Overcoming Your Fear of Swimming

Many people stay away from the water because they have a fear of being in or around the water.  This fear could come from an overcautious parent constantly reminding you of the perils of the water as you grew up or from an experience you had in the past.  Either way, you can work through that fear and be able to feel the freeing feeling of gliding through the water and putting the worries of the world behind you.

The first thing you should know about fear is that it’s ok to feel the fear you have.  Fear can be a good thing.  It can warn you when you need to be cautious or it can tell you to pay attention.  But, fear can also keep you from trying things you ultimately will love, like swimming.  The important point is to pay attention to this fear but to use it to empower yourself to move forward, even if cautiously, to get closer to your goals.

To begin to empower yourself, fill in the blank in the following sentence:  I want to improve my swim and I scare myself by imagining _________.  Now share your sentence with someone you trust.

The next step is to realize that an Outcome (O) is made up of an Event (E) plus a Response (R) to the Event.  You may not have any control over the Event that happened which caused your fear, but you do have control over the Response you have to the Event which ultimately creates your Outcome.   Therefore, your empowering equation is now E + R = O.

Here are some suggestions to change your Response to the Event to create the Outcome you desire:

  1. Visualize what you want your Response to be. Visualization is a powerful tool being utilized by professional and Olympic caliber athletes to create their desired Outcome.  The more you can visualize what you want to happen or how you want to react, the more your brain and body will try to make that image come true.  Take the image that is scary for you and turn it into a positive, opposite image.  The Outcome you want could be described as a relaxed, controlled, smooth swim or the ability to be comfortable and calm in the water.  The key is to use positive words to describe your desired Outcome.  When you’ve decided what this Outcome is, write it down and look at it every time you want to go in or around the water.  Then, give yourself a safe word to use to create that positive Response when the fear arises.  For example, I tell my swimmers to use “Breathe” as their word when the fear starts to show up.
  2. Practice meditation to gain control over your body. The more you learn to control your body and your breathing, the more you can put your fear away when you need or want to do something which makes you uncomfortable.  Breathing is the number one rule in swimming and gaining control over your breathing directly relates to a more positive experience in the water.
  3. Safely put yourself in the place which causes your panic by starting small. Start by dipping your toes in the water, work up to your lower leg and then your knee, then your thighs.  Get comfortable enough so you can sit in 2-4 inch water and then try to go a bit deeper.  Your safety should always be the top priority during this process so wear a life jacket while you get used to the water, never swim alone, never let someone else talk you into doing something you are not ready for, and seek professional help to go beyond your comfort level.
  4. Seek out professional help. If the above techniques don’t work or you feel you need help to move forward, seek out a professional who can help you.  Some techniques that may work for you are tapping, hypnosis, or talk therapy.  A therapist or counselor can help you explore these techniques.  You can also work with a credible swim instructor who specializes in adults with fear of water to help you take your swim to your goals.

Finally, give yourself time to get used to the water.  Don’t try to rush through the process.  Everyone has different experiences and takes different amounts of time to deal with the fear they have.  There is no time limit to dealing with a fear or deciding to move forward.  Work through this process at your own rate.

Coach Carolanne Caron is the Swimming Expert at Winning Swimming, LLC. She is a USA Swimming and ASCA Level 2 Certified Swim Coach, a Precision Nutrition Level 2 Certified Coach, and a Certified Canfield Trainer in the Success Principles.  Coach Caron helps triathletes and competitive swimmers achieve their goal swim and helps adults learn to swim.  She can be reached at www.WinningSwimming.com or Carolanne@WinningSwimming.com