Call us today 0330 390 3960

Emetophobia and Roller Coasters: Can You Overcome Your Fear?

Silhouette of a roller coaster at sunset
Image source: Pixabay via Pexels

Roller coasters are all about thrills. The anticipation as you steadily climb, your pulse accelerating as you reach the top, and the rush of adrenaline as you hurtle downhill. For some people, though, the experience can seem frightening rather than fun. There are many reasons why people are afraid to ride roller coasters, but one of the less discussed amongst them is emetophobia: a severe fear of vomiting.

If you find that emetophobia is holding you back from enjoying your favourite theme parks to the full, then it could be time to make some changes. In this post, we’ll talk through the reasons why people with a fear of vomiting may be reluctant to get on a roller coaster. We’ll then move on to show you some techniques you can use to start feeling confident on rides.

Why do some emetophobes fear roller coasters?

Emetophobia can be a life-limiting condition for numerous reasons. One of the most common issues is avoidant behaviour: not taking part in certain activities because you fear that either you or someone else will vomit. For some emetophobes, this might include refusing to go on some or all roller coasters, or even going to a theme park or fair altogether.

It’s not too difficult to understand why people with emetophobia may feel worried about roller coasters. That’s because riders can experience motion sickness. This is because the rapid movement and sudden changes in direction are likely to be difficult for your inner ear to process. The information that this sensory organ sends to your brain may also conflict with what you’re seeing in front of you.

For emetophobes, though, it’s easy for this risk to be blown out of proportion. A study from King’s College London found that people with a specific phobia of vomiting were more likely than those without this phobia to think that vomiting had particularly awful consequences, and overrated the likelihood that these would happen. This type of thinking is known as catastrophising, and it leads people to worry excessively and to fixate on the worst case scenario.

Sickness on roller coasters: How common is it?

The idea of becoming nauseous or even vomiting on a roller coaster has become a common cultural trope, often seen in TV shows or films. However, a bit of research indicates that the problem may not be as common as you might expect.

To date, there appears to have been little research into the prevalence of vomiting on roller coasters. However, the Los Angeles Times conducted their own analysis of injury and sickness at theme parks in Southern California.

The newspaper found that there were roughly 350 such incidences per year, despite the fact that the total annual attendance across the parks exceeded 40 million. What’s more, only 18% of these concerned symptoms related to motion sickness: fainting, nausea and dizziness.

Based on these statistics, we can work out that these symptoms affect a tiny 0.0002% of those attending a theme park. That’s roughly 1 in every 634,921 visitors. To put that into perspective, you have a similar chance of drawing a royal flush in poker, or of winning an Olympic gold medal!

Of course, these statistics are unlikely to be fully comprehensive. It’s likely that there are many mild cases of motion sickness that go unreported. But when you think about it, that’s yet more positive news: if you do experience symptoms, it’s likely that they will be fairly minor and pass quickly.

Are certain rides more likely to trigger motion sickness?

Mission: Space logo
Image source: Jack O’Rourke via Unsplash

It’s easy to imagine that the worst thing to ride with emetophobia would be the tallest and most fear-inducing roller coaster in the park. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that you might actually be less likely to feel ill on these kinds of attractions than on some of those that are seen as being ‘for kids’.

In fact, spinning rides are often cited as those most likely to cause feelings of motion sickness. As such, you might feel absolutely fine taking to a roller coaster, but feel ill after a ride on the teacups. Similarly, rides that make use of centrifugal motion, such as Mission: Space in Epcot, have caused multiple cases of nausea, with older riders more likely to be affected.

Another type of ride that may trigger feelings of nausea is one that involves watching something on a screen during the ride. This is because the image in front of you may appear to be still while you feel yourself moving—something which, once again, can put you off balance.

Meanwhile, research has shown that unpredictable motion is more likely to cause feelings of motion sickness than predictable motion. As such, a ride containing sudden inversions and drops may be worth avoiding, while you might feel fine on a straightforward coaster.

This isn’t to say that you should avoid these types of rides altogether, of course. However, if you’re visiting a theme park and want to focus on being able to go on any roller coaster, then it makes sense to start with those that are less likely to trigger any symptoms.

Is it more than just emetophobia?

Some people may find that emetophobia is the one obstacle preventing them from enjoying roller coasters. For others, however, it may be just one contributing factor amongst several. A fear of roller coasters has been described by some as a “combination phobia”, with the rides provoking several common fears.

If you’re worried about getting on a ride, these factors may also come into play:

  • Claustrophobia: With most roller coasters being outdoors, it might seem surprising to see that claustrophobia could affect you while riding one. However, you may find that being strapped securely into your seat triggers a fear of confined spaces.
  • Agoraphobia: Often thought of as simply a fear of open spaces, agoraphobia actually concerns situations from which escape is difficult. Those with this phobia may catastrophise, imagining themselves stuck in a high place.
  • Acrophobia: Not to be confused with the item above, this refers to a fear of heights. It’s not too surprising to learn that this may affect people, given that roller coasters tend to be dozens of metres tall and involve long drops.
  • Vertigo: If you suffer from vertigo, then getting on a ride is likely to be an unpleasant experience. However, it’s also possible that you might have illyngophobia: the fear of vertigo. This presents with similar symptoms, such as dizziness and nausea.

Steps you can take

People sat in roller coaster cars raising their arms
Image source: Gabriel Valdez via Unsplash

If you’re worried about feeling nauseous or even vomiting while on a roller coaster, it can feel like the only option is not to ride at all. Thankfully, there are options available that can help you to feel more at ease.

  • Change your thinking: Feeling sick on a roller coaster may sound like something that’s out of your control, but your mind can actually have a significant impact on the way your body feels. If you feel severe anxiety before getting on a ride, this could contribute to or even trigger feelings of nausea. By going in with a positive mindset, you can help to avoid some of your symptoms before they even begin. Be sure to check out our guide to some top calming techniques for emetophobia to help you find your zen.
  • Consider medication: Over-the-counter motion sickness tablets could help you to avoid feelings of nausea from spoiling your day. Be sure to talk to your GP about the potential impact of any new medication, particularly if you already have other prescriptions.
  • Try a natural remedy: It may sound surprising, but regular ginger has been proven to effectively treat nausea, and has shown promise as a treatment for motion sickness. You could either take a ginger tablet before you get on a ride, or simply chew on a small piece of root ginger.
  • Know your body: While motion sickness can affect anyone, it’s more likely to be prevalent in those who have conditions that affect the inner ear, such as Ménière’s disease. It’s also worth noting that this organ may naturally deteriorate over time, making symptoms more common in older adults.

Vomiting on roller coasters: the facts

While it is possible to feel nausea or even to vomit as a result of riding a roller coaster, the stats indicate that this is a much less common outcome than many people think. Better still, you can take action to ensure that you have an enjoyable day out, from taking anti-motion sickness tablets to simply changing your mindset. By following our tips, there’s no reason why you can’t head to your favourite amusement park free from fear.