Mentally overcoming risks
musclewhale89 Alberta, CanadaMember
My question is for anyone out there that has had an issue with the mental aspect of the danger with marine animals. I am curious if there are any exercises or specific things you guys do to deal with the anxiety of predators in the water? I grew up land locked in Canada where the only animal in the water is a Northern Pike or a Beaver HAHA, so the thought of doing an open water ocean swim with Sharks, Jellyfish, etc is very intimidating and when I've done it previously I can get weird anxiety just thinking about it. I know its largely an irrational fear but its still something I need to deal with! Any tips or tricks would be hugely appreciated!
Good luck overcoming this. My greatest fear was cold water, and I did not start swimming until adulthood. Overcoming the fear of the cold involved just getting in and swimming at various temperatures, eventually finding that cold water swimming is really enjoyable, and my fear was unfounded, like most fears. I really doubt that a program of acclimatization to marine creatures is feasible! I do have to admit that the occasional seal and fish sighting while swimming here is pretty cool.
My most anxiety producing OWS experience was the swim in a half-iron distance triathlon in the Gulf of Mexico. A bunch of us were in the water the day before the race, practicing dealing with the waves on entry and exit.
A friend of a friend who was in the group noticed what she believed to be a forgotten "nerf" football. Yeah. Nope. It was a Portugese Man O War. She got tangled with it.
Skipping all the stuff we did to get her out of the water and on the beach, and the rest of the evening
The next morning, when the various waves were waiting to go in to the starting pen..... I literally could not step over the timing mat. I'd been fine up to that point. Until, one of the OTHER friends of a friend took me by the shoulders and said, "you have nothing to worry about. We're in the 5th wave. 4 waves of people will go before us..... pushing everything out of our way. Just stay in the middle of the pack, and you'll be fine. Now, put your big girl pants on and get in the starting corral!!!!"
The one who tangled with the PMW ended up getting a top 10 finish place in her age-group. She was one bad-ass triathlete.
So, mostly now I just do my best not to think too much about what's in the water with me. I swim with a kayaker who has steered me around more than 1 dead fish in the lake, as well as big rafts of yard debris. I haven't been in the sea much..... but, I figure I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.
Why would you be anxious about those ocean apex predators that can grow to over 12 feet and 1,500 pounds, have 300 serrated teeth, and use really scary mood music?
Growing up watching Jaws and Lake Placid sure doesn't help my case haha
Related thread, "Fear of Sharks in Open Water Swimming": https://forum.marathonswimmers.org/discussion/395/fear-of-sharks-in-open-water-swimming
It’s good to ask questions. But experience is the only way to know how YOU will react. I don’t know if I’m alone in this (I expect not) but I can worry a great deal ahead of swims. Sharks and winter swimming are the biggies. But once I commit (traveling to an ocean swim, lining up with my partner in Vermont) I’m committed and I’m surprisingly good. It’s crazy, I know. But I’m not stressed any more about my previous worries. I’ve decided I’m going to do it and I’ve had plenty of time to back out and didn’t. So here I go to do the best I can.
Intellectually the things (not that it helps gut fears) most likely to harm swimmers are microbes, jet skis and jellyfish. A shark attack would be absolutely terrifying, but extremely unlikely, and over quickly.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. --Neale Donald Walsch
P/C : Ryan Leong
These guys are pretty unnerving, but very pretty to look at when on a long swim.
In terms of harsh reality, an innate fear is likely not going to be completely overcome. It's there for a reason and is likely "part of you." I think if you realize that and try to TAME or SUBDUE that fear as much as possible, and be okay with the fact that it is still there, then you will be able to enjoy OWS. Don't let other people (or yourself) tell you that your fear is nonsense, or silly, or irrational. That will NOT fix it.
I have an innate fear of flying. It got so bad that I had to take Valium just to get on a plane. The Valium made me sick. So, for a few years I just refused to get on a plane. All the statistics about how safe air travel is, did ZERO and I mean ZERO to help me. Then, I had a friend, who was a pilot and teacher tell me that my fear was absolutely valid, but that if I actually spent some time in a small plane, seeing exactly how things worked, perhaps it would help. He actually took me up a few times (even flew my wife and I to Chicago for her birthday), and let me wear the headset, hear all that was going on and explained every bump, wiggle, and movement of the plane. I was nervous on those flights but not TERRIFIED like I was when I didn't know what was going on. He also gave me a couple of books to read about real life situations that showed me just how HARD it actually is to wreck a plane. I have now flown all over the world. I am absolutely still scared every time I get on a plane and am not ashamed to tell anyone. But I'm not terrified and I don't let the fear hold me back from something I love to do, which is see the world. I even skydive!!
