A B O U T M E
I'm only doing this very brief intro to give you a small thumbnail of my struggles with anxiety/panic. I think it helps to understand where a person is today, by understanding where they have been.
When I was about four years old I lost my birth Mom to breast cancer; I believe because of this I have grown up with an intense fear of dying too young of some kind of health issue (I have been excellent at catastrophizing any symptoms over the years). I have undergone a few surgeries for minor things (which felt like tremendous things to my brain), suffered a few complicated miscarriages (of which two needed medical intervention), almost 5 years ago we suddenly lost my Mom (the woman who raised me & one of my best friends--it's always hard for me to say "stepmom") to complications of the flu. My anxiety has hit me so hard, and for such long periods of time (sometimes years), that at points I haven't been able to leave the house for extended periods of time, I haven't been capable of driving myself alone to most places since my Mom's passing, and so much more.
While life circumstances have changed and my anxiety has definitely changed over the years---one thing has remained the same, my will to fight back from it all and bring myself back to a better headspace. One lesson I have learned over the years for sure is that no matter what you are going through, it ALWAYS gets better! But it does take some work and being actively working for the change on your part. We don't have to victims in Anxiety. I have worked SO hard on my fight against this, and am so very proud of where I am now.
I know how hard it is, I know how draining, debilitating and isolating it can be. I know how it can feel like very few people are even close to understanding what you are feeling inside of you. But there is always help and hope ahead. It's important to have someone you can really trust and open up to, and if you ever feel like you are in need of more help, seek it! Whatever that help means for you, get it. There are too many excellent resources out there, and life is too full and good to keep putting it off. Our friends and family are here to love and support us, lean on them when needed. Never carry the weight alone, there's no reason to. I could never be where I am today without the constant, loving and patient support of my amazing husband! He has always been endlessly positive and cheerful, even when I have woken him up from a dead sleep with panic. A support system is key!
Today I am going to start sharing with all of you how I deal with my anxiety while spending time at my happy place, Disneyland! I am excited to share my experiences with you all, and I hope you find something that can be helpful to you. While most of the time now I don't really deal with anxiety while visiting---when I do, I rely on the tips below I have learned over the years. Who knows, maybe this is all just common knowledge? But I sincerely hope you find it helpful in some way! : )
I N T R O
When I was younger and just learning to drive, I remember sitting at a busy intersection, yielding to oncoming traffic, waiting to pull out onto a bustling road. There were so many cars going in front of me and going fast-- then I had a few cars that had pulled up behind me, also waiting to pull out onto the street. I started to feel the pressure around me building up. I started to get consumed with thoughts of the cars behind me getting impatient with my timing, but I also didn't feel confident enough yet in pulling out onto the busy road and mixing in with speeding cars. As these "what if" thoughts were building in my mind, my Mom said something so simple, yet so powerful that it has stuck with me all these years later and still comes to mind often. Sitting there as the anxiety of the situation had crept in on me, in such a calm and loving way she said, "It's ok honey, it always clears up."
*sigh of relief*
See? So simple right? But somehow it kind of gave me the permission to drop the stress of the world around me, the cars rushing by in front of me, and the ones waiting behind me and to focus on the now. Not the "what if's" of how the people behind me might be getting mad because I wasn't fast enough, or didn't go when theythought I should have. I gave myself permission to just be calm, and wait for MY opening. Because it does ALWAYS clear up.
You may not be able to magically make the traffic in life disappear, but you can learn to see and deal with it differently than before. The anxiety comes from desperately wanting to change what IS (or what appears to be) when it's so much easier to learn how best to go with the flow.
If anxiety is all about feeling trapped, out of control and helpless. Then the only antidote is to actively show your brain the safe way out...which gives you back the sense of control.
C R O W D S
In the spirit of not following the crowd (yes, it's possible at Disneyland, haha), its time to talk about taking back control of your environment by making simple choices. And then being consistent with these choices over time (consistency is vital). Crowds were the number one thing I was sent messages on, which makes sense considering the nature of the parks. It is our biggest obstacle while visiting.
Touching again on the, "it always clears up" mentality--let's talk about ways you can make that happen on your own when possible, with a simple move. For example; I've had moments in The Haunted Mansion when those elevator doors open up and everyone rushes out into that dark hallway all at once---sometimes it makes me want to just curl up on the floor, haha. One night I had the thought to just hang back in the elevator, let everyone else rush out first, and I would trail behind at my own pace. It made SUCH a difference! I don't always have to practice this, but on the nights I know I need the space, I just hang back. I'm sure you recognize those times as well. This idea can be applied to so many other situations as well--you DON'T have to follow the crowds. And you don't always have to avoid things in the parks because of anxiety, sometimes there are ways to ease it and still enjoy the things you love.
When you are in a situation where you aren't able to hang back and let the crowds pass, you will need to call on tools such as distraction, breathing techniques and something I've always liked to do which I call "projecting positivity."
Waiting in lines or in a crowd for fireworks is something that we might not be able to entirely avoid at the parks, which is ok. Instead of letting it consume your mind while standing there feeling "trapped," give your mind the "safe way out" instead. This is when you should call on the tools mentioned above. I will usually start with "projecting positivity." The best way I can describe it is, Instead of just thinking about how trapped you feel and what could go wrong, look ahead to the positive. Tell your brain that positive "what IS" about your present situation, instead of the false "what if" thoughts. Such as "this is only temporary," "If I really wanted to, there are many ways I could exit, and everything is ok," "Soon we will be having fun on my favorite ride (or enjoying the beautiful fireworks), this uncomfortable feeling is only temporary, but the reward is great!" and so on. Focus on what is really happening, instead of what could happen, but most likely will never come to be. Over time this will get easier.
Then I will move onto ether 'distraction' and or a breathing technique (or both). There are helpful apps such as Headspace, Breath, and Calm that will help teach you relaxation techniques that are so helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed. It's such a powerful tool in getting your breathing back under control, which in turn does SO much in combating anxiety/panic attacks. A good start is breathing through the nose slowly in, to the count of 4 and then out through your mouth again to the count of 4 for a couple mins until you start to feel calmer. For distraction, I'll usually just pull out my phone (edit photos, check social media or the best is to play a game on your phone for a min. Find one or a few simple ones you love. It will put your brains energy somewhere else) and of course talk with those who are with you. Using distraction alone often doesn't work for me, it just seems to delay the anxiety. Which is why I typically have to couple it with ether breathing or positive projection, or both. But the primary key is to look around you and note all the ways the situation is actually safe, the ways out if needed, and reminding yourself that you are ok. Combat those "what if" thoughts with "what is".
H E L P S :Disneyland APP + taking breaks
We'll start with what might be obvious, but make sure you are taking the time to utilize the official Disneyland app itself. It can be a tremendous asset in making your visit as stress-free as possible.
Such as the Fastpass system, Single Rider Lines and especially MaxPass. If you have a higher pass, this should already be included, or you can add it to your AP for a one-time annual fee. It makes life SO much easier to be able to set a Fastpass time from your phone. This way you don't have to move around the parks as much just to get a return time (cutting down on unnecessary use of energy and crowd contact), and you know that you can enjoy your attraction experience without the really long wait times.
Next is the convenient options the app has for dining at the parks. First, you can quickly make reservations ahead of time from the app for almost all of the sitdown restaurants at the resort (including hotels and Downtown Disney). Then there is the newest addition of the Mobile ordering feature. I have to say, this is one of the BEST things to hit the resort in a long time! I have used this so often now, and I'm in love!! Why wait in one more line, when you can order ahead, right!? I can't suggest this enough! I just wish there were more options for this in DL--But DCA has a lot of places that offer mobile pick up. And let's face it, DCA has the best food options anyway. : )
Take breaks!The parks can be very stimulating and overwhelming. The list below are some of the places I personally find relaxing when I need to rest and recharge. I have notes next to most of them of why I tend to go to these spots. You can take this information and either go to these places I've noted or find spots of your own you love that you feel have the same qualities.
D C A
The Animation Academy (lobby, turtle talk, beasts library):Inside, cool, controlled with places to sit.
