Open Water Anxiety – how do you conquer your fear?
Maybe its all those scary movies as kids or just simply an unfamiliarity. For many of us, the thought of heading out into the deep water – past the shallows where we can see the bottom is a scary prospect. However if you can deal with this anxiety and get out there and enjoy it – a whole world of exciting new adventures awaits.
Being nervous in the open water is very common…and anxiety is quite normal amongst athletes at all levels of experience. Conquering your fear and embracing this playground all comes down to pre-race training, mental preparation, having a pre-race strategy and having some fun!
First up – get to know what’s underneath… Swimmers who have had the opportunity to go snorkelling or scuba diving can make the most of visualising just what is in the ocean and what a wonderful world it is (failing the opportunity to pop over to the islands or the Maldives (or even the Poor Knights) then make the most of the David Attenborough documentaries… Knowing what is in the environment (and importantly what is not) will help your rational mind put things into perspective.
Get used to the chaos of being bumped and swum with by practicing chaos starts and efforts in the pool as part of your swim training…getting used to sharing your water space with other swimmers and what that feels like will help!
Get out amongst it as often as possible! Organise to swim with friends often (just like we do at the Beach Series every week). Start out where you are comfortable and extend your reach gradually. Get used to the limited visibility and the feeling of being in your wetsuit (and how it helps you float and be in control of your swim). If there are swim clinics on offer – make the most of them. If you are nervous, have a friend swim with you for the first few races (you can shout them a beer or an ice-cream for their efforts), that comfort and familiarity really makes a difference.
Normalise the environment and remember that these fears are often irrational… the reality is you have far more risk driving on our roads than you have of a potential issue in the ocean! Just focus on what you are achieving and try not to overthink things. (And gain familiarity with the environment helps this – after all you don’t think twice about driving, do you?)
Use visualisation to mentally prepare. Imagine stressful situations that can occur and then think about staying calm, controlling your breathing and continuing to swim forward. Prepare a personal race-day strategy that gives you confidence. Cut out all negative self-talk, use calm and deep yoga breaths when you feel anxious, familiarise yourself with the race course and positions of safety team, and position yourself at the back or outside of your start wave.
From time to time – even the most experienced swimmers experience anxiety attacks in races. If that happens, move away from other swimmers, roll onto your back and focus on breathing slowly and gently, and lowering your heart rate. Think about what you want to achieve. Resume swimming once you are under control and congratulate yourself on tackling the challenge. If you’re experience chest pain, discomfort, light headedness or an unusually high heart rate – then stop, raise your hand and seek medical, safety support help.
Remember, tens of thousands of us swim in the open water every day enjoying the benefits, and that is your happy place! So grab your blueseventy wetsuit and goggles, a brightly coloured cap, some mates and head out into the surf!