What to do after you hit the panic button…

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The sound of the gun fades into the early morning mist. What to do after you hit the panic button...

The water is cold and murky as you swim, and the bottom of the lake disappears into the gloom.

Clouds of muck swirl below you. Then a dark blur stirs bellow you. Was it a shark or just a fish or something else? Other racers’ bodies continue to push around you as you continue to swim out to the first buoy.

Your heart rate rises.

Your breath shortens.

You raise your head to take a breath but all you get is a mouth full of water.

“I don’t think I am going to make it,” you say. “What am I going to do? This is insane. This is hopeless.”

Have you been here?

Even with the best of race plans, open water swim anxiety can be problematic and ruin your race day. But it is possible to rebound from an attack. The key is to calm down and get back into a rhythm as quickly as possible.

So if this happens to you and you have hit the panic button, stop and follow this 5 step action plan:

  1. Let everyone go ahead: If you are in the melee, then get out of it and let everyone else clear out before getting back in the swim. Once the water clears (which shouldn’t be long at all), stop, flip over, float and…
  2. Take deep breaths: It might be simple but the easiest and fastest way to calm down is to stop hyperventilating and focus on the breath. Try a four breath in, four breath out pace. Feel your wetsuit or diaphragm expand and contract with each breath. Remind yourself that you are perfectly safe. There are many volunteers ready to take action if something actually does go awry. After you have gotten a hold of your breath…
  3. Start backstroke: Before trying to get back into the race, do a few strokes on your back to warm the muscles up again and get back into a rhythm. This might take some time but it is alright as long as you keep moving forward. You can also tread water until you are ready.
  4. Keep going: Once you are ready to keep on moving and the water is fairly clear, resume swimming. To keep the anxiety down, keep your stroke smooth and relaxed while focusing on the present moment and what is going on around you. To keep the engagement in the present moment, it is alright to have a running dialogue of what you are doing like “I am putting my left arm into the water…I pull back with a high elbow…I breath…right arm…high elbow….strong pull…recovery, breath….”
  5. If you feel the panic coming back, return to the present moment and your smooth stroke and relaxed breath (the more oxygen the better). Remind yourself again that you are 100% safe in the water. There are 1000+ other people out here too in addition to plenty of EMTs. Go back to step 1 if need be.

As you continue to swim try to avoid crowds and take a wider course around buoys. It might add on time but a few more minutes is better than a DNF at this point.

If you have experienced this before and have some helpful tips to share, let us know via Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #laughatthewater