Top Mental Tips for Open Water Swims….

I love open water swimming – often being distracted by the fish – Swanage springs to mind! However…

After several NLP sessions with a few client on Open Water Swimming I thought I would post a summary of thoughts to help you with your open water swimming…. following a few questions from a client.

Q. Shed any light on why people panic open water?

When your body is put in an environment where it feels like it is under threat it will resort to the flight or fight syndrome where your body responds to the situation which an increase in adrenalin to survive. Millions of years ago this would have served useful to run away from the threat which could have been a lion, or something requiring us to ‘fight or flight’ for a short period of time. However, as we have evolved our bodies still respond in a similar way and the perception of perceived danger will still provoke a similar response, even if our rational conscious mind tells us otherwise.

Your situation would indicate the cold water provoked a natural response on your body which caused your breathing to be restricted. As this had not happened before, your rational mind tried to override this response which caused you to have a more increased reaction which then led your body to think you were under threat, leading to a full panic attack.

This has then led to a habit being created in your mind which provokes a response if you feel under threat or stress, or can see how a situation could lead to your harm, even though you can rationalise this is not the ‘real’ case.

Panic attacks are common and can be resolved through hypnotherapy, NLP, CBT and many other forms of coaching. They often stem from stress or smaller events which happened early in life. Whatever the cause or trigger, there are many methods and techniques to help someone move forwards to a calmer place, away from the limiting response.

Q. Any tips on how first-timers can avoid panic in open water

  • Make sure you are confident swimming in a pool and lifting your head to site as you will not have the lanes in the open water
  • Find a wet suit that fits you and test it in an endless pool to get a feel of how it will be
  • If you feel the cold, or suffer from asthma maybe try a surfing vest as an extra layer under your wetsuit, and a hat, gloves and wetsuit shoes for extra warmth if early in the season when the water temperature will still be low
  • Spend some time the night before writing down a mind map of how you would like your first open water experience to be and then write down any areas that are concerning you – combined with a solution next to them.
  • Think of 2-4 qualities you want to feel – ie. Calm, confident, relaxed, focused, etc – which you can almost use as a mantra to keep you focused … if these are challenging just try I’m ok – and or Breathe…
  • Choose a quiet environment which feels right for you – be that a river, lake or the sea
  • Go with a qualified coach who is experienced with open water swimming who can guide and support you – giving you confidence
  • Do a few warm up exercises on the land to increase your heart rate and mobility
  • Start with a  small goal/distance – even if you are used to swimming a long distance in the pool – open water is different
  • When you get in, take a moment to get used to the water temperature and put your head and face in the water before you swim so you know what it will feel like when you start.
  • Agree with the person you are swimming with distance and landmark before you stop to check how you are doing
  • Have up to three key points to focus on during the sessions so keep your technique good, and your confidence
  • Afterwards identify three good things from the swim and two areas you would like to work on
  • Repeat at least 2 more times with someone experienced with you

Q. What happens if you’re already in the water panicking

  • Before you get into the water write down the things you may panic about …. Then write down what you are going to do when you notice this beginning to happen, and how you would like to feel…. Then write down a word to keep repeating should the symptom start in the water – such as I am okay, breathe, relax, confidence… by acknowledging the fear and accepting it may happen but you have a strategy to start to move away from the limiting behaviour, towards a better strategy, this will empower you to take control of the fear in a positive way.
  • If it does begin to happen in the water …

–          Focus on breathing

–           Slow your speed down and really concentrate on one aspect of your stroke

–          Find an even, relaxed rhythm

–          Accept that you feel slightly panicky but tell your mind you are okay (by fighting it you will only increase the fear as your body will think you are not listening to the warning it is giving you – by noticing it, you can let it go)

–          If you need to stop and tread water do so until you can regulate your breathing do so for 10 secs, then allow yourself to swim another 10 strokes, pause regulate breathing again, and repeat 5-10 times

–          Have a rest at the edge when you can, focus on what you have done well and then decide what you would like to do to complete another small stretch – giving yourself small goals to achieve

–          Imagine you have the qualities of someone you really admire who swims open water confidently and calmly – acting as if you have that quality over time will give you added confidence

Q? Can you outline strategies for people (like me) who would like to swim in the open water but are too fearful.

–          Become very confident and strong in your pool based training – practising open water swim drills and lengths of 7, 9 breaths to get used to managing good control

–          Set your open water goals as small, achievable goals – write down what you want to achieve and how you that will make you feel when you have achieved it. Little goals will build to the big goal, consistently and easily so make the goal really easy to start with. Make sure they are really clear, with a clear overall outcome.

–          List the fears you have and how they make you feel on one side of the paper – then on the other side write a solution down to move away from the fear and how you would like to feel instead – make it realistic so not super positive (just yet) as your body has to buy into it!

–          Choose 4 qualities you would like to have to swim wit confidence – common ones chosen by clients are calm, confidence, focus, strength, and power but choose what works for you – note down all the times you have felt this

–          Choose a piece of music which represents you swimming confidently open water – close your eyes and imagine yourself swimming confidently in the open water – observe how you look, feel and any sounds you may notice. Breathe deeply and fully begin to believe it is possible – then replay the movie with all the observations, repeating the four words that give you have chosen to feel.

–          If any limiting thoughts come into your mind, let them come and go – then when you have finished the swim in your mind, open your eyes – note them down and try to reframe them to more positive.

–          After the swim write down three – five positive things (however small) and two to three things to focus on next time. Focus on what you have gained, and let go off what you are frustrated about

–          Get support from positive people who like open water swimming and can give you positive examples so you discuss positive experiences and start to let go of discussing the limiting experiences

–          Start to believe that it may be possible to enjoy swimming open water and list all the reasons why this would be a good thing

For more support and advice just post a comment below – happy Swimming!!