Do you ever get that lurching feeling in your stomach when the bottom of the lake, riverbed or ocean disappears as you swim out into deeper waters? Your body starts to heighten its awareness of the watery surroundings and you become acutely conscious of the depth of the water beneath you.
Wild swimming in the deep water of rivers, lakes, oceans and between islands is a lot of fun and a rewarding experience, provided you can manage and overcome any natural sense of deep water fear that you may experience. Often, the feelings of gratitude, confidence and achievement that you earn from these kinds of experiences are exponentially linked in proportion with how scared you felt about the swim before you started. The more of a challenge it is for you personally, the greater the feelings of accomplishment at the end.
So, you want to challenge yourself, achieve new goals or simply have more fun swimming, whatever your current ability level may be. Use the following mental tools to help you cope with deep water fear.
Deep water fear is a very natural physiological and psychological reaction designed to help your body cope with the water. Cortisol and adrenalin will be released and your heart rate will elevate. More oxygen will be transported to your muscles and used, alongside glucose, to produce ATP to provide your body with more energy. Your central nervous system will be stimulated and all of these physiological reactions will prep you for swimming well in the water. If you feel butterflies in your stomach or nervous, then it is often only because of these hormonal changes. Once you understand that nerves play an important part, that deep water fear occurs, then you can accept and understand that it is simply a signal that your body is reacting in order to help you swim.
If you already know that it will happen (and why) then you won’t feel as bad when it does. This can also help you to feel confident knowing that you already have a toolkit of tactics to respond to and counter any negative effects that may occur. If you know that you feel nervous about swimming across a river or out further into deeper water, remind yourself that you know how to cope with this fear and trust in your own ability.
Repeat a Phrase
Have a pre-prepared quote in your mind that you can repeat over and over as you swim. This will help to calm your mind, concentrate on the moment and give you confidence. A repeated phrase can help to establish rhythm, whilst also evoking a powerful feeling of confidence and control. Here are a few I use. I alternated between all three whilst swimming for two and a half hours in the freezing Arctic water across the largest maelstrom in the world:
Concentrate on your breathing and stroke
Focus inwards on yourself. Count your breaths in sets of ten in order to stay calm. Then go back to the beginning and keep repeating the count. Hone in on your stroke, leg kick and the way that you are moving through the water. Think about your catch, pull and movement. This will help you to relax and swim efficiently.
The point of this exercise is also to steal a few tactics from meditation practices. By concentrating on your own responsibility to move and breathe and swim well, you are forcing your attention onto what you are able to control in the situation, as opposed to focusing on external factors that you have absolutely zero control over. This will help to make you relax and feel more confident.
Wild Swimming is all about exploration and adventure. It should take you to new places and lead to exciting new experiences.
Pushing ourselves, attempting things that we do not know if they are possible or not is a perfect way to improve physically and psychologically. It helps us to break out of our comfort zone. If you are wild swimming and it gets too much, or you feel like you are starting to panic, roll onto your back, tread water and take a few deep breaths. Think about the discomfort that you feel due to the deep water fear and smile. Have confidence in yourself, take another deep breath then press on and keep going. Whilst other people are sleeping in or binging on some Netflix series they will forget in a few months’ time, you are out in the natural world, immersed and free, getting fitter and expanding your horizons.