How to Conquer Your Fear of Open Water Swimming

Apply these strategies to overcome anxiety and get back in the water
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Open water swimming can be dangerous, no doubt, if you don’t know what you’re doing. But you can easily find out and apply certain strategies that will help you overcome the fear and anxiety you feel when even imagining yourself surrounded by nothing but water for miles. The bonus here is that open water swimming is an excellent full body workout that will help you boost your overall self-confidence.

Fear is very personal and people experience it differently. Some get nervous and sweat, others run away or become very shy. Studies have shown that people’s brains are basically going through a state of chaos before a competition. Different parts fight for control, leaving you confused and worried. Everything you’ve learned theoretically about swimming – such as how to breathe, how to kick, how to stroke – you suddenly forget. To keep calm you have to train all of these parts of the brain to cooperate with each other.

For starters, get comfortable in a pool

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The water is clean so you can always see your feet and see that there is indeed a floor you can step on eventually. You can also see around you so you’ll be aware if anyone else is approaching you. It’s important to get the basics right first.

Write down your strengths and skills

You know how to swim and you know what makes you good at it. Jot down the techniques you’ve mastered that make a good swimmer. They can be anything from rolling onto your back and breathing to staying wide at buoys. Go over them every day and certainly before you’re about to jump in the water and race.

Look at the facts

Naturally, you doubt yourself. Your mind starts to play tricks on you by making you think that the distance is too long, you’re too slow and that you’re going to drown. When that happens, think of your training sessions. You have likely swum longer distances. Trust your technique, too. You know you have good kick, good posture, and good rhythm, so why worry?  If you fear of a particular situation occurring while you’re in the water, examine the stats and see what is the likelihood of t actually happening.

Find out what exactly make you anxious

What is it about swimming in open water that you fear? Be honest with yourself. Is it because you can’t see your feet or touch a hard surface? Is it because the water is dirty? Once you’ve narrowed the real cause down, you can design a plan so it’s no longer a problem.  

Forget the distance

Forget about how the long the entire course is; just think of the next 10 strokes. When you’re comfortable with that, think of the next 30. Break down the distance any way that is comfortable for you and think of every few yards as a milestone. That will likely motivate you to keep going.

Control the environment

It’s difficult to get back in the water if you’ve had a near-death or another scary experience. This is the case for hundreds of swimmers. Think of it as if you exercising at the gym and got injured. What would you do then? After you’re healed, you’re going to slowly get back to your routine. Swim in a pool, stay under water a few seconds at a time, and practice breathing. Take a friend in the water with you and don’t go too dip.

Practice in open water

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You will never get over your fear unless you actually swim in open water. Go to a local river or lake that is not deep so you can feel the ground. Or go to the beach and swim in the sea. Notice how the wind, current and bottom surface affect how you’re swimming. Gradually get out of your comfort zone. Stay close to the edge in shallow water. Bring a friend with you for extra moral (and possibly physical) support.

Have confidence; you’re not alone

A lot of swimmers fear getting caught in a crush in the opening few hundred meters of a triathlon. Everyone is close to each other trying to get ahead kicking legs, thrashing arms and not seeing who’s in front and behind. Who wouldn’t hate that? The only way to get around this is by being self-assured and by swimming on. Don’t slow down with your strokes and kicks because someone maybe behind you because the others are doing the same. Practice assertiveness by swimming in a group or by racing with a friend who should touch your feet and legs from time to time so you get used to the feeling.

Sign up for a swim

You’ll be surprised if what you are willing to do to meet a deadline. Once you’ve paid to participate in an event, you’re most likely going to do it because you don’t want to waste your money. But you don’t want to finish last either. All of these factors will come together and motivate you to prepare. =

Imagine you’re looking at you as an outsider

Imagine you are seeing someone else being nervous before an open water swim. What would you tell him or her?

More readings: 

Swim Workout of the Day: Core Conditioning

Reasons to Take up Swimming

Swimming for Weight Loss: Simple Tips to Help You Get Started

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