- How to understand your anxiety
- How to use visualization and guided imagery to combat anxiety
- Why wearing the right swimming equipment is important
- The importance of coach-athlete relationships in combating anxiety
- Swimming and anxiety: FAQs
Seven Tips to Reduce Swimming Anxiety
Swimming in open water or even shallow swimming pools can cause anxiety to children and newbie athletes unaccustomed to new environments. However, this unpleasant feeling won’t stop determined athletes from reaching their goals and improving their skills and experience.
If you want to improve your swimming skills and overcome your anxiety simultaneously, you need to shift your perspective and start training. You may need a little more time than others, but you’ll get there eventually. So, forget your worries, enjoy the experience, and be a better swimmer with these seven tips to reduce swimming anxiety.
1. Understand Your Anxiety
The first thing you need to do before diving deep into the water is understanding anxiety itself and your own anxiety. Anxiety is the body’s normal reaction to stress or tension. Anxiety is all in the brain, but physically, the responses could be fear, alertness, rapid heart rate, and shortness of breath—depending on the situation and the individual’s level of emotion.
Your anxiety concerning swimming and deep water may be caused by your childhood experiences, environment, beliefs, and other internal or external factors. It’s different for every athlete, so you need to understand your anxiety and change your relationship with it.
The same also goes for coaches and organizations helping athletes overcome anxiety and become better versions of themselves. They should also understand their athletes’ psychological well-being. Swimmers with anxiety need external help from other people they’re comfortable with. They should be assessed to establish effective solutions.
“Fear of water is the strongest predictor for no or low swimming competencies. Some individuals will never learn to swim due to their complete avoidance of water, whereas others might have difficulty with learning due to the fact that they cannot sufficiently relax their bodies to facilitate floating or swimming. Therefore, it is important to identify these people and to establish effective teaching strategies that can best help this specific population,” insisted a study published in The National Library of Medicine (NLM) and submitted to the Movement Science and Sport Psychology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
2. Go Slowly and Improve Gradually
There’s no need to rush. Overcoming anxiety doesn’t work that way. If you’re worried about drowning or have a fear of being in open water, then go slowly. Feet first, then half of your body, then your entire body. Swim first in shallow water, then go deeper and deeper.
There’s no need to master swimming at a rapid pace. Familiarize yourself with the environment first before undergoing actual swimming or triathlon training. During the process, trust the progress until you feel confident enough to swim alone in deep, open water.
Remember that this slow pace will ensure your safety while helping you overcome your anxiety. As rapid heart rate and shortness of breath are two of the most common signs of anxiety, don’t force yourself to train at a faster pace. It will only do more harm than good. Instead, start your training early and wait for your body to improve its anxiety responses.
3. Hold Your Breath Underwater for an Extended Period
Incorporate underwater breathing techniques into your training to overcome anxiety in deep, open water. This technique won’t only help you overcome anxiety, but it can also improve your swimming and breathing form.
An average person can hold out his breath underwater for up to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Swimmers should achieve a duration more than that to swim better and faster. Swimmers with anxiety should know how to hold their breath underwater for a longer period without experiencing panic or tension.
The key is to take big breaths before swimming underwater and resist the urge to breathe while underwater. To do this, inhale and exhale very slowly for several minutes before you go underwater. Calm your mind and body during this process. Then, take a huge, deep breath seconds before going underwater.
4. Embrace Visualization and Guided Imagery
Visualization and guided imagery are today’s two of the most effective ways to combat anxiety and improve an athlete’s performance. It also works in other aspects of life where success is on the line, such as situations as simple as public speaking and talent competitions.
Visualization and guided imagery, as defined by the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Texas, USA, “are techniques used to help you imagine yourself being a particular state.” They are used to induce relaxation and decrease stress and anxiety. The goal is for an individual to be absorbed in a scene that will deepen his state of relaxation. The scene/s should include visualizing the process of accomplishing a task or dealing with something challenging. In this case, we’re talking about swimming.
Visualization Techniques Against Anxiety
To help you overcome anxiety through visualization and guided imagery, here are some techniques you can follow during training and actual competitions:
- The Liquid Quiet Technique – When you feel anxious, you’ll mostly encounter loud voices in your head as your senses get more sensitive due to panic. Use the Liquid Quiet Technique to calm your racing mind. Visualize a thick liquid surrounding your head, covering your ears and filling your head with enough peace and quiet. Breathe deeply and stay in one position until you feel like moving in the water again.
- The Blue Light Technique – The best application of this is before you enter open water. Before you tackle a challenging task, apply light visualizations such as this one. The Blue Light Technique involves visualizing yourself glowing like a blue orb. This visual will help tension leave your body. Just breathe in and out while visualizing and wait for your anxiety to subside.
- The Happy Place Technique – The Happy Place Technique is different for everyone, but it’s one of the most effective visualization techniques against anxiety and reaching one’s goals. Before you enter the open water or if you experience an anxiety attack in the middle of open water, think of your happy place— it could be your calm bedroom, your childhood memory, or your favorite meal made by your mother.
