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Thread: Swimming anxiety

  1. #1
    Very Active Member swimshark's Avatar
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    Swimming anxiety

    I train to compete. I am fine in training most of the time but lately, the last year or so, my times in meets have gotten quite a bit slower and now I get so anxious before a race that I feel sick. Today I had a SCM meet here I only went to swim the 400 IM. I dry heaved in the corner until they were about to call my heat. How can I get past this? I;m working on getting faster in practice (I'm injured and coming off surgery) but slower in the meets is something that has been lingering and causing the anxiety. Help!

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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    I know what you mean about getting so nervous. I dd it in high school and now as a Masters swimmer. For me, I have found I have to remind myself that I am out there competing against the clock and the heck with my place. I don't know if this helps other than knowing you aren't alone.

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    Very Active Member Allen Stark's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    You have gotten into a self fulfilling prophesy where you expect to be anxious and you get anxious about that, etc.There are many ways out of that,but what doesn't work is to try not to be anxious.If you do that then what is on your mind is being anxious.
    One thing that you can do is put it into perspective.In the grand scheme of things how you do at a swim meet is only as important as you say it is.Before every dive Greg Louganis said to himself"whatever happens,my mother still loves me."That was his way of putting it in perspective.
    Getting everything into a routine helps.Do the same thing the same way for every swim.
    Change how you contextualize the feelings.There is no physiologic difference between excitement and anxiety,let yourself be excited.When you feel that rush of feelings tell yourself you are getting really,really excited.
    Visualize your race and when you have negative thoughts ,don't fight them, have them and then imagine yourself erasing them(that sounds hokie,but it really works.)
    Swim a bunch of meets and swim "off events."Swim some events where you are experimenting:go out easy,go out hard,SDK more,SDK less,count your number of strokes,try to swim one fewer stroke on each length than the previous one,etc.The idea is to have something to focus on rather than how you feel.You are focused on time,swim some events where you just focus on what you learn.
    Go find someone you like and talk to them until it is time to get on the blocks,tell some jokes,laugh,dance around a little(you need to keep loose anyway.)
    Good luck and have fun.
    "To strive,to seek,to find,and not to yield" Tennyson
    Allen

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    Very Active Member swimshark's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Nickel, thanks. I always swim against the clock. Places don't matter as much since in a lot of my events I'm the only one.

    Allen, thanks for the tips. I love the idea of thinking anxiety is energy instead. And you are so right about the cycle. I keep thinking "don't get anxious" and it makes it worse. I panic swim. Occasionally I do this during practice too but have learned to control it better. I need to learn that control in a meet. I have thought about doing "off" events but I have done them all now. As a distance person, I tried all sprints and still came out disappointed with my times which just lead to my anxiety as the meet went on. I have Zones in a month and so a month to get over this to start on the upward trend.

    I have an excellent coach and I think we're going to sit down for a talk and see if that helps. Maybe I can even get him to come to Zones (he's an age group coach). Last time he did, I dropped 2 sec in the 100 IM.

    Think calm, think calm...

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    Very Active Member swimshark's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    ..

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    Very Active Member Bill Sive's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Allen is very insightful and provided you with some good guidance. Also use your swim club members who are also attending meets with you to help you re-direct your thoughts. Cheer on your swim club members while they swim. Socialize and relax your mind.

    It also helps to have someone like me around too. I am leaving shortly for a swim meet today on St. Patrick's Day. I will be in all green except for my gold sparkly sunglasses. Should be hilarious and get a good laugh from everyone. St. Patrick's Day with my green Jamaica swim briefs.

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    aka Elaine-iaK & Aqua Dog ElaineK's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Hey 'shark; it's been awhile! I read your post yesterday and held off responding to give it some thought, because I have been through it myself. In the end, much of what I was going to post was said by King Frog! But, it is what worked for me.

    My leg muscle injuries really set me back in breaststroke and caused that same anxiety. And, my thoracic outlet syndrome makes breaststroke pull difficult to do in any quantity without fatigue. It was getting depressing watching times post up on the board at meets that were anywhere from 2-6 seconds (on 50's- 200's) off my usual times. But, there was nothing I could do; my legs just couldn't get the powerful kick that they used to be capable of getting and my arms can only do so much when constantly working in the forward position; even in recovery.

    So, I decided to do exactly as King Frog suggested: Try different events. I can't train breaststroke on consecutive days, so I decided to work on my backstroke and fly; strokes I could train comfortably. And, I remembered back to Nats., in 2010, when it was you who encouraged me to try 400 IM. Not only am I now racing that regularly; I'm "racing" 200 fly and all the backstroke events! And, with my focus on backstroke in training (a stroke that my coach taught me how to swim; it used to be my worst), I am now consistently beating my coach in sprints during training. (Well, he is a distance freestyler and breaststroker...).

    So, turn lemons into lemonade! You had surgery and it set you back. Is 400 IM the event that is causing you the most anxiety right now? Scratch it off your meet line-up the way I did with 200 breaststroke. Choose events that you haven't swum in the longest period of time. (Remember, you are in a different age group now, so your previous best times are in your past.)

    Bill is right; hang around with a goofball at your next swim meet! I used to be withdrawn at meets to concentrate on my events. But, that just made me more nervous. Now, I joke around and socialize, sometimes making it to the block just in time to adjust my cap and goggles. I have had some of my best times then, because I was relaxed from laughing and the endorphins were kicked in from having fun with my friends.

    In the end, this is MASTERS swimming, not college or the Olympics. It's for FUN! Hey, try this: Instead of going for best times, do what I did last year and enter a full slate of tough events and go for high points. Even when I swam the 200 fly and 400 IM in tortoise-like times, younger and much faster swimmers congratulated me and said they would NEVER enter those events! I ended up winning the Georgia Championship Series for high points in my age group, because of that strategy; not because I was the fastest swimmer. And, it was loads of fun not caring as much about the clock!

    Remember why you are swimming (for fun!) and just work on your technique during a race, challenging yourself to stay relaxed, rather than worrying about the clock. Then, when you reach the wall, ask yourself if you accomplished that goal before you look at the clock.

    'shark, you are an awesome swimmer; somebody I have looked up to since I first came on the Forums, three years ago.
    http://ElaineiaKsTravels.wordpress.com

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    Very Active Member knelson's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Quote Originally Posted by ElaineK View Post
    Bill is right; hang around with a goofball at your next swim meet! I used to be withdrawn at meets to concentrate on my events. But, that just made me more nervous. Now, I joke around and socialize, sometimes making it to the block just in time to adjust my cap and goggles. I have had some of my best times then, because I was relaxed from laughing and the endorphins were kicked in from having fun with my friends.
    I agree with this. Don't you envy those people who just show up at the block, have two seconds to put their cap on, then dive in a blow everyone out of the water?

    After the London Olympics I read an interview with Usain Bolt where they were asking him about his pre-race routine. He says he doesn't even think about the race. He thinks about what he's going to do to relax after the Olympics are over. Easier said than done, of course.

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    Very Active Member ekw's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    I have a lot of experience with anxiety, unfortunately. One thing I've noticed about being anxious is that my breathing gets shallow so I've learned some deep breathing exercises. Obviously you aren't going to pull out a yoga mat or do a full guided meditation on the pool deck but you can take a bit of the breathing skills from that and use it when you are feeling tense.
    "Librarians are hiding something." - Stephen Colbert