Long story longer, maybe this could help you. Find someone to go snorkeling with. Get out and go look around. See all that is actually under the water. See how often you actually come into serious close contact with actual critters. Research the areas where you are going to swim and see what kind of wildlife there is and what their tendencies are (feeding times, breeding times, aggressive nature, etc.). Read some books about bout safe swims and disastrous swims. I think often, terrifying fear is in large part the fear of the unknown or kind-of-known, and knowledge through experience can really help. BUT, be okay with the fear and see if you can tame it, and try not to let it control you.
All the best
Teen age kids with jet skis. Brain eating amoebas. Sharks. Kids pooping in public pools...
Really, when you think about it you realize it's best not to think about it.
When I prepared for 2019 Rottnest (Western Australia),
and I knew that one year before 2018 the event was cancelled due to a great white,
I took the decision to visit the Perth aquarium and take a snorkel in the shark tank, which I eventually did along with my kayaker friend, two days before the swim.
Of course in the shark tank there was no great white, but there were around 10 sharks, of 3-4 other types in variable sizes. And the sharks where well fed (this is what I heard ))) )
Another training was to get acquainted with the water temp, with the transparent jelly's and to swim in Perth outside the shark net, under surveillance of my kayaker.
During the official swim, at several hundred meters there was a shark siting and the organization managed to push the shark outside the swim lane. My head was fine, knowing that "only" the great white could deadly injure and potentially meeting a shark face 2 face, was not something new.
(writing this I think I am an idiot ))) )
Swim in a group and stay in the middle. Let the others "take one for the team" !
One trick is to imagine you are swimming in a tube, and nothing can get in.
FWIW, the biggest fright I got while swimming was swimming head first into a black plastic bag. That was scary. I pulled a muscle in my neck going into reverse.....
That's a good one! In my favorite lake there is this area called the enchanted forest. It is the site of an ancient landslide that wiped out a forest. There is an entire forest of tangled timber at all sorts of weird angles because it all got wiped off the slope and plowed into the lake. It is almost all underwater and the visibility is pretty murky at best. I go swimming through there on occasion and it is really spooky. The worst part is when you are prowling along and a log suddenly looms out of nowhere. It looks like some strange animal coming at you. Even though I know all this, it still is startling as all heck. I know I've jumped out of my skin more than once. It's still fun though...
Partially submerged long twigs have been catching me lately.... the kayakker can't see them, but I catch them just under my chin.
When I was 32 or so, I went to underwater egress training. It's military training to prepare you for an emergency where your helicopter has to ditch in a body of water. Prior to entering the simulator you have to swim 100 yards in all your gear (uniform, body armor, helmet, boots, etc). Everyone else in my class was doing modified, head-up breast. I put my head down and swam free there and back. I almost flip-turned. (Glad I didn't.)
Next up, the sim. Six of us in each round. Four rounds. First two, you can see; last two, you wear black-out goggles. First ride I was in the co-pilot's seat and had to egress out of the window next to me. Sim drops, begins to roll, turns upside down, unbuckle the seat belt, exit the aircraft. I was initially freaked out when we turned upside down; you're supposed to have one hand on your buckle, the other on your exit. Once upside down water start filling my nose so I plugged it, then freaked out that I might not find my seat belt again, then water up my nose, my hand going from seat belt to nose, over and over. I got out of there the minute the sim stopped rolling (which was rule #1).
Next ride, I'm in the cargo compartment, across from the group exit that we all had to go out of for that ride. My "points" for this ride were my seat belt buckle, and the bar under the seat of the guy across from me. This ride I was on the "low" side, the side that would be underwater before the other side. Sim drops, we roll, I freak out. So much so that I was out of the simulator before it stopped rolling, and before anyone else was out of the sim: Flag on the play, fail on that ride.
Third ride with black-out goggles, I'm sitting next to the group exit. On the "high" side. We begin the roll (don't forget I can see nothing), and upside down I freak out again, and exit. Early. Failure #2. You're allowed only two failures.
Fourth and final ride. I gotta pass this one. Then re-do the other two rides. This time, black-out goggles again, but I'll be in seat 5. Imagine if you will the farthest seat from an airplane exit. Now we're talking a helicopter so this is maybe 20 feet away. In the dark. Upside down. Plