By: Elise Chojnacki '22
I decided to take Abnormal Psychology because I wanted to learn more about various mental illnesses. With hopes to become a physician one day, I want to learn more about the assessment and diagnosis of mental illnesses so I can ensure the best care for my future patients. I had no idea that this class included the Face Your Fear project with a trip to cedar point when scheduling to take it. Quite honestly, if you told me I had to face my fears in this class before scheduling I probably would’ve taken another psychology class. Reflecting on this class today, I can say it’s one of my favorite classes and I’m a better person today because of it.
The Face Your Fear project is centered around helping students face their fear of roller coasters, ending with a trip to Cedar Point. Those with roller coaster fears chose one or two rides to be their goal rides, with my goals being Millennium Force and Gatekeeper.
Before our trip, portions of class were dedicated to Face Your Fear content. Within these we learned about the science behind meditation. Mindful meditation was something I’ve never heard before, and certainly I thought meditating was silly and would not help me with my fears. After Dr. Meyer went through various lectures and documentaries where meditation is shown to shrink the fear center in your brain and help you control your emotions, I was convinced to give it a try. After meditating for four weeks, I saw significant improvement in my sleeping habits, running performance, and overall mood.
We also completed assignments designed to restructure our thoughts about the roller coasters while watching videos of the rides we wanted to conquer. At the time it seemed like a video could not measure up to the real thing, but this part of the assignment was meant to take out the “surprise” element of the ride. The cognitive restructuring assignments often went beyond roller coasters and focused on the anxious thoughts within our everyday life, which was a very eye-opening experience.
Many parts of this class can be applicable to stress and anxiety within everyday life, which is something I enjoy and desperately needed being a biochemistry major. Throughout this whole process, we were assigned groups that included individuals who did not have a fear of roller coasters. These individuals were supporters who encouraged us in the classroom and on the “big day” of course.
The week of the trip, I still felt nervous when I imagined myself on the Millennium Force, but I kept up with my meditation and assignments and focused on the hard work I’ve done. Before trip day, we had to write letters to our future selves congratulating ourselves on accomplishing our goals. This was designed to put more positive thoughts into our minds and create a feeling to look forward to once we ride our goal rides.
During the bus ride, I surprisingly did not feel nervous or anxious. I was ready to tackle the day and ride my goal rides. When arriving at the park and waiting to enter, I started to feel a little nervous, but my support group kept me distracted. Approaching the Millennium Force line, I wasn’t as nervous as I expected. Usually within these types of situations, I get very nervous and become sick to my stomach. A sense of calmness came over me as I repeated affirmations in my head and focused on my breathing. I asked my support group questions about the ride like how it feels and where to sit, and they encouraged me that I would have fun. I got onto the ride feeling very confident and ready to conquer my fear. I knew this ride would be scary, but they’re designed to have thrilling aspects and it was only two minutes long.
Going up the lift I counted how long it would take for us to reach the top, something I learned from my assignments, and focused on my breathing. Going down the hill, I was surprised at how high and how fast we were accelerating downwards at almost a 90-degree angle. I held on for dear life and felt my stomach drop, but after the hill I found myself having fun and enjoying the rest of the ride. I even put my hands up for the picture in one of the tunnels that the ride goes through.
After getting off the ride, I felt so proud of myself for accomplishing my goal. Later in the day, I wasn’t very nervous to ride my second goal ride, the Gatekeeper, and I ended up loving it and riding it another time that day. Overall, I am so glad I ended up taking this class. It has allowed me to conquer my fear of roller coasters, and now I am confident that I can face anything. Next, I plan to take what I learned from this class and tackle my fear of spiders.
Another takeaway from this class is that it has reaffirmed my interest in osteopathic medicine. In lecture we learned about various anxiety disorders and how meditation and various types of therapy can combat these disorders rather than medications or other types of medical interventions. I would strongly recommend this class to others regardless of your major because psychology is applicable within many different career paths. Beyond this, the Face Your Fear project helps you face your fears and opens your life to more possibilities. Now I can go to Cedar Point, amusement parks, or any type of “thrilling adventure” and not miss out on fun with my friends.