Panic and Mental Training at Jordanelle

Lisa and I planned to meet this morning to swim at Jordanelle.  When I was woken up by thunder and lightning early this morning, I figured the swim would probably be off.  I got up and got ready anyway and left to pick up Lisa. I pulled up to her house, secretly hoping that she would tell me she wasn't swimming today. No such luck. She jumped right in the car and seemed excited to be going swimming.

We drove up the canyon in the dark and rain. As we got closer to Jordanelle, it looked exactly the same as it did last week when we did our night swim, minus the stars in the sky. We got ready and walked down the ramp in the rain. It was a bit chilly outside and the rain didn't help. I dropped my thermometer in the water and waded in. Lisa didn't mess around and dove right in. I was actually a little surprised that the water didn't feel cooler.

It was choppy, dark, and rainy when we started swimming. I think it must have been the combination of those things, as well as letting my mind imagine the worst-case-scenario, that made me start to panic. I had a hard time controlling my breathing and went from breathing every third stroke to breathing every stroke. I have been through this before and knew that if I didn't get it under control, that it might get worse. I made myself keep swimming and forced myself to control my breathing by blowing out all of my air when my face was in the water. I knew that I wasn't in any immediate danger. I have swam in far worse conditions and made it through. I wasn't cold, Lisa was right there with me, I had my SaferSwimmer, and we were not far from shore. Reminding myself of these things helped calm me down. It also helps me to find something that takes my mind off of whatever is causing me to panic. Usually this means singing a song in my mind. My song of choice is "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall". Some people roll their eyes when I tell them this, but it works for me. I think because it is repetitive and rhythmic and I can get into a groove syncing my stroke to the words. Because you have to count down, it also takes a bit of focus. It usually takes me about 30 minutes to go through the whole song from 99 to 0, which also helps me estimate how far I have gone. This is usually enough to take my mind off of whatever is making me panic.

It didn't take long for me to get back under control and ease back into my normal breathing pattern and stroke. At the end of the buoys, Lisa asked if I was ok. I told her that I had panicked, but that I was fine, and we continued swimming.

It started getting lighter after we turned around. After passing the ramp, headed towards the anchored boats, I started to feel raindrops. It was raining the whole time, but the drops must have gotten bigger because I didn't notice them until this point. Talking with Lisa later, she experience the same thing. We made the last turn and headed back toward the ramp.

We stopped for a minute between the red and green buoys and just floated. Now that it was a little lighter outside, it was a pretty beautiful view with the rain, fog and clouds. I thought about doing another lap, but decided to call it good with just one.

I'm glad I stuck it out and finished the swim. If Lisa hadn't been there, I'm sure that I wouldn't have even stepped into the water. As we were getting out, Lisa checked the thermometer. I swore it was about 70 degrees or a little higher, but it was a solid 68 degrees. It made both of us happy that we were comfortable at 68 degrees. It ended up being a great swim, and was great mental training. I know I will be able to look back on this on other swims and remember that I made it through.

Lisa was telling me about some plans that are in the works for some of the women on our SLOW team. Exciting stuff!

Here are my quick tips for if / when you find yourself starting to panic:

1) Control your breathing. Roll over on your back, switch to backstroke or breaststroke, or stop and tread water. Blowing out all of my air when my face was in the water helped me this time. I think this is the most important thing you can do to get control back.

2) Assess the situation. Are you in immediate danger? If so, get help or get the hell out. If not, remind yourself of all the safety precautions you have taken before the swim (swim with a buddy or paddler, stay near shore, wear a bright cap, use a safety device, etc.). If you are swimming in an organized event, remind yourself that there are people on the water that can help you. Just reminding yourself of these things can help calm you down. On the other hand, if you haven't done these things, it could make things worse.

3) Take your mind off of what is causing you to panic. Start singing a song in your mind, list off names of family and friends, recite a poem, do some mental math...anything that will get you thinking about something else. I know if I dwell on the negative thoughts, things can go downhill quick.

4) Keep going. If you aren't in immediate danger, keep swimming. Chances are you will get over the panic and be fine the rest of your swim. This will make you more mentally tough for swims to come.

Have you ever panicked during a swim? What did you do to get over it?

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