Things that Give Me Anxiety- and How Disney Helps

This is more of a personal post about anxiety, so I understand if anyone would like to skip it. However, this is a personal blog, and I’d like to share my thoughts on a subject that not a lot of people like to talk about. People like to read happy posts about Disney, trips, weddings, and babies. They don’t want to hear about your problems.

Here’s hoping someone out there can relate.

Although I’ve never officially been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I’ve been anxious my whole life. I was carefree and happy up until I reached the 6th grade, and then everything changed. I had a toxic friendship and started to get bullied (nothing too bad, but enough to damage my self-esteem for years). Whenever I got nervous about something, I didn’t just feel butterflies in my stomach- it was full on stomach pain and heavy breathing and racing thoughts. There were times I literally thought I would collapse from nerves. And it wasn’t just about big things; I’d get anxious over little things, like who was going to be my partner for a school project, or if I would lose all my friends because I decided not to go to this one sleepover.

Then, I would slowly start to jump to conclusions over the most irrational of issues. If I cancelled on going to a friend’s house, my brain automatically assumed that I’d have no more friends ever again. If I didn’t have a date for prom, I just figured I would die alone. If I got sick, I was obviously going to suffer a dreadful disease and I would start to think of how I wanted my funeral to be planned. I can’t help it- this is how my brain works. I automatically jump to the worst conclusions, and I worry incessantly over irrational fears to the point where I feel physically sick. I cancel plans to avoid events I’m not even sure are going to happen.

However, two things occurred that made dealing with my anxiety infinitely easier. One- I met my husband, who is my best friend and knows exactly how to calm my nerves. When I’m with him, I don’t worry as much. And two- I found that I didn’t need to hide my love of Disney. In fact, there was a whole Disney fan community out there with people my age, and I finally found a virtual place where I belonged. When I got a job at Disney and became a Cast Member, this virtual place became a real-life haven.

Most importantly, I learned that it was okay to say no, and that sometimes cancelling plans is not the end of the world.

With my best friend by my side and frequent Disney trips on the horizon, I learn how to better deal with my anxiety every day. I can easily hide it- if you met me, you would never know how much I panic on the inside. I’ve trained myself on how to act calm, even when my brain is screaming that I’m acting like an idiot and saying everything wrong. I am on a very low dose of anxiety medication, and that’s helped tremendously. I don’t care what people say about medication and the negative connotations that the idea of pills brings up- without anxiety meds, I would not be able to function as normally as I do.

If anyone would like to message me about their issues with anxiety, please do! I also welcome any advice, even though no amount of deep breaths, meditation, or yoga seems to help me when I’m at my most anxious. Sayings like, “just relax” only makes me feel worse.

Here are a few things that make me the most anxious (and yes, most of them are irrational), and a few ways that Disney helps:

  1. Driving

I have to drive to and from work every day, on the highway, with some of the slowest and oldest South Florida drivers in the world. It’s become routine, and I’m used to it, and unless there is an accident or bad weather, I’m usually okay. However, I hate driving to unfamiliar places, and I hate driving with strangers (or other people in general) in my car. If I’m on my own, I can take the routes I’m comfortable with, drive slow, and let people pass me without anyone commenting on my driving skills. However, with other people, I feel pressured to go faster and to take quicker routes, and my anxiety goes through the roof. I wish I had my husband’s confidence- he can drive anywhere, with anyone, and is able to do left turns across busy streets without a traffic light. I envy this skill.

Ironically, I got into a really bad car accident once on Disney property, outside of Disney Springs (while it was under renovation). It wasn’t my fault, and everyone was okay, but it still scared me- a lot. Luckily, I had a witness who vouched for me, and Disney security couldn’t have been nicer. Nevertheless, it’s hard trying to tell insurance that the accident happened on “World Drive,” or whatever road we were on. A lot of confusing back and forth conversations happened that day. Therefore, I will drive as slow as I want to avoid any more accidents. Go ahead, honk at me. I never want to be in that situation again.

How Disney Helps: I usually listen to Disney music in the car, especially if I’m driving somewhere new and I’m not comfortable with the directions. I can just take a deep breath, and trust that I will “go the distance” in my little blue Hyundai.

  1. Not Texting/Calling/Messaging Back

This is more of a problem that came up during the rise of social media. I get really anxious whenever I send someone a message on Facebook, or a text, and they don’t answer for ages. I understand that some people are bad at answering right away, but there’s nothing worse than seeing that “Seen at 4:45 pm” icon on a message I sent, and not getting a reply. I know you’ve seen the message, and I know you’ve posted on Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat since then. My brain automatically thinks that you’re not answering me because you hate me. (Sometimes I’ll remind myself the other person is probably just busy. This helps for a little).

I rarely make phone calls, but having the courage to make a phone call is a big deal for me, and when people don’t call back, it’s even worse. I only call when things are too important for a text. If someone doesn’t call back within the hour, I’ve naturally assumed they died.

This also applies when people respond with short or curt messages. I know it’s hard to tell someone’s tone from just their writing, but interpreting someone’s text or phone message as impatient or annoyed is just as bad (in my mind) as not answering at all.

How Disney Helps: I usually watch a Disney YouTube Channel to distract me from my silent phone. Or I’ll pop an anxiety med, take a nap, and hopefully will wake up to a long-awaited message.

  1. When Someone Stops Liking My Social Media Posts

This is another weird, first-world problem. However, I’m pretty good at knowing who usually likes my posts and who doesn’t. When a person who usually likes my posts stops, but I see that they still like other people’s posts, then it’s obvious they’re mad at me, hate my guts, and never want to speak to me again.

