I used to have a fear of swimming. I was afraid of the deep ends of the pool where you couldn’t feel the bottom with your feet or, when you could feel the bottom, your head was already underwater. As I grew older, I would try to break past this fear, but any attempt to do so ended up in me panicking at the 6-foot mark of the pool or me (embarrassingly) clinging onto the gutter for dear life.
I could do swim the basic strokes – my high school made swimming the P.E. lesson for one term a year – but when it came to the deep end or just jumping into pool, I’d freeze and panic. It actually took me two years in high school to be comfortable to lift my feet and swim without a kickboard – and this was still in the shallow area.
Don’t be embarrassed about your swimming fear. It’s actually a fairly common fear: Over 66 percent of Americans are afraid of open bodies of water such as seas and oceans, and over half of Americans are afraid of swimming at the deeper side of a pool.
Some people can live their whole life never knowing how to swim and stick with floaters or avoid large bodies of water altogether, and that’s ok for them. Around 37 percent of Americans do not know how to swim. However, swimming is not only a great way to stay active, it may be a necessary survival skill you might need in the future. Over 4000 deaths are reported each year because people drowned. And later on, as I slowly learned to conquer my fear of swimming, I saw how fun and free it felt to swim once you get used to the feeling.
Make no mistake, though: for some people, overcoming their fear of swimming takes a long time and multiple tries. For others, once they experience the feeling of getting their feet up, they are no longer afraid. If you want to overcome your fear of swimming, it’s important to not treat this like a competition and as a slow learning process.
Start with the Basics
Did you know that Adam Peaty, the gold medal winner of the 2016 Olympics was once afraid to swim as a child? Sure, you might not become an expert athlete who can swim from one end of the pool to the other in a matter of seconds, but his story shows that once you conquer your fear of swimming, it won’t be so bad.
It starts with setting yourself with the right mindset. By the time I was actively trying to remove my fear of swimming, I already knew how to swim – it was just swimming into the deep end that scared me. Start by going deeper and deeper into the water, making your way to the point where you’re about to panic. As you start to familiar yourself with the deeper end of the pool, you might find your instincts kicking in as you learn how to tread.
The Baby Bird Method
You know how when a bird teaches its offspring to fly, there’s always some risk to it? Because if a baby bird’s instincts don’t kick in when they jump off a tree, they’re likely to hit the ground and get hurt. While it’s not the most ideal method of learning, it’s this risky method where I’ve learned how to swim.
Back when I was still trying to overcome my fear, I would hold onto the gutter and try to accustom myself to the deep end. At one point, I accidentally pushed from the gutter too hard and couldn’t reach it. I started to panic as I sunk towards the bottom, but then I remembered I was in a pool with thirty-one other girls and an experienced P.E. teacher, and if I were going to drown, someone would see it.
Suddenly, I could think clearly. I stopped flailing and floated to the bottom of the pool. I could feel the floor with my feet, and instinct kicked in. I pushed myself back up, took a deep breath, and followed the treading movement my teacher taught the class. I was now floating in the deep end of the pool, far away from the gutter. It was such an accomplishment that even my P.E. teacher, who saw the whole thing, cheered for me for finally stepping away from the gutter.
This Method Isn’t for Everyone, Though
This isn’t me suggesting you get into a pool and put your life at risk, though. When faced with a situation like this, chances are, your survival instincts could kick in and you learn how to overcome your fear of swimming. However, some people may enter a fight-flight mode and develop signs of anxiety that keep them from focusing and immediately knowing what to do.
You might have even seen some parents put their kids in the same situation. Some parents think that if they throw their young children into the deep end of a pool, like a bird learning how to fly, their instincts will kick in and they’ll learn how to swim. While this method has worked for some children, it has also led to many children needing help. Some people take longer to learn how to swim, and that’s OK.
Learn from the Experts
The first step to learning how to swim is being brave enough to get both feet off the ground. There are plenty of swimming programs where children get careful instruction with expert swimmers, but for adults who never got around to learning how to swim as a child, seeking help may be embarrassing for some.
The best place for adults to learn is through the Shaw Method of swimming teaching. It’s made specifically for adults who cannot swim and have a certain degree of fear that prevents them from learning how to swim. Plenty of instructors found that the students who have applied to these programs are people who have faced trauma in the water in the past, thus hindering their ability to learn how to swim.
In this method, instructors take it slow and teach the various aspects of swimming in stages. These stages aren’t sequential, and people may find it beneficial to study one step before the other. Ultimately, this method recognizes the fear of swimming and helps adults adjust to the fears such as stepping away from the gutter and getting both their feet up before learning how to swim.
The most important part of overcoming your fear of swimming, though, is to recognize that the fear exists and that it’s OK to be scared. What’s not OK is letting your fear consume you and prevent you from learning, especially with such an important survival skill you might need to learn for future emergencies.