Roller Coaster Panic Attack Compassion

A few months ago I took my daughter to DisneyWorld for her sixteenth birthday. She, like me, is a huge roller coaster junkie. We have no fear of roller coasters whatsoever. Public speaking or random talking to strangers can send both her and myself into a Class A Panic Attack. But, roller coasters are one of our amusement park passions.

Roller coaster panic attacks

Not everyone shares our opinion on this matter, however. Most of those who hate these kinds of rides keep a healthy distance. My sister, for example, has no fond feelings for these “death traps” as she describes them. So, she smartly and politely declines when someone invites her to ride.

Some others aren’t so fortunate. They either fail to stick to their guns when asked to go on the ride. Or they don’t even realize they are afraid of the giant rides until it’s too late. That was the experience of one teenage girl who was standing in line near us that day at the park.

My daughter and I were waiting with all the other riders in the large preview area waiting to be shuffled into the corrals that lead us into the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.  We started hearing heavy, rapid breathing and some murmuring behind us.

As we peeked back we noticed a girl who appeared to be around my daughter’s age, on the verge of hyperventilating. I could only assume she had a great fear of roller coasters. The grown ups who were with her reacted to her panic attack in a way that was surprising to me.

panic compassion

Instead of helping her calm down and reassure her, they mocked her. They told her to relax, that her panic attack wasn’t a big deal. These weren’t other children telling her that, which I might expect from someone still learning social graces. These were grown adults. It seemed they didn’t realize this girl was experiencing the physical fallout of roller coaster anxiety.

My daughter and I quickly realized exactly what this young girl was going through. We’ve both experienced similar symptoms in dealing with our social anxiety. I felt incredibly bad for this girl who seemed both frightened and isolated by the ensuing panic attack.

And, although I usually give in to my urge not to reach out to strangers, I figured if the adults with her weren’t going to help her out, someone had to. When her co-riders had walked toward the queue entrance, I hung back and tapped the girl on the shoulder.

I simply told her that I knew how she was feeling, that the fight or flight urge is strong, and that she should focus on her breath and try to make each inhale longer, and focus on the immediate things around her while she was doing so.

panic parallels

I really don’t know if I helped her, but at least I tried. It’s okay to feel fear… fear of roller coasters, fear of talking on the phone, fear of social interaction. It’s okay to try and work past that fear. But once in a while, it’s okay not to do that either. If you have a fear of roller coasters, just don’t go. I find the Tea Cups to be a pretty awesome, completely on-the-ground ride!

And while I don’t have roller coaster anxiety, I can translate this lesson to my own phobias. I struggle to reach out to strangers. While I need to practice talking to people to keep panic attacks at bay, and I want to push myself to feel more “normal”, that does not mean I have to be the world’s most outgoing person. There’s plenty of those already.

When I feel myself reverting inward too much, I will push myself to be that momentary extrovert. But, I will not feel guilty if I go through the grocery store once in a while without making eye contact. I will not feel guilty if I don’t make polite conversation with the person next to me on the plane. It is okay to be fearful.


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