Tips to Reduce Stress in Open Water Swimming

Written by Coach Brooke Flesner

Swimming in open water can be daunting in and of itself.   Adding a few hundred people thisclose to you while you’re swimming in open water can be terrifying! Worries can range from lack of personal space, to limited vision in murky water, to fears about fish or wildlife.

Here are a few tips that you can try in practice and on race day to help calm any anxiety or nerves you may have.

  • Trust your preparation
    • If you know how to swim and you have put in the time training TRUST that you have what it takes to complete the distance of your race. A quick review of your training log can help provide some strength in numbers!
  • Use Visualization and Positive Self Talk
    • Well before race day you should be running through the race in your mind. Start from the moment you wake up in the morning. Imagine feeling energized, positive, and excited! Walk through everything you’ll do before your race from putting on your race kit to eating breakfast to which arm will take its first stroke in the water. When race day comes all you need to do is press “PLAY”.
    • Using mantras and positive self talk can also help. If you’ve seen me before a race you’ve heard me say “I’m so excited!” or “I can’t wait!” It reminds me that I am here by choice and that it gets me in the right frame of mind. Try it in practice and add to your visualization practice!
  • Embrace the Panic
    • When the gun goes off it is easy to panic. Waves, legs, arms, trying to find a rhythm…it can be daunting. If you feel panic and it manifests as a tightness in your chest where you can’t breathe – BLOW BUBBLES. Honestly. If you can get the air out of your chest you can then inhale again. Most times you’re taking trying inhale and there is no space in your chest cavity – so blow bubbles, curse at your coach, but get the air OUT so you can get more air back IN!
  • Find the Calm
    • The more relaxed you can be the better, right? Easier said than done. I like to envision the surface of the water as the only chaotic thing in the swim. Below the water and above is calm and peaceful.
    • If you start to panic and you can’t seem to calm yourself down try flipping on your back and looking up at the sky. That’s the most calm peaceful place you can look during the swim. A few backstrokes and you should be calm enough to flip back over and continue swimming.
  • Consider Riding “The Wave”
    • This sounds completely cliché but its one way of thinking that really works for me. I imagine that all swimmers in my wave are moving as one big fierce wave. I am just one part of this huge force moving in the same direction.  I do my part to keep the wave going in the right direction. I also makes those around me seem less scary-for the swim we are all on the same team with the same goal.


We hope these tips and tricks help you this season in your open water swimming!