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Are you a confident swimmer, but still panic in the open water, seemingly TOTALLY irrationally??

You are not alone!

Open water swimming is thrilling, relaxing and wonderful, and also is a challenge to our body and often our mind.

There are times, as a swimmer, where your brain wanders off; you might be thinking about what’s in the water under and around you, or are just taken unawares by a structure or person that you don’t expect, perhaps you’ve recently heard of a story of someone who has had a bad experience open water swimming and its fresh in your mind?

You might have experienced something similar.

I certainly did, when I raced at the World Champ Team Relays this year in Hamburg and the swim went underneath two tunnels. It totally floored me! I didn’t expect the blackness both in and out of the water, and I absolutely panicked. It didn’t help that the dive entry knocked my goggles off and wouldn’t reseal for the rest of the swim.

But suddenly I couldn’t get my rhythm, had to do breaststroke, and almost signalled to get pulled out!

A total shocker…

And partly because it really seemed like an irrational fear.

We all deal with these unexpected events differently. I bumbled through it, knowing that bailing really wasn’t an option at that moment, but got a terrible swim time (and let my team down).

So, how can you deal with these situations?

There are a few tricks, that as coaches, we can share:

  1. Do a reccie

If you know you have an event coming up and there are particular obstacles or structures that you think might throw you, see if you can get out in the water beforehand and practice it. Feel what its like to swim in/around/within those things and get used to it.

In fact, regularly swimming in the open water does a lot to dispel any irrational fears you might have.

  1. Practice breathing

Sounds a bit weird, right? We can all breathe, and it comes naturally.

But there are meditation breathing patterns that can help to calm our nerves and centre ourselves. Try BOX breathing:

How to do Box Breathing

Step 1: Breathe in, counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs.

Step 2: Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Try to avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 seconds.

Step 3: Slowly exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds.

Step 4: Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you feel re-centered.

When doing box breathing, it’s good to:

  • Sit in a chair, stand, or lie down on your back with one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.

  • Breathe as you would normally for a minute.

  • Observe the rise and fall of your chest and stomach.

  • If you notice that your chest is rising but your stomach is not, you are shallow breathing. If your stomach is rising, you are deep breathing, activating full relaxation in your body.

Box breathing can be useful in many situations such as:

  • It can help you cope with panic and stress when feeling overwhelmed. Counting helps to take the focus from the panic-producing situation enabling you to handle and control your response.

  • Helps to control hyperventilation as you can instruct your lungs to breathe rhythmically.

  • Keeps you calm while preparing for your event.

  1. If the cold affects you, practice acclimation

If the water is cold, try to get in before the race/event. Splash your face and put it in the water for 2 minutes 5-6 times before you get in fully. This halves the cold water shock syndrome, and also mentally adapts you to the cooler water… suddenly doesn’t feel as cold as it did.

Plus, 14 months later it was still reduced by 20 by 25%, so quite a lot of that habituation is probably fairly permanent and central.

Good news all round!

  1. Find some buddies

I’m all over this. There’s so much benefit gained from experiencing life with like-minded people. Get some mates together for your open water swimming, set up a buddy system so you pair up and look after each other, and find some glorious places to explore!

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