How to Not Be Scared of Roller Coasters

By Kathryn Walsh

Overcoming big fears before the big drop

How to Not Be Scared of Roller Coasters

It's got a huge Mickey Mouse head on it, so how scary could a Disneyland roller coaster be? That's easy to say when you first arrive in Anaheim, when you walk through the gates of California Adventure and maybe even when you join the line for California Screamin', the park's longest and fastest coaster. Unless you're an adrenaline junkie, though, you may start to panic when the safety bar comes down. No matter what park you're visiting, keep in mind that it's normal to be scared of roller coasters. But if you still want to experience the rush, do a little homework first and be strategic about how and when you board.

Face the facts

You may find it helpful to remind yourself over and over that roller coasters are really very safe. Researchers from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services studied roller coaster accidents between 1994 and 2004 and found that an average of four people died per year from incidents related to these rides. Nearly half those died because of medical conditions that were caused or triggered by riding.

Considering that more than 300 million people visit American amusement parks each year, your chances of being injured on a roller coaster are minuscule. In fact, the likelihood of being hurt on a ride at an American amusement park is 1 in 16 million, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

If those facts feel calming to you, repeat them to yourself as you wait in line. Then, watch all the people coming off the coaster at the end of their ride and tell yourself that you'll walk off it, too.

Prepare yourself

Psychology experts often talk about using exposure therapy to overcome phobias. By confronting the thing that scares you, they say, you'll get past the terror. A psychology professor at the University of Mount Union even took students who are scared of roller coasters to an amusement park to help them confront and get past that fear. Before they went, he had them watch point-of-view videos, taken from the perspective of people riding coasters. Watching those videos allowed the students to experience riding a coaster before attempting the real thing.

Try this technique yourself by scrolling through YouTube videos taken on rides. You may even be able to find videos taken on the specific coaster you're planning to ride. As you watch, focus on breathing deeply and calming your body. At the park, use the same strategy to relax yourself. And if jumping right on the ride feels too scary, attempt your own version of exposure therapy by walking past the roller coaster on your way to other rides. The more time you spend looking at the ride, the less daunting it might seem by the time you're ready to go.

Stay safe at the park

The best way to ensure your own safety on a roller coaster? Pay close attention to the rules and guidelines. Read all safety signs, follow staff instructions and ask questions if you need to. Avoid sitting in the front, which offers the best view of the action (or worst view, depending on your outlook). Sitting in a middle seat, surrounded by people and not able to see what's coming up, may help you feel most comfortable.

Ride on an empty stomach, several hours after your last meal. Minimize distractions by stowing your bags in a park locker and taking off any items that could become unsecured during the ride, like sunglasses, scarves or hats. Take valuables out of your pockets and stash them in a locker or other safe place. The last thing you want to think about just before the big drop is "Will my cell phone fall out of my pocket?"

Ultimately, remember that going to an amusement park is supposed to be fun! If you're so terrified by the idea of riding a roller coaster that you feel sick or panicky, skip it. You can always try again another day.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.