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    Very Active Member jim thornton's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Quote Originally Posted by Allen Stark View Post
    You have gotten into a self fulfilling prophesy where you expect to be anxious and you get anxious about that, etc.There are many ways out of that,but what doesn't work is to try not to be anxious.If you do that then what is on your mind is being anxious.
    One thing that you can do is put it into perspective.In the grand scheme of things how you do at a swim meet is only as important as you say it is.Before every dive Greg Louganis said to himself"whatever happens,my mother still loves me."That was his way of putting it in perspective.
    Getting everything into a routine helps.Do the same thing the same way for every swim.
    Change how you contextualize the feelings.There is no physiologic difference between excitement and anxiety,let yourself be excited.When you feel that rush of feelings tell yourself you are getting really,really excited.
    Visualize your race and when you have negative thoughts ,don't fight them, have them and then imagine yourself erasing them(that sounds hokie,but it really works.)
    Swim a bunch of meets and swim "off events."Swim some events where you are experimenting:go out easy,go out hard,SDK more,SDK less,count your number of strokes,try to swim one fewer stroke on each length than the previous one,etc.The idea is to have something to focus on rather than how you feel.You are focused on time,swim some events where you just focus on what you learn.
    Go find someone you like and talk to them until it is time to get on the blocks,tell some jokes,laugh,dance around a little(you need to keep loose anyway.)
    Good luck and have fun.
    Great advice! how to read those people are seeing who wrote it. Allen, you should be a psychiatrist! swimming a lot of meets really does help, btw. also, as unpleasant have anxiety feels, perhaps it is your way of getting up for meets. Dr. J., or some other famous basketball player would get so nervous before every game thatt he would throw up. he finally acknowledge that this was just the way he got up for games, and afterwards it no longer bother him, though he continued to vomit on a regular basis.

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    Very Active Member Allen Stark's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton View Post
    Great advice! how to read those people are seeing who wrote it. Allen, you should be a psychiatrist! swimming a lot of meets really does help, btw. also, as unpleasant have anxiety feels, perhaps it is your way of getting up for meets. Dr. J., or some other famous basketball player would get so nervous before every game thatt he would throw up. he finally acknowledge that this was just the way he got up for games, and afterwards it no longer bother him, though he continued to vomit on a regular basis.
    It was Bill Russell
    "To strive,to seek,to find,and not to yield" Tennyson
    Allen

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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton View Post
    Great advice! how to read those people are seeing who wrote it. Allen, you should be a psychiatrist! swimming a lot of meets really does help, btw. also, as unpleasant have anxiety feels, perhaps it is your way of getting up for meets. Dr. J., or some other famous basketball player would get so nervous before every game thatt he would throw up. he finally acknowledge that this was just the way he got up for games, and afterwards it no longer bother him, though he continued to vomit on a regular basis.
    That would be Bill Russell. http://www.pharmacytimes.com/publica...2/2006-02-5217 One of my college teammates would vomit before big meets, like championship meets and rivalry dual meets. We actually took as a positive sign that he was psyched up and was about to have a big meet. So he'd puke on the pool deck and someone might yell, "Mazel tov!"
    "I blame you, James!" - knelson

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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    I have several different way off warding off pre-race anxiety: staying busy, having fun, talking to people, etc. And for me in particular, I get a lot of benefit from doing many meets. The more meets I swim the easier it is for me to relax in my swims and let my training come through.

    But the most important thing I've found is to completely let go of the result before I swim the race. Good or bad, I'll still want to swim again.

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    Very Active Member swimshark's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Wow, thank you all. This advice helps and to know that others have been there and have gotten through this. One part that is hard for me is lack of coach and team mates. I train with age groupers. My coach, in 4 years with him, has only made it to warm-ups for 1 day of a meet for me. He's too busy with the kids and I understand that is part of who I train with. But I do hang out with some awesome people and try to get my mind off things. Jim, Fort, Muppet, and more are great to laugh and socialize with.

    Elaine, I'm glad I inspired you to star an event that you wouldn't have normally. I like the idea of setting new times in my newer age group. That's a good goal to have and one that I feel I can handle.

    I have Zones in a month and will try to think less about my times and more about how good it will feel to be done. I'm going to work on the breathing techniques (no, Jim, that doesn't mean covering my mouth and nose!).

    Now to find someone to yell "Mazel Tov" for me right before my event

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    Very Active Member __steve__'s Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    I get anxious and it's worse for my first heat but lightens up some as they go by, which probably explains why my times improve progressively throughout the day. The nerves concentrate right in the middle of my chest and I get dizzy. I've learned this is just adrenalin fueled mechanism and the dizzyness is from an improper breathing response.

    I'm starting to control this response though, one (as mentioned earlier) is through breathing/relaxation exercises, then I try to tune the nervous energy into some form of visual order. Another important key is to drill all the race specifics at practice (course respective turn, start, breathing) months prior so I don't have to think when it's time to go cuz there's nothing to worry about. I also might enter a non target event for "fun" with a forgiving seed.

