals he wanted to accomplish based on Wellbeing, Performance, Relationships, and/or Sleep.  Deciding on Wellbeing, he was then given three programs to choose from – Accepting and Letting Go, Be Fluid and Non-Reactive, and Reduce Daily Stress.  He chose the last, and started the six session that were part of the program that lasted approximately 22 minutes.

Having finished the program and at a sense of peace, midway through the flight he decided to ask his neighbor if he had considered mindfulness as part of flying.  This neighbor, a serious, serial business flyer, wanted no part of the Steven’s enthusiasm, nor had any interest in mindfulness.  Oh well!

Following the flight, Steven arrived at his meetings and said he felt more in touch with his surroundings, and that he listened more attentively.  He enjoyed the sessions, was at ease on the flight, and felt there was a lasting impact during his day.  A good start for his mindfulness!

The same day return flight – Chicago to AtlantaScreen Shot 2017-05-24 at 11.44.44 AM

Following his successful, in-the-present afternoon meetings, Steven arrives back at the airport.  This time, the app of choice was Smiling Minds.  The app is part of a not-for-profit organization in Australia that is dedicated to “making mindfulness meditation accessible to all”.  The app itself is free, but you can donate to train teachers on mindfulness techniques for their students and classrooms in Australia.

Steven once again makes it through security, boards his flight, and sits in his seat with little challenge.  With Smiling Minds, he is offered 10 modules consisting of 42 different sessions.  As he opens the app, he is first presented with an introduction where he learns about the benefits of mindfulness, a sample 1 minute session, and then a 6 minute session.

He then navigates to the Adult programs and listens to the first two sessions including Body Scan and Exploring Breath.  At ease, he is lulled to sleep, bought on by both the sessions as well as the Australian presenter’s soothing voice.  All told – a pleasant flight, a good nap along the way, and a growing appreciation for mindfulness!

The next week, a longer haul third flight – Atlanta to San Diego

For this flight, I suggested Steven try Omvana, for its large library of meditation, sounds, and inspiration content.  While Omvana is free to download and does provide free content, most of the content needs to be purchased.  I wanted to see if he found value in paying for this premium content.

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 11.48.02 AM.pngFollowing a few sessions he was so impressed, he struck up a conversation with a flight attendant to get her view of using mindfulness techniques on the plane.  ‘Toni’, a flight attendant with Delta, told Steven she uses mindfulness apps regularly.  She uses them between her shifts “to get focused when I feel lost”.  She also told him the apps “really help me reset my thinking when I am out of sorts”.

The next day, a shorter fourth flight – San Diego to San Francisco

Short flight, and the app of choice was supposed to be Stop, Breath, and Think.  Having got to the airport late, Steven rushed through security and barely made it to his seat before the doors closed.  With work to get done in the short span of the flight, he decided to delay his mindfulness session until his next flight, the next day.

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 9.37.55 AM

And the fifth and final flight to test out mindfulness – San Francisco to Atlanta

For this final flight, Steven arrived back at the airport in a very foul mood.  His week had been long, and his day filled with challenging meetings, tough conversations, and cancelled dinner plans.  He was in no mood to fly again, never mind it also being a red-eye.

As he tried to relax in his seat, he opened the free Calm app and was immediately soothed by the sound of flowing water and birds.  He was about to start a timed meditation session, when his just-arrived aisle mate threw her bag over him and attempted to literally climb over him to get to her window seat.  She was obviously stressed and in angst.

Once boarding finished, and his neighbor engrossed in a book, Steven went back to his timed meditation.  Though he meant to eventually work for a couple of hours on the flight, he passed out only to awaken as his plane touched down back home in Atlanta.

Five flights, four mindfulness apps.   Time will tell if Steven becomes a true mindfulness adopter.  For now – I know that he enjoyed using the apps and really did feel they helped to make his flying experiences more pleasant.   I have also seen him refrain from tweets to @Delta, and now tweets about mindfulness and his new digital apps!

If flying is stressful for you, would you practice mindfulness with a digital app on your next flight?  

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