How to get over deep water anxiety

Posted Ella Villas Articles

Last week, we sent out a survey to everyone here, and got hundreds of responses.

First, thanks to all of you who took the time to respond!

One thing that came up again and again was the issue of open water anxiety.

Some of this comes from fear of the unknown- mostly being in deep water and not sure what’s below you, or even in front of you some of the time.

So I wanted to first let you know that you’re definitely not alone if you have this fear!

I can related, because I had it- as a 6 year old kind learning to swim, and later as and 8 and 9 year old doing competitive swimming!

I had this fear of the deep end of the pool. I thought the drains at the bottom were going to somehow suck me down into them and I’d drown. It took me a while to get over this fear!

So when I have taught adults to swim, the deep water fear has never surprised me.

Scientifically, it makes perfect sense that we would be afraid of deep water. Since we are not natural water creatures (for example, we need goggles to see underwater!), our brains perceive the deep water as a long way down to fall and get hurt or killed.

So an instant panic sets in with many people.

It’s not something you just snap your fingers and “get over”.

Oceans and lakes can present an even more serious issue- especially if you can’t see anything below you!

It’s not JUST the fear of creatures below, but also the idea that you don’t even know how deep it is!

If your fears are starting in the pool, use a kick board and fins. Hold the board out in front of you and look down as you go over the deep water.

This exposure will eventually help your brain to adjust to the fact that there is no danger here.

Then, the panicking will stop.

In the open water, just take baby steps. Swim to where it gets deeper, then turn around, or hug the shore. Just inch out a little at a time.

Always swim with a group or a buddy.

Wear a wetsuit for buoyancy.

And, find your stroke rhythm. When you can get into a rhythm, counting strokes can allow you to focus on being present, and stop your mind from going to all kinds of unrealistic, unproductive, stressful places.

Just like kids putting their faces in the water and blowing bubbles, as an adult we still need this “easing into” the deep and open water.

Don’t feel bad if this is you- it just means you’re human. 🙂

Keep on befriending the water.