These are the times where I contemplate deleting my social media altogether- but that’s bad for a struggling author. As someone with anxiety, social media is both a blessing and a curse. I can put myself out there without actually leaving the house, but I also risk ridicule from countless friends and strangers. It’s a hard line to balance.

How Disney Helps: I write a Disney-themed blog post, or start planning my next Disney trip- and I think of how hard it’ll be to constantly check social media when I’m in the parks.

  1. Small Talk

This is something I’m actually really good at, due to my countless jobs in customer service. However, engaging in small talk with strangers still gives me twinges of anxiety, and I constantly think of how awkward I must sound to the other person. This is especially the case where I’m amongst large groups of people that I don’t know, like during bachelorette parties, job orientations, baby showers, kids’ birthday parties, and, hell, adult birthday parties. I hate having to chat up a complete stranger, or someone that I’ve met once five years ago and I can’t remember a single thing about them because of my racing mind. I usually pick one person at the party that I know (or semi-know) and latch onto them for the rest of the night.

How Disney Helps: Usually a good line to break the ice with a stranger is “Hey, did you know I used to work at Disney?” People are typically really interested to know what I did there.

  1.  Making Doctor Appointments

Part of me still wishes my parents could make doctor appointments for me- or, even better, come in the room with me when it’s time for my appointment. I feel like I’m not old enough to speak for myself, and I’m so used to saying “I’m fine” all the time, that it’s hard to admit when I don’t feel fine. It also doesn’t help that most of the nurses in the Doctor’s offices that I go to are super rude. And then I have to fill out countless forms, with information on there that I don’t understand the half of. I mean, I have a master’s degree, but I can’t seem to answer questions about insurance. Plus, every time I ask for a refill of my anxiety meds, I feel like all the doctors think I’m a drug addict.

There are times I think it might be better to just get sick and die, then actually call and drive to a doctor’s appointment.

How Disney Helps: I can’t go to Disney if I’m sick, right? There’s my main motivation.

  1. Wanting to Cancel Plans

Sometimes, after a long day at work, I don’t want to go to dinner, or to the movies, or anywhere. I don’t want to talk and put on makeup and muster the energy to stay out late after a long day of being overly bright and cheery with my colleagues. I don’t like clubs or bars. Yet, I want to keep my friends and don’t want to seem like a flake. There’s always a huge internal battle that rages inside of me whenever something comes up, and I want to decline an invite: do I want to keep this friend, or should I stay home and make myself happy?

I hope that one day others can understand that I don’t cancel plans because I’m rude, or because I’m a flake. It’s because I literally cannot muster the social energy to be with other people at that specific moment in time. There are occasions where I genuinely do want to go out; but on the occasions where I want to stay home in my pajamas, I don’t want to feel bad about it.

How Disney Helps: If I do go out, this means I have a great chance to tell my friends all about the latest Disney news.

  1. Having to Speak in Public

I think this is a given for anyone with anxiety. I once transferred out of a college class because I learned that you had to give a presentation at the end of the semester.

Ironically, my job as a Disney Cast Member was to speak in public each and every day for six months straight. However, when public speaking is expected and part of a routine, it’s easy to get used to. When I unexpectedly must give a last-minute tour at my job, or answer a question I’m not prepared for in front of a large group of people- that’s when the panic sets in. Luckily, I’ve learned how to fake it pretty good and I can come off as a natural public speaker when I want to. Unluckily, this doesn’t mean that I won’t silently freak out in my car right afterwards and immediately analyze everything I said.

How Disney Helps: I listen to inspirational songs like “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and “Let it Go” to prove that I’m awesome and to give me some courage.

  1. Being Around Dramatic People

There are certain individuals (I call them “alphas”) who radiate confidence all the time, and are always ready for a fight. They thrive on drama, and are usually pissed off at someone or something. Having these people on your side is awesome. Having them as your enemy is a nightmare. Being friends with alphas isn’t a bad thing, and they aren’t bad people. It just really sucks when YOU’RE the person they’re mad or pissed off at for the week. Luckily, these people tend to move on quickly.

How Disney Helps: I just repeat my Disney mantra: “Have courage, and be kind.” These people used to have a lot of power over how I felt, and I try to distance myself from drama and conflict as much as possible.

 

Of course, this isn’t a full list of things that give me anxiety. And, on the contrary, there are some days where things on this list won’t bother me at all. The thing about anxiety is, I have no idea when it’s going to rear its ugly head, and ruin my day. Sometimes I can drive to a totally new city or talk to a stranger for half an hour, and I’ll be completely at ease. It all just depends on the day.

I suppose a shorter post would be, “Things That DON’T Give Me Anxiety.” I’m sorry to everyone for the novel, and I thank you if you’ve made it this far.

Interestingly enough, my anxiety has a loophole. If someone I’m with has anxiety about, say, speaking up about something, I immediately go into “mom mode” and offer to do it for them. I’ll make phone calls for friends. I’ll ask for extra ketchup for friends. I’ll stick by friends at parties. Another person with anxiety cancels out my own anxiety. It’s weird.

I have to learn to stop apologizing, stop caring so much about what people think, and start being more comfortable and open with myself. I’m getting there. Some days are worse than others. But it’s nothing a cup of tea, a good book, and an awesome Disney movie can’t fix.

What are some things that cause you anxiety, and what helps?

Hugs and Fishes,

Arielle

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