Overcoming Your Fears

Sometimes you have to close your eyes in order to face your fears.

I know that seems counter intuitive, but sometimes it’s the truth — especially if you have a fear of roller coasters like I do.

I used to love roller coasters when I was a child. Even the biggest baddest drops wouldn’t phase me. I was a fearless kid. I enjoyed being spun around and relished in the feeling that I was flying through the air. But something shifted as I grew older. This tiny, anxious voice started to wedge its way into my brain and I started getting panic attacks right before I'd get on a roller coaster. Darkness would consume my periphery and I was on the verge of passing out. After experiencing this over several years, I thought for sure I was never going on a roller coaster ever again.

I love amusement parks, especially Halloweekends at Cedar Point. I love the designated scare zones and haunted houses - they’re so exhilarating and quite a thrill! How could I enjoy these scares but not others? I wasn’t sure but I knew there had to be a way to overcome this fear that I had developed as an adult. 

So before we returned to Cedar Point, I did some research on how other people overcame their fear of roller coasters. I stumbled upon a wiki how-to page that listed some helpful tips specifically focused on overcoming fear of roller coasters. I actually used some of these tips and they were helpful at first, but I quickly realized that they only helped me get on the coaster. Once I was on the coaster, I was still having intense panic attacks. At one point I even had to unbuckle my seat belt and jump out of the coaster ride before it launched because I was about to pass out. I felt awful and sat in sadness with silent tears streaming down my face as I watched my friends enjoy the roller coaster without me. After chickening out at the last minute on another roller coaster, I knew that I needed to try something else in order to change my mindset once I got on the ride.

So I decided to come up with a few of my own mechanisms that would help me once I was seated in the roller coaster. The first thing I did was I examined what it was about the coaster that was making me afraid. I quickly realized that I got terrified when the roller coaster would go up to the very top right before a drop. My fear of heights was all around me. To remove that fear of heights, I decided that I could close my eyes while the roller coaster slowly made its way up to the top of the track. By not being able to see my surroundings, it made me forget about how high up I was in the car. Once we got to the very top and the coaster began to drop, I would open my eyes and enjoy the ride. Now this tactic worked for certain roller coasters but more intense ones needed additional defense mechanisms.

I quickly realized that another fear I had was falling/flying out of the car. If I felt like I was not strapped in as much as I should be for the ride, I would lose my shit; my fear of falling out of the car was very real. So to overcome this fear, I reaffirmed my safety by triple-checking all of my buckles, belts and harnesses before we left the loading station. As we made our way up the track, I still had my eyes closed but I would quietly say to myself that I was safe and secure and tug on my harness just to reinforce that thought. I repeated this mantra to myself the entire way up the track with my eyes closed right until the very minute the car dropped down.

Another thing I realized I didn't like was going over big up-and-down drops that made me feel like I was flying out of the car. As we flew over drops that made my stomach churn, I would stomp my feet on the bottom of the car and also grasp onto my harness just to remind myself that I was still in the car and therefore still safe. Screaming expletives through the entire ride also helped reduce my tension, but that tactic may not be for everyone :)

After getting the hang of my new tactics, I realized that my defense mechanisms gave me the ability to quiet my mind of irrational fear and experience the most enjoyable part of the roller coaster which is the actual ride.

My friend Natasha and I on the front row of Blue Streak (my favorite coaster in Cedar Point).

My friend Natasha and I on the front row of Blue Streak (my favorite coaster in Cedar Point).

Using these mechanisms really helped me overcome the objections I had built up in my mind. And with every roller coaster that I rode, I got more comfortable and excited to go on another. By midday my friend was asking us if I wanted to ride in the front row. I wasn't sure I was up for it, but I didn't want to let them down like I had in the past. So I decided to test out my defense mechanisms in the front row. Let's just say that that wasn't the last front row that we went on that day and by the end of the day that was the only row we were sitting in.

After the trip, I felt so freaking good. Overcoming your fear can be a major confidence booster. I was so proud of myself for developing ways to overcome irrational fear and make my experience enjoyable. It's not easy but it is worth the challenge. I think this lesson can be used in everyday life, which is why I chose to share it. So here are the tips to overcoming your fears, no matter what they are:

  • Do research - find out what other people have done to overcome the specific fear you’re trying to overcome and try out these tactics. Adjust to fit your needs and repeat!

  • Focus on particular aspects that are causing the fear. In my example, I was afraid of 1) heights and 2) flying out of the car. Working backwards, I determined what defense mechanisms I could develop to overcome those specific challenges like closing my eyes, repeating safety affirmations and tugging on my harness to reinforce my safety.

  • Keep facing your fear - the more you do the thing that scares you, the more you’ll get comfortable with it and eventually defeat the self-limiting belief

Overcoming your fear is not easy to achieve but the growth you experience from trying to breakdown your own mental, physical and emotional barriers will show you strength you didn’t know you had in you.

With that being said, I believe in you and I’m rooting for you.