Dr. Molly’s Weblog

Molly O’Shea starts a revolution in pediatric care

Fear of airports (but not flying) June 22, 2008

Filed under: mental and emotional health,musings — Dr Molly OShea @ 9:49 pm

I really like traveling but hate the stress associated with getting to the airport gate.  I know many people who hate the flying part but for me, the stress comes long before that.  Perhaps it is in part due to the fact that I have been the lucky recipient of the random search on a fairly regular basis which adds a good 10 minutes to the time to get to the gate….maybe if I didn’t look so anxious about the whole thing I wouldn’t be ‘randomly’ picked so much.  Perhaps it is the fact that whenever I drive into the McNamara terminal parking structure every spot is filled except for the ones up on floor 10 which doesn’t even have elevator service.  Perhaps it is because I have to take about 22 pieces of clothing off, remove my laptop and the quart sized bag full of stuff just to get through the metal detector.  Or perhaps it is just that I don’t want anyone to see me running through the airport a la OJ Simpson with a dress and heels on when I am about as clumsy as could be.  Anyhoo, yesterday I was driving my Hertz rental back to O’Hare when I got, shall we say, just a little off course (read completely lost).  I have driven this route about seven times a year and never once gotten confused but yesterday I did.  I ended up driving about 10 miles out of the way and had to double back only to remember that I still had to fill the tank, return the car and get to the gate and my flight was only an hour away from takeoff!  Now I know you are thinking to yourself, “Plenty of time, RELAX!” but all I kept seeing was a missed flight and then a night in O’Hare all by myself.  Keep in mind that I usually am at the gate at least 1 hour and 20 minutes ahead of takeoff and don’t mind the long wait there.  Soooo, I was nearly having a nervous breakdown when I got to the gas pump and my credit card didn’t go through!  I ran into the station shack, slammed $35 on the counter and dashed back to fill up the tank.  Lucky for me I only had about 1/3 tank to fill since it took nearly the whole amount I had coughed up.  I then got to Hertz and had another near stroke.  When I had arrived on Thursday, it had taken over an hour to wait in line and get the rental (obviously I am not a Gold member) so when I drove in and saw seven cars in front of me in the return line I started hyperventilating.  By the time I got checked in and on the shuttle to the airport I was down to 30 minutes before take off.  I was relieved to know that because I had checked in and printed my boarding pass there was still a pretty good chance that I would have a seat assuming I could get through security quickly.  The shuttle driver, Lionel, was really nice and all but about the slowest driver on the face of the earth and so a good 10 more minutes ticked off the clock before he had dropped me at the terminal.  I had a carry on so I went straight to security and stripped and stacked and processed all my crap and then ran with my socks on to the gate.  I got there just before they closed the door and I made it to my seat in the nick of time! 

I bet for some of you this would be an adventure of sorts, a great story to recount, and other than a few beads of sweat, nary a bit of anxiety.  Well not for me.  Last night I woke up twice in a sweat reliving the sprint to the gate.  For me, the events of yesterday served to give reinforcement to an already exaggerated fear of missing a flight.  I bring this up not just to warn you that if you ever need a ride to the airport, you had better be ready six hours ahead of time, but also to point out that stress and anxiety are in the eye of the beholder.  We all have quirky things that stress us out.  Nearly all of which are based on something real, something that could actually go wrong, but our response is completely out of proportion to the actual risk. 

Kids are like this about many things….parents leaving the room, sleeping on their own, going to their first ‘drop-off’ party, spiders, bees, green vegetables, you get the picture.  We, as adults, are charged with the job of helping children learn perspective: to learn which things are really worthy of fear and anxiety, which are worthy of caution but no anxiety, and which are worthy of neither.  This is no easy task at times.  Children are often steadfast in their belief that there are monsters under the bed, or that the house next door is haunted and are difficult to dissuade.  When we, as parents, reinforce the concept of anxiety by not looking at reality ourselves and imagining the worst possible outcome we make matters worse. 

We, as parents, are guilty of hyperbole too.  We have fears of kidnapping, home invasion, sexual predators, etc that are way out of proportion to the reality of life.  It doesn’t help that television is quick to focus on and emphasize stories that reinforce these fears but the truth of the matter is that we instill a sense of anxiety in our children when we don’t allow them to play in the back yard for a few minutes on their own or don’t encourage them to walk to school with a friend when they are in grade school.  I know that we all grew up and played outside all summer with our parents having some vague idea of where we were but little else and I am not suggesting that complete hands off parenting is the answer either but what I am encouraging us all to do is to examine the reasons behind our reluctance to encourage independence in our kids.  For some parents, the idea of letting a child cry at night and learn to fall asleep on her own results in so much anxiety for them that they cannot encourage their child to achieve this important milestone.  For other parents, transitioning to table foods is significantly delayed because of a parent’s fear that the child will choke when in reality the risk of that is exceedingly low.  For some parents, the normal assertions of independence that children make in the form of defiance results in such anxiety that the parent ‘gives in’ or ‘gives up’ trying to set appropriate limits for kids (whether those kids are 3 or 13).  For some parents, allowing their child to make mistakes and even fail is so stressful that they will do nearly everything in their power to prevent that from happening. 

Children learn about anxiety from us.  Look closely at how you manage your own worries, how you encourage or discourage confidence in your children, and look closely at your flight time before you leave the house!

Eat, love and play and each day will be your best!

Molly O’Shea, MD  Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center



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