Mind / Body / Spirit

Back to the Basics with Dr. Robyn McKay – Flying Lesson

In the 2003 comedy Anger Management, Jack Nicholson played Dr. Buddy Rydell, Adam Sandler’s (Dave Buznik) inept and absurdly inappropriate anger management therapist. In case it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, let me remind you about a memorable scene from the movie. Picture this: Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler in bed. Together. Not only was it a wildly uncomfortable (and hilarious) scene, it was also hugely inaccurate.

Stereotypes make for good laughs and exceptional drama in the theatre. But the role therapists and coaches play in their clients’ lives on the silver screen is largely distorted. Think about how characters like Robin Williams’ (Good Will Hunting), Richard Dryfuss (What about Bob), or even Nicholson’s Dr. Buddy Rydell might have influenced your own willingness to seek expert advice from real-life professionals. Heck, if all I knew about therapists and coaches was what I saw in the movies, I’d be skeptical too.

My name is Dr. Robyn McKay and I’m breaking the stereotype.
As a coach for creative and talented people, I teach people how to harness their creativity and generate peak-performance emotions like optimism, happiness, and passion. There are times when a glass of cabernet seems to fix almost anything, including travel-related stress. But when you travel, there are times when a glass of wine (or your favorite beverage) just isn’t an option. When you read my column, you’ll get to experiment with my flying lessons, and to find out for yourself if there actually is a different way to experience your trip – wherever it takes you.

Flying Lesson: Even if you can’t control your circumstances, you can choose how you feel about your circumstances.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you were always in complete control?
If how you feel depends upon whether or not the baby in 13C is screaming, you’re in trouble. Or if you’re one of 237 travelers whose flight has been cancelled, you’re bound to experience major stress as you wait in line for accommodations. In either case, your first reaction might be to feel annoyed, irritated, or even angry.

Guess what? It’s actually in your power to feel better.

Research on happiness (Lyubomirsky, 2007) reveals that only about 10% of our happiness depends on our circumstances, and another 50% of how happy we are is determined by our genes. What that means is you are only responsible for about 40% of your happiness. That’s not too bad, right?

Try this the next time you come up against your own travel stress:
Take a deep breath. As you breathe, notice that your chest rises and falls. Relax your shoulders, and see if you can notice your feet on the ground. Take another breath.

The oxygen that you are adding to your system will help you relax and refocus so that you can decide what’s best to do next. For example, you might decide to ask the flight attendant if there’s another open seat on the plane that you can move to. Or you might step out of line (ask someone nearby to save your place), and walk away. Taking a break from the commotion and other people’s stress can quickly lower your stress.

And here’s another thing: sometimes your emotions can get in the way of making a decision. If you notice that you’re about to blow a gasket, take another deep breath and say out loud (yet quietly to yourself), “I’m frustrated” or “I’m irritated”. Take another breath or two and see what happens next. Research on the neuroscience of emotion tells us that when you put a label on how you feel, the feeling itself begins to dissolve. Most people will start to feel better after just a few breaths. Once you do, you’ll be responsive, rather than reactive to the situation.

Try it. See for yourself. Your circumstances might not change,
but you will.

Dr. Robyn McKay is a coach and consultant for creative and talented people. Her clients include executives, entrepreneurs, writers, artists, musicians, and health care professionals. Dr. McKay resides in Tempe, AZ.

Contact Dr. McKay at robyn.mckay@mac.com.
Read her blog: www.robynmckay.typepad.com


  • This article is genuinely an easy read. I enjoyed the lighthearted yet informative style of the author as well as the practical, ready skills presented. Thanks for sharing Dr. McKay with us.

  • Dr. McKay’s competence shows clearly in her easy, anecdotal, common sensical advice on how to be responsive rather than reactive in stressful situations. Love that she backs it up with neuroscience.

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