5. Train in Controlled Environments
You can easily apply the previously mentioned tips in a controlled environment as opposed to an extreme environment. Again, go slowly and trust the progress. Don’t expose your mind and body to extreme swimming environments yet. Once you’re confident in your swimming abilities, you can move to a more challenging environment and practice alone. But in the meantime, don’t put yourself in danger and opt for controlled environments.
The perfect controlled environment is a pool, river, or lake with a lifeguard always present. You can also bring a companion who knows how to swim to ensure that you won’t be in danger if you experience a panic attack. Practice swimming in the pool and small bodies of open water with a companion. When you successfully manage to swim in these environments without any issues, graduate to deeper waters. Only you can tell if your mind and body are ready.
Training in controlled environments won’t only help you overcome your anxiety little by little; it can also help you evaluate the effectiveness of mental health prevention techniques in controlled trials. You can undergo a trial-and-error process and find the best techniques to combat your own anxiety.
6. Wear the Right Equipment
Wearing the right equipment for preventive measures can limit the risks of swimming-related accidents that can worsen your anxiety and fear of open water. In addition, wearing the right equipment can also condition your brain that you’re much safer without one.
The most essential gear is a pair of goggles. Wear goggles to protect your eyes and prevent being disoriented. Protecting your eyes can improve your visibility and increase your comfort level. You also need the right-sized swimsuit and bathing caps to help your body move freely and be more comfortable underwater. The goal is to be as comfortable as possible and create a good foundation before facing challenging situations.
You also need to maximize your swimmer’s energy underwater to prevent exhaustion and panic, and swimming equipment can help you with that. “Almost over 90% of a swimmer’s energy is spent to overcome hydrodynamic resistance during forward motion,” according to a study published by Elsevier and ScienceDirect, so you need the right gear to reduce the resistance and save your energy.
7. Hire or Work With a Coach
If your goal is not just to combat your anxiety but to compete in real environments as an athlete, it’s best to hire or work with a swimming coach. You can speed up the process of your training while gradually improving your anxiety responses with a personal trainer. Swimming coaches can help you improve your swimming techniques and build up your confidence in open water all at the same time.
Before committing with a personal trainer, make sure you work with one who understands your anxiety and fear. This knowledge will help them know your triggers, develop the best program, and gauge your progress. So, commit with a personal trainer with whom you can make a meaningful relationship with. According to an article and analysis published in the Sport Journal by Dr. Sharon P. Misasi, a Professor of Exercise Science at Southern Connecticut State University, and Dr. Gary Morin is a Professor of Exercise Science, coaches and athletes’ relationships play a significant role in the athlete’s success.
“A coach is a meaningful person in the lives of athletes and the role they play is vital in the athlete’s sports experience. Our results indicate that the level of competitive division appears to play a role in how athletes perceive their coaches and how coaches perceive themselves,” said Dr. Misasi and Dr. Morin.
Choose your personal coach wisely. If your anxiety is severe, it’s best to work on private swimming lessons over group or public lessons, so that you can track your own progress and train at your own pace.
Swimming and Anxiety: FAQs
Swimming and anxiety don’t really go together. Sometimes, it’s not as simple as the fear of getting underwater. Better understand how swimming and anxiety work with these frequently asked questions.
Is Anxiety Really Bad?
Anxiety is the body’s normal response to fear and tension. It’s not necessarily bad when the body’s flight and fight responses are effective. Anxiety can cause panic, shortness of breath, and rapid heart rate. But it can also heighten an individual’s senses and allow his or her body to move away from danger. In the end, it all depends on the individual’s reaction and responses.
Does Anxiety Really Go Away?
Anxiety is neither permanent nor temporary. It can go away from time to time. However, it can also reappear when you least expect it during unexpected events. In short, it’s reoccurring and unexpected. “Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision,”explained The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, an organization committed to reducing various suffering caused by mental illnesses around the world.
What’s the Difference Between Anxiety and Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety is a common yet unexpected problem that people experience when they become overwhelmed. It can happen to anyone as all of us will experience an unexpected, negative situation that will require us to make an important decision at some point in our lives.
Anxiety disorders, meanwhile, are already considered mental illnesses that can negatively impact a person’s life. This disorder is characterized by excessive, over-the-top, or unrealistic worry about everything. It can get worse over time without proper evaluation and solutions.
Due to the significant differences between the two, coaches and athletes need to know the difference between anxiety disorders and the simple fear of diving in open water to improve athletes’ psychological wellbeing and prevent accidents.
All athletes struggle during training and competitions. But the struggle is much worse for athletes suffering from anxiety, anxiety disorders, and other mental health problems. You can always train yourself to overcome your anxiety, but do so with the help of others.
At the same time, coaches and swimming clubs or organizations should always follow a comprehensive mental health framework to promote athlete mental health and wellbeing. A framework can help them respond to the needs of athletes suffering from anxiety and anxiety disorders and those at risk of developing mental health symptoms and disorders. Athletes suffering from anxiety should not face their challenges alone. The sports community should also help them overcome these challenges and succeed.