    Preparation, relaxation, and fun is my anti-anxiety strategy and it seems to be helping

    Are relays less stressful for you?

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    Very Active Member Atlantic's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    I can relate completely. I have dry heaved in the morning before a meet and my stomach goes bonkers at every meet I have attended as a Masters swimmer. I also had surgery last year... and now this year... I had been really looking forward to my first meet "back" for the longest time and then the night before - I was on the verge of vomiting and had to go to bed early to calm myself down. I agree with the above posts - get out there and talk, find a goofball or be the goofball, stay in the warmup lanes longer, get in a very warm shower before your event, get some awesome tunes on your ipod and jam, work on some slow breathing to calm yourself (breathe in thru your nose and out thru your mouth), meditation... find what works for you. Just keep reminding yourself that you are still recovering and give yourself some time to get thru this. You'll find your groove again, no worries.

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    Very Active Member Chris Stevenson's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Wow, I didn't realize you were going thru this; my sympathies, it doesn't sound like very much fun. I have been having the opposite problem the last couple of years -- having trouble getting "up" enough for races -- and I wish we could average our two responses, we might both swim faster! :-)

    A certain amount of anxiety is a good thing of course (arguably I am "suffering" from its lack right now) but obviously not too much. I guess back when I was more anxious about races I basically focused on the fact that I love the journey -- training, being fit, socializing with other masters swimmers -- as much as the racing, so even if the race doesn't turn out the way I hope there is still a lot to be happy about.

    It sounds to me like you've done all the necessary training; lots of good ideas on this thread, I especially like Adam's. I also really like the idea of doing off events for awhile, you'll retain the racing experience and get to hang out with friends but swim in non-threatening events. Back when I was in college, in dual meets I was often put in the 200 free and I loved it because it wasn't one of my "real" events, I could even play around with different race strategies without worrying about the effect on my time. And yet because I was relaxed about the outcome I tended to do pretty well.

    I've heard that there are two types of ways of preparing mentally for races (I'm sure there is more than that): one is to visualize success in lots of detail and concentrate on what it will feel like to achieve it, and another is to visualize failure and think about doing all you can to avoid it. I am definitely in the former camp but I've heard of successful athletes who do the latter (I think I remember reading that Rowdy Gaines was like this). Put crudely, there are some athletes who swim to win and others who swim to avoid losing.

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    Very Active Member swimshark's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Thank you all for the responses. I am reading them all and taking them all in. Atlantic, sorry you are dealing with recovery as well. I just finished an hour of physical therapy today on my leg and couldn't imagine swimming right now so I guess I haven't come back yet. I hope your come back swims are great.

    Steve, no, I don't get nervous before relays. I usually get excited and talk with people around me. I try to do that before individual events as well but not enough, it sounds like. Next meet will have 2 of my former age group team mates timing. Having them there will help me relax a bit more.

    Chris, if only I had your speed along with your relaxation. Maybe you can rub off on me at Zones I like the idea of swimming to avoid losing. That might be the push I need.

    Again, thanks all. I mentioned to one of my coaches that I was too anxious to swim well and he couldn't believe it since I had done that event, the 400 IM in practice on Monday and did well. But that was practice. Very few there to impress, watch, etc.

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    Very Active Member swimshark's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Progress!! I swam the 1000 today in our Zones meet. I stayed relaxed as much as I could before my event. I have to say my time was way, way off, way off. But I didn't panic, I didn't have anxiety before the race. So now I feel better about that and I'll work on getting my speed back. Tomorrow and Sunday are longer days but they should be more fun as well.

  20. #20
    aka Elaine-iaK & Aqua Dog ElaineK's Avatar
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    Re: Swimming anxiety

    Quote Originally Posted by swimshark View Post
    Progress!! I swam the 1000 today in our Zones meet. I stayed relaxed as much as I could before my event. I have to say my time was way, way off, way off. But I didn't panic, I didn't have anxiety before the race. So now I feel better about that and I'll work on getting my speed back. Tomorrow and Sunday are longer days but they should be more fun as well.

    Excellent!
    It sounds like you are well on your way to getting your old 'shark back!
    http://ElaineiaKsTravels.wordpress.com

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