Bugs Land (but now that's leaving; sad face!):Usually pretty calm, shaded, with a lot of nature around.
Cars Land that spot between Flo's facing the Radiator Racers ride on the way to the Wharf: Away from the main walkways with things to
The Grizzly River Run area: This is a personal favorite. Not only are the surrounding of nature calming, but it is tucked away from the main artery of the parks and has the waterfall. Why is the waterfall significant? Think calming white noise. Which is great for drowning out the hectic sounds of the parks and creating an environment for relaxation.
Redwood Creek challenge trail:Similar to the river run area, I love this spot because there is a lot of nature around, running water and places to sit.
The Wharf:Food, seating and to the side of most of the part action with great views!
Paradise Gardens:Seating, shade, food and sometimes live music.
Main Street/Town Square:Atmosphere and the music!
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln:AC, inside, lots of places to sit in quiet.
Princess Fantasy fair at night:Places that are more geared toward children are usually very peaceful at night with lots of places to sit and relax. Plus, this has the Tangled tower that lights up and plays music.
New Orleans Square:I just love walking through NOS, I find it really calming. Also, the area between the restaurants and Haunted Mansion in front of the train has benches, shade and feels pretty tucked away.
Critter Country:Below Hungry Bear, there is a new large walkway with benches and a beautiful view of the Rivers of America.
The Mark Twain:This is probably my all-time favorite on the lists. The boat has so many places to sit, beautiful views of the park, the rivers and the audio the boat plays is super relaxing!
Disneyland Train:The train is my next favorite, for pretty much the same reasons as the Mark Twain, plus it's a great way to get from one side to another if it's too busy.
Frontierland:Lot's of places to sit, some shade and one of the least busy lands.
Fantasyland at Night:Same as Princess Fantasy Fair, this area is usually a little more mellow later at night and one of the most cheery lands we have! : )
Nemo Observation room:At the Nemo Submarine ride you can ask to be seated in the Observation room to the side of the queue, instead of getting into a sub. This room has excellent AC, its dark, with places to sit, and plays a movie of the entire Submarine ride. Its so cute and great little get a way--because let's be honest, those of us with Anxiety have a hard time feeling comfortable in the tight spaces of the submarine for the whole ride! *Water feature between the castle and Tomorrowland: Off the beaten path, nature and water feature.
Star Wars Launch Bay:Indoors, dark, AC benches to rest on. It's amazing! Esppeshaly since Tomorrowland is the more anxiety provoking for me, haha.
Monorail:Away from crowds and great views of the parks! Also, a great way to exit the parks if the crowds are crazy.
Taking breaks even for ten minutes when you're feeling overwhelmed is critical. Don't try to power through in such a busy place if you are feeling uncomfortable. Be kind to yourself and learn your limits, a quick break can do wonders in recharging your mental batteries.
Use the app to keep track of shows, parades and firework times as well. Knowing when and where these are going to take place, is a great way to avoid specific areas if you are not planning on seeing a show or fireworks. Plan to be in a more mellow part of the parks at that time. For example, if its time for the fireworks and we are not interested in seeing them from Main Street, we will either go back to Small World, or New Orleans Square to watch them (or not watch). After the show is done, we will usually hit one of the rides back there or jump on the train while the firework crowds thin out--missing all of that high traffic time.
C L O S I N G
Remember that anxiety and panic are often called "the anxious habit," it is most often a learned behavior by the brain, even if we don't really realize it is happening. It triggers the flight or fight response in the mind even if there so no clear or present danger that makes us feel uncomfortable for a short amount of time. The idea is to actively remind the brain that there is no current danger and you are safe. To help combat this, we must replace the anxious habit with calming behavior. This, of course, takes time & effort in being consistent with positive behaviors---and most importantly, be patient with yourself. It won't be an overnight change, and it may not take away anxiety for good, but it CAN help you live with it more easily, and fully enjoy the things you love again! : )
If you are wondering how to help a loved one with their struggles, make sure to first sincerely listen to them, let them know their concerns are being heard in a non-judgemental environment and that you are here to support them---then help them with the above tips.