Today I've decided to delve into something that we don't talk about very much. Not because it's wrong or bad, but because we tend not to give much attention to the heavier topics when we think about the light and excitement of Disney parks. For me, I prefer to tackle these things head-on in hopes that it might help someone else out there with a similar struggle.
Anxiety and depression are two intense and broad subjects, with no two experiences the same. For the people who have encountered symptoms of either one, you know first-hand that you don't get a say in when or where they will creep on in. One thing is for sure; they certainly don't take a vacation from your mind just because you are heading to Disney.
I've touched on this previously in another article a few years back. The thing about anxiety and depression is that they are rarely a one-hit wonder. It often rears that ugly head at the least convenient moment. For many people, that time can be the surprisingly stressful challenges of being on a well-structured vacation, especially now. On top of the usual stressors of travel, as mask mandates relax, it can feel quite confronting when crowds of people are coming towards you and invading your space. For the better part of eighteen months, we've been told that crowds are harmful and social distancing is vital to our survival, making it hard to retrain our minds to re-label this scenario with caution, not fear.
The best tool at your disposal, in my opinion, is always going to be communication. For me, sharing my anxiety with my family always takes the wind out of the sails, deflating it back down to a steady, low-frequency thought pattern in my mind, instead of taking the main stage and disrupting our time away.
I recognize that this isn't as easy as it sounds for everyone as you might not be traveling with people you feel you can bear your soul to in that way. With this in mind, I wanted to take a quick look at a few ways that you can help keep your cool if that chilling bolt of anxiety strikes.
I should preface this by saying that I have no qualifications in this area, only personal experience from decades worth of travel where my role has changed from being an active participant to the principal planner and organizer on behalf of my family. Stress levels escalating accordingly.
The first step for me is being prepared, which includes forgiving myself in advance. It is easy to feel defective and a sense of guilt. You are in the happiest place on earth; what is wrong with you that you can't be happy? Well, it's not that simple, and accepting that ahead of time will help you avoid spiraling in the moment. The more you focus on trying to avoid acknowledging it, the worse it can get. Acceptance can make all the difference.
My next suggestion is to avoid overscheduling your trip. If you are prone to anxiety, you might find some peace in a little more time between FastPasses (when they return) and Advanced Dining Reservations. Even though your worry might not be focused on these things specifically, the heightened feeling of stress can be enough to trigger everything else. By giving your group ample time in between scheduled events, you have a much better chance of working through those unexpected changes that inevitably occur in every holiday.
This one isn't from me, though a friend of mine finds change to be a trigger for her anxiety and feelings of worry. Her solution is to take a few additional everyday items with her that feel grounding and familiar. So throw in that pillowcase, or even your body wash from home with a stimulating scent. Anything that makes you feel calm and collected to get started. These little things can set the tone and headspace for some people for the rest of your day. Just be sure to keep it aside so that housekeeping doesn't sweep it up by mistake.
Last but not least, my go-to process when it all feels like things are getting intense: be sensitive to your sensory needs. This one applies to any children or friends with additional needs and positively affects my children with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. At times, the sights and sounds of Disney parks can be a bit much. It's ok to take time out of the day to reset before that feeling of anxiety takes over, but there are some smaller steps you can take in the park without leaving altogether.
Try listening to calming music with one AirPod or wireless earbud in. You can remain engaged in the sound around you with one ear and shift your focus to the discreet soothing sounds or music as needed. Then, if you need to, throw that other earbud in and take a few minutes to wind down in a shady corner.
If you need to keep nervous hands busy, take advantage of one of the many fidget toys on the market. Small, light, and subtle; anxious tension can be soothed by keeping those fingers moving for some people. We have found this especially useful for one of my children with ADHD.
Need more? Regulate your temperature wherever possible with loose clothing and pacing yourselves throughout the day. Don't forget to stay hydrated and avoid alcohol, which can amplify those feelings as well.
These ideas may not work for everyone, but I believe that there is power in sharing. So even if one of my steps isn't suitable for you, if we open up a conversation about this topic, there maybe be someone who shares a different perspective that can help as well.
Whatever you do, don't let your anxious tendencies stop you from enjoying life. With a bit of education and planning, travel isn't off the table. Add your go-to moves for keeping anxiety in check below; you never know who will be reading along that needs to hear your story.