2. Breathe (with purpose)
Part of the problem with panic attacks is that they mess with your brain chemistry. Your brain fires chemicals that say “RUN/RUMBLE!” when the reality may not be so drastic. It can be very difficult to calm down from the intense physiological symptoms and racing heartbeat.
One of the first responses psychologists recommend for dealing with panic attacks is to regulate your breathing. First, find somewhere to sit (don’t worry if you can’t—you can still do these standing, even in line). You just want to give your lungs plenty of room to work, so don’t lie down or slouch. Put your arms on your lap or on the armrest of a chair then follow this breathing pattern:
1) Breathe in slowly through the nose for about 4 seconds, letting the air fill your lower belly.
2) Hold the air in for 1-2 seconds.
3) Exhale through the mouth slowly for 4 seconds.
4) Wait a few seconds before taking another breath.
A soothing family member can walk you through this, or you can practice it at home before your trip to get used to the pattern. There are a number of variations psychologists recommend for the breathing intervals, but this is a good place to start. One of my favorite tools for dealing with attacks was breathing apps like Relax Lite (Android or iOS) or Calm (Android or iOS). These apps use sound or visuals to help you know when to inhale, exhale, or retain. I used them more than once at Walt Disney World. It may be worth taking a small pair of in-ear headphones with you on your trip that you can use to block out the crowd noise and follow the instructions in the app. Both apps pair the breathing cues with soothing sounds or music.
3. Use aromatherapy
Disney Imagineers know better than anyone the power scents have on our psyche. Who can forget the toasty smell of burning wood from Spaceship Earth or the putrid stink of beetle butt from It’s Tough to Be a Bug? Our sense of smell plays neat tricks on our brains, and you can actually use this hack to combat anxiety.
Certain essential oils can be used for aromatherapy to reduce anxiety while you are doing your breathing exercises. Sprinkle a drop on your wrists, rub them together, then breathe in the scent. Some of the most commonly recommended are Lavender, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang, and Frankincense. Peppermint and Rosemary are also good choices if you’re feeling woozy and need to focus. Test ahead of time if your oil needs a carrier oil to dilute it as some oils are potent enough to sting your skin. There are tons of oils recommended for panic attacks, so do some research to see what scents bring that “peaceful” feeling. Stores like Whole Foods and brands like Doterra even sell little key chains you can for carrying your oils without needing an apothecary in your pocket.