Open Water & Pool Coaching Videos

Looking after your Mental Health ~ Autumn


I don’t think I’ve ever met an open water swimmer that hasn’t had a moment of panic or irrational thinking at some point…..’Oh my (or stronger words) was that a shark over there!’  We often laugh about our tales of adventure and a wandering imagination over coffee and cake.


Whilst we laugh it can feel rather scary when you are out in the big blue and panic sets in. It can of course happen to us all and is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is helpful if you have some strategies up your sleeve…so to speak, to help when the need arises.


Lets just check in with how anxiety can affect us. The main issue when swimming is that there are some very real physical symptoms linked to anxiety that are worth being aware of. When we experience anxiety our body experiences a chain of events that is designed to help us when we are in situations of real danger: this is known as the ‘flight or fight’ response. As a result of this response, we can experience physical symptoms that we may not initially realise are linked to our anxiety.  Indeed we often hear during coaching sessions (join us here)  that swimmers are struggling with their breathing when swimming front crawl and they run out of steam and have to take a break,  this is sometimes simply poor technique but sometimes it boils down to anxiety.  As aquaphobia coaches (see here)  we understand how anxiety can impact individuals and some of the strategies used with our aquaphobia clients are used for general anxiety management and can be helpful when we are swimming if the need arises.

 Its always useful to get to know yourself and recognise the physical symptoms of anxiety which includes:


Shortness of breath

Feelings of ‘butterflies’ in the stomach

Increase in heartrate


Hot flushes

Increase perspiration/sweaty palms

Feelings of nausea

Wanting to go to the toilet more often




Dry mouth



It could be one or many symptoms that you may experience. These are common, unpleasant and completely normal during periods of anxiety.  Anxiety is a personal experience and so you may experience some symptoms that are not listed above.  If of course you feel any symptoms might be a sign of a serious medical condition you should seek medical advice.


So lets consider that you are in the water and recognise the symptoms of anxiety;

·        firstly It is always vital to think SAFETY FIRST

·    You may be experienced at managing this while swimming and have developed strategies that help you to swim through it… if not

·     You may be within your depth and easily able to exit the water – do so if you can and get to a safe area out of the water to recover

·      If you are in deeper water it may be safer to roll onto your back where you will find it easier to float and keep your mouth away from the water to prevent taking on water

·       Try to regulate your breathing  (see below)

·       Try to keep calm

·       Remind yourself you will be fine and

·     Try to recognise irrational thoughts as being unhelpful and what it says on the tin…irrational!

·    If you need assistance calmy raise your arm, call for help, blow your whistle, wave your tow float – simply try to get attention of someone on shore or other swimmers, but continue to remain calm

·       You may find it helpful to do a grounding exercise or breathing exercise to help calm yourself (see below)

·       When it is safe to do so and you feel more in control get yourself SAFELY to shore if you are not able to continue with your swim


Grounding: When your mind is racing, grounding brings you back to the here-and-now and it can be very helpful in managing overwhelming feelings or anxiety. It is a great way to calm down quickly.

Grounding basically means to bring your focus to what is happening to you physically, either in your body or in your surroundings, instead of being trapped by the thoughts in your mind that are causing you to feel anxious. It helps you stay in the present moment  and helps prevent your mind running wild with catastrophising.

Quick mental exercises that you can do in your mind can be extremely helpful to focus on the present moment. By keeping your mind busy, you will be able to rewire your focus on the here and now anywhere and at any time helping you to regain composure.

 1. You could try starting at 100 and deducting 7 and continuing in sequence

 2.  Or you could simply count backwards.

 3. You could take each letter of the alphabet and think of an animal beginning with that letter

Breathing: Any breathing techniques used for longer than 1 minute should include approximately 30 seconds of normal breathing between rounds to avoid the possibility of hypoventilation.  Eg. Do a breathing exercise up to 1 min – rest for 30secs with normal breathing – repeat breathing exercise if required or change to another technique.

Try an simple breathing exercise -  Inhale count to 10 - Exhale slowly on your own count, pause relax shoulders and repeat. REMEMBER keep it short to prevent hyperventilating.

©Solent Swim School 2022