Home » 7 Hacks to Calm the Heck Down at Walt Disney World

7 Hacks to Calm the Heck Down at Walt Disney World

Purple flower at Epcot

Ever felt like you need a vacation from your vacation?

Walt Disney World can be one stressful place. Particularly around peak season and holiday times, the Most Magical Place on Earth can bring out the least magical responses from us.

“Why are crowds always so pushy?”

“Did we seriously just spend that much on food?”

“She tried to mow right through me! A baby isn’t a battering ram!”

“Get down from the guard rails, dear… No, we’re not at the front of the line yet, dear… No, we’re not going to die from waiting, dear… Stop spanking your brother with the boarding pass, dear… STAAAAAHHHHHPPPP!”

“Am I the only one here completely freaking out?!”

We’ve all been there. A Walt Disney World vacation is supposed to be a time to relax, to delight the imagination, and revel in the fantastical. That ideal can feel quickly upended when we lose our calm in the craziness of the parks.

The good news is there are ways to trick your brain into letting its guard down and relaxing, even in the midst of Walt Disney World. Here are seven of our favorite hacks to calm the heck down at The Most Magical Place on Earth.

1. Breathe

Purple flower at Epcot

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

This can be one of the most annoying things to hear when you are freaking out in the middle of Magic Kingdom parade crowds, but it’s true—when emotions soar, you need to breathe. The human brain requires oxygen to thrive, and the simple act of slow, steady breathing can do wonders to help bring stress levels down.

There are a number of breathing patterns that experts recommend for calming anxiety. The trick isn’t necessarily deep breathing but specifically slow breathing that helps. One popular pattern is 4-7-8 breathing. Wherever you are, breathe in for four seconds. Hold that breath for seven seconds, then release it for eight. Repeat this until your heart rate starts slowing. It can take some time, so keep it up. It helps to practice these during times when you are not stressed.

When I suffered from an anxiety disorder (which I have thankfully been totally delivered from), one of the most helpful apps I found for breathing was Relax Lite (for Android and iOS). This simple little app uses soothing sounds to guide you through breathing exercises for an allotted period of time. It takes the stress out of keeping track of counting each section of breath, and the sounds are very peaceful (as you’ll see in our next section, it is always worth having a pair of headphones with you at Walt Disney World).

You can also double-hack your breathing using aromatherapy. Take a few drops of a calming essential oil like jasmine, frankincense, or lavender and rub it on your wrists. Breathe in the scent while doing your breathing exercise and let the stress melt away. You can even carry yours in a convenient little travel case.

2. Shut off the noise

Duck sitting on grass at Disney World

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Disney Imagineers are masters at setting an atmosphere of sound wherever you go in the parks. It is actually difficult to find places in Disney parks where there isn’t some sort of soundtrack going. While the soundtrack might be pleasant, the constant din of crowds, screaming from roller coasters, and blaring trains can send stress levels skyrocketing. Even before you get to the parks, a full plane flight can test the mettle of even the stalwart traveler.

If you or a family member is prone to stress, a good pair of headphones is an essential part of a Walt Disney World survival kit. I usually bring a light pair of quality in ear headphones to use for a number of purposes (I don’t usually need them for anxiety anymore, but they’re great for listening to audiobooks in line and some of our other headphone hacks). If you have or can get noise cancelling headphones, do so, especially for airplane flights. If you like in ears, Bose QuietControl 30 Wireless are the gold standard. For something more affordable, try Phiaton BC 100 NC headphones or Meidong’s HE8F Noise Cancelling earbuds which both have good reviews across the board. If you prefer over the ear headphones and don’t mind carrying something a bit bigger, we’ve enjoyed our Taotronics Over-Ear Noise-Cancelling Headphones which are great for airplanes or little ones who don’t like loud noises. These are especially nice if you have small children who are scared of loud noises like trains and fireworks.

Tautronics Noise Cancelling Headphones

Image: Tautronics

Muting noise to bring stress down is nice but take things a step further by giving yourself your own sound track. I am a huge fan of noise generators—even as I write this, I am listening to one. My favorites are Relax Melodies (available for Android and iOS) and MyNoise.net. These apps not only allow you to custom craft a soothing soundscape—anything from sitting on the beach to hiking a mountain pasture–, they also give you access to binaural beats and isochronic tones. These beats and tones use oscillating sounds at specific frequencies to match your brainwaves and literally hack your brain into calming down or focusing. On top of this, you can also turn on white, brown, or pink noise to further block out sound, which is great for airplanes.

Whatever your ideal peaceful soundtrack is, use it when you feel stress coming on. Even if you have to have one ear in and the other listening to your family, do it. I’ve made it a routine on airplanes that once my husband and I are settled, I put in my headphones and immediately turn on Relax Melodies with some brown noise, nature sounds, and a downloaded playlist on Spotify like Peaceful Guitar (I am a fan of almost all of the “Focus”, “Chill”, and “Sleep” playlists for instrumental music). Use the art of sound to your advantage to settle your nerves at Walt Disney World and on your journey there and back again.

3. Ride a dark ride

Spaceship Earth

Image: Disney

While I would not place “It’s a Small World” at the top of this list, there is something very soothing about Disney’s dark rides. The gentle sway of the boat on Pirates of the Caribbean. The fresh scents and clean air on Living with the Land. Even Frozen Ever After can be peaceful in its depictions of a winter wonderland (once you get past the crowds).

