4. Get grounded
Another great technique psychologists recommend for overcoming panic attacks is called grounding, and you can even do it with a touch of Disney magic.
According to Dr. Farrell, “Grounding exercises bring the mind back to the present. When we are in a state of anxiety or panic, we have an irrational fear of something happening in the future (which can even feel imminent—‘I'm going to be trapped and not be able to get out’). Grounding forces your mind to focus on something other than the current fearful thoughts.
“One thing someone might do at [Walt Disney World] is to start looking for hidden Mickey's, count the number of Mickey ears you see, or count the number of tiles on the ground. Another technique is to name 5 things you see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can feel, and one thing you can taste. Another grounding technique is to count backwards from 100 by 3's (100, 97, 94), or say the alphabet skipping every other letter (A, C, #...).”
The goal is to center your mind on something other than the source of anxiety. For me, watching the ducks and other Florida-native birds often helped. Even hopping on a peaceful dark ride like Spaceship Earth or The Peoplemover, then doing these exercises using tiny details on the ride can help ground you. If you are a fan of apps, programs like Pacifica (Android and iOS) and What’s Up? (Android and iOS) offer grounding games you can play on your phone.
5. Find a quiet place
You don’t have to endure an anxiety attack smack in the middle of Main Street. Particularly if you feel a panic attack building, Walt Disney World is full of hidden refuges where you can escape the press of the crowds. We mentioned these previously in our Introvert’s Guide to Walt Disney World. Some personal favorites include Tom Sawyer Island in Magic Kingdom, Star Wars Launch Bay in Hollywood Studios, the Discovery Island Trails in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the gardens in World Showcase. Dark rides like Spaceship Earth, Gran Fiesta Tour, Peter Pan’s Flight, and The PeopleMover are all good choices as well if you can get on them without long waits.
An avid Walt Disney World fan herself, Dr. Farrell suggests, “One of my favorite places is the Impressions de France attraction. The theater is cool, quiet, usually pretty empty, and features a film of the French landscape put to classical music. Another option would be to visit Hall of the Presidents at Magic Kingdom, the [Seas With Nemo and Friends] at Future World Epcot, or take a boat ride from Hollywood Studios that makes the slow circuit to the Swan and Dolphin docks and around the lagoon in front of the Boardwalk hotels.”
One of the best kept secrets for places you can retreat is Walt Disney World First Aid locations. We’ve gushed before about the all the amazing benefits offered at Disney First Aid, but one of their most helpful services is that every Disney First Aid location has a quiet room where guests can go to recover if they need to escape the crowds. It’s the perfect place to recover from a panic attacks, so don’t be afraid to go to First Aid and let them know you need a safe place to get grounded. They are insanely nice people, and they can make sure you have a peaceful space to get through the attack.
Here are a few more calm retreats within each of Disney’s parks:
- Magic Kingdom
- The Magic Kingdom Railroad
- The upstairs of Columbia Harbor House
- Sleepy Hollow restaurant
- The path that passes the defunct Odyssey restaurant between Future World and World Showcase (unless a festival is taking place)
- The interior areas of the Morocco Pavilion
- The quiet stretch next to the now closed Universe of Energy and Wonders of Life pavilions
- Hollywood Studios
- Star Wars: Path of the Jedi
- Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream
- Animal Kingdom
- Pangani Forest and Maharaja Jungle Trails
- The courtyard outside Dinosaur
- The train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch