Overcome Your Fear and Get in the Swim

I love water; looking at it, drinking it and playing in it! However, I do understand why some of you don’t use this very valuable form of exercise to maintain your range of motion, enhance your strength and increase your endurance.

This post was prompted by a recent conversation I had with someone on Twitter who informed me that swimming wasn’t an option for her because of a deep fear of the water.

Who isn’t familiar with that jarring sound of the alarm clock? “Get up! Get Up!! GET UP!!!” This is not unlike your fear-triggered physiological response. Cortical inhibition occurs as your body instinctively prepares for the Triple F of fight, flight or freeze.

How and why.

At one point, you may have had a bad experience with an event or a person. This is “remembered” by the Feeling Centre in the brain – the amygdala, which is positioned deep within the brain in the temporal lobes. It may be small, but it is mighty – it serves as the “keeper” of strong emotional memories. It quickly jumps into service when a situation occurs that “looks” like the initial (awful) one. Before you are even aware of it, one of the triplets (flight/fight/freeze) appears, flooding your body with a cascade of chemicals that are very different from the ones that flow when you feel safe, calm, secure, excited, etc.

Perhaps you learned your fear through “osmosis”. At a young age you observed and modeled the fear that one of your parents or care-givers unintentionally shared. It could be a fear of lightning, snakes or water.

If you decide to take the plunge and learn to swim, you may inadvertently halt your progress. You may be doused by the fear of ridicule, of making mistakes or of making yourself look foolish. All justifiable reasons, but do they really help you get in the swim?

How do you overcome this?

  1. If you’re not ready to take a learn to swim class, sign up for an Aquafit class. Note: If your feet or knees are particular affected, the jumping or bouncing in the shallow end can cause more pain that it is worth. If this is the case, while the class is bobbing along, do some alternate exercises.
  2. Let the instructor know that you are nervous in the water and stay close to her/him.
  3. As you get more comfortable in the water, you may surprise yourself by taking more risks – maybe you’ll attempt to float or dip your head below the water. (I’m reminded of the seventy year young ladies who would come to my Aquafit classes. Many of them were terrified of water, but determined to do the class. We were all thrilled to see them eventually get comfortable enough in the water to start swimming.)
  4. Recognize – in order to make changes, you need to be aware of the behaviour you wish to change.
  5. Knowledge – in addition to knowing what stress is you need to know how to replace those non-resourceful behaviours.
  6. Practise – do the techniques, so that it becomes automatic – you’ll apply them when you are stressed, to help balance your nervous system and even when you’re not, to enhance performance.
  7. It’s through the way you feel that you transform your stress. You can learn to change your how you feel.

Water is a non-weight-bearing form of exercise, which takes the pressure off those painful joints. Since you can’t go to the moon (yet) for that type of experience, go into the water and get into the swim.

If it’s time to get over this fear, I can help.

Image courtesy of Gokhan Okur.

17 Responses to “Overcome Your Fear and Get in the Swim”

  1. Great points here. I have never known about the amygdala part of the story.. Very scientific material. thanks


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