If you’re feeling stress build, you may want to think twice about heading straight for the Tower of Terror or Dinosaur. Instead, detour to one of Disney’s more relaxing experiences. In Magic Kingdom, take a whirl through Tomorrowland on the PeopleMover or a journey under the sea with The Little Mermaid. In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, take a detour into Star Wars Launch Bay and relax in its museum. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, take a train ride to Rafiki’s Planet Watch or a stroll through the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Epcot is positively brimming with peaceful attractions from Spaceship Earth and Soarin’ to the films of World Showcase. Not all of these are rides, necessarily, but they are peaceful places. Speaking of which…

4. Withdraw to a quiet place and get grounded

Morocco fountain courtyard

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Quiet places in Walt Disney World are treasures. Sometimes the best solution to stress is to find a peaceful place to settle down and have some time to yourself. During peak season, these can seem impossible to find, but they do exist.

In Magic Kingdom, our favorite quiet place is Tom Sawyer Island. Unfortunately, it can prove a bear to get to and is currently under refurbishment. Other alternatives include the upstairs of Columbia Harbour House and Pinocchio’s Village Haus. The Main Street station for the Magic Kingdom Railroad is another popular choice.

In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we already mentioned Star Wars Launch Bay, but alternatively, you can take a tour through Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream. Sometimes this exhibit swaps out with something related to a newer film, but this walking tour zone is almost always more peaceful than the rest of the park.

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, find refuge in the walking trails. The Discovery Island Trails, in particular, are largely ignored by many guests. The Maharajah Jungle Trek and Pangani Forest Trail are uniquely peaceful, and even the courtyard outside of Dinosaur can provide rest to the weary parent.

In Epcot, we used to like the area near the usually-closed Odyssey restaurant, but this is becoming better known to visitors. Instead, find hidden refuges in World Showcase like the gardens in Canada, the United Kingdom, China, and Japan. We also especially love the deep interior courtyards of the Morocco pavilion with their intricate tilework, benches, and peaceful fountains.

Butterfly on a purple flower

Image: Disney

If you find a peaceful place and still can’t reclaim your nerves, throw on some of those headphones we mentioned and take some time to get grounded. You can use a quiet, guided meditation in an app like Calm or Headspace (or Relax Melodies, which we mentioned earlier—no, they aren’t paying us, we just love this app) to get centered and settle your mind. You can also take a more freeform approach and put on some of those relaxing sounds we mentioned to enjoy the quiet or pray. Take your focus off the crowds and put it on things of beauty. Watch the waters ripple or the ducks swim. Embrace nature. As one wise man once said, “Listen to the birds—they are the messengers of God.” Take time to separate yourself from the craziness for a bit, then rejoin the parks.

If you are having trouble finding a quiet place or are experiencing a panic attack that won’t relent, take advantage of Walt Disney World First Aid. It would seem like the last place you want to head during an anxiety attack, but all Disney First Aid locations have a quiet room where guests can recover from exhaustion or anxiety if need be. On top of this, if you need to leave the parks for a time, do so! Take a break and return later.

5. Don’t pack your day full

Bird in front of Bay Lake and Contemporary Resort

Image: Disney

While a tight routine can make for a very fulfilling Disney day, it can also tax the emotional equilibrium of those who need a more leisurely pace. This partially comes down to trip planning—a four-day, four-park Walt Disney World trip is going to be very difficult to pull off and see everything. Instead, plan a minimum of 6-8 days when possible.

No matter the length of your trip, find a balance in planning your trip itinerary. Don’t pack your days so full that you have no breaks running from reservation to reservation. If you are an annual passholder, this is easier, but for a once-in-a-decade Disney trip, this takes some deliberate planning. Experts agree that mid-day is one of the best times to take a break and leave the parks, particularly if you arrived at opening gate. If you are staying on Disney property or near it, head back to your resort for a refresher or for the kids to enjoy a nap. Even if you don’t have a resort room, take some time to explore the quieter parts of the Most Magical Place on Earth. Take a hike near Old Key West or relax on the beach around Epcot’s lagoon. Return later on when mid-day crowds have settled into queues. When you see anxiety rising in your party, take breaks and be willing to flex the schedule if it seems like your family is freaking out.

6. Accept the craziness

Family in Pandora

Image: Disney

We mentioned this in our guides for Introverts and for dealing with panic attacks, but the truth is, one of the best things you can do to calm down is to accept that Walt Disney World is a bonkers place. This ties together with our suggestions about breathing and taking time to rest and get centered.

You cannot please everyone and there are things you cannot change. Accept that guests will run into each other and that some are rude—it doesn’t mean all are. Accept that crowds are unpleasant and be willing to go with their flow at times. Accept that kids sometimes get cranky or sick or stressed—they’re growing and developing and learning. Accept that you may bump into someone or make a mistake in choosing a direction. Give yourself the gift of grace. You cannot please everyone, nor should you try to.

If something goes wrong during your trip, remind yourself that bad things feel bad, but that’s all right. It’s temporary. Life hasn’t stopped. Be courteous to others, but don’t bear the shackling weight of their pleasure or displeasure. Your trip does not have to be perfect, and that is perfectly normal. It’s okay.

How do you calm down and relax at Walt Disney World when stress rises?