“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a situation.” And with those words, the saga of my aborted flight from New York to Dallas began.

The captain told us we had an “equipment problem” that required we make an emergency landing at Washington Dulles, the nearest airport. But, he continued, the plane was too heavy to land safely; we had to shed fuel. So we would fly around in a circle for 45 minutes and land as soon as we were light enough.

I was sitting at the front of the plane and made eye contact with the flight attendant.

“What's the problem?” I mouthed.

“I don't know,” she responded with the hint of a shrug, “they won't tell us.”

“If we're going to fly for 45 minutes, can't he fly toward Dallas instead of in circles?” I asked. She smiled and looked down.

So we circled. If you had taken a picture of us before the announcement and another one after, you would have had difficulty telling the difference. People were reading, listening to music, talking softly.

But in fact, everything had changed. Our level of anxiety had skyrocketed. We were on a plane that was stuck in the air, unable to land but apparently unsafe to fly for a reason none of us but the pilot knew, and there was nothing we could do about it.

It occurred to me how psychologically similar this circumstance was to so many others we experience. We were stuck in a situation in which we are not in control and cannot immediately escape. Like the economy or, ...

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