Using the present moment to deal with fear

We had our last training swim in the loch leading up to our 3km swim event. I was nervous beforehand, knowing this would be a long one.

The biggest fear for me is the cold – once it sets in, I find I can’t think about anything else and it gets a bit miserable and scary. Every time I set out to do a longer swim, I’m always concerned about how long I’ll last before the shivers set in.

The unexpected

So we set off, the kids kayaking alongside us for support. Everything was going ok for the first 30 – 40 minutes, and then suddenly in the middle of the loch, we swam straight into a patch of weeds. We weren’t anywhere near the shore, so it was the last thing we were expecting. It went on and on, and I just couldn’t swim through it. Every time I put my face in, I could see weeds everywhere, growing right up to the surface. My arms and legs were getting tangled in them and I was beginning to panic a bit. My husband just kept going. I don’t know how he did it. I puddled along in breast stroke with my head craned as far away from the water as possible, and it took a good 5 minutes for us to get clear of the weeds.

Even though it was scary, we were in the middle of the loch with nowhere to go, so I knew I had to control my panic and not let it take over. There was no other option than to move through it and out of it.

The weird thing was, once we got out of it I felt almost euphoric with relief. It was like I had been expecting something bad to happen, and now it had happened I could continue on and enjoy the swim. I think if something had gone wrong after that, it actually wouldn’t have bothered me at all.

Being in flow

When we turned to head back to the beach, I had one of the best swims I’ve ever experienced – I was in flow. My body felt like it had merged with the water and I was simply gliding along, feeling like my arms, legs and the water were flowing together in one connected movement. All I could think in my head was “this is what it means when we say we’re in our element!” I was merged with the water. I was literally in my element.

So why do we dread things and have that anxious feeling of expectation? It’s really a survival mechanism – our brains preparing us for the worst case scenario so we’ll have energy and motivation to get out of danger quickly if it happens.
But sometimes it really doesn’t serve us – all it does is make us feel uneasy and prevents us from enjoying the actual moment we’re in.

I decided to put that training swim down to experience. Our 3km swim was the next weekend, and again it was a bit of a thought as the furthest training swim I’d done was just over 2km. I was going into the unknown again.

How present moment awareness can help

But when the day came around, I knew I didn’t want to feel that anxiety I’d had the weekend before, so I put all my energy into just enjoying the day. Being grateful that I had the opportunity to do this wonderful event. Standing on the shore taking in the beautiful scenery, the glorious blue sky and the (thankfully) calm water.

And the swim went well. In fact, I actually loved it. There was something about being in a group with other swimmers; we were in it together, we had a goal to achieve – we were safe. There were marker buoys every 250m or so, and having the goal broken down into those manageable distances made the whole thing much easier to deal with, and the sense of time just kind of became irrelevant. All we had to do was enjoy what we were doing, and simply get from one buoy to the next.

It’s always easier said than done, but trying to be in the present moment is sometimes the best way we can deal with difficult feelings. Remembering where we are in that exact moment, noticing what we can see, hear, smell, taste and feel.

Not worrying about what’s to come, or what’s happened in the past.

And when we let go of the anxiety, we really can achieve more than we think we can. All we have to do is break it down into manageable steps, enjoy the journey and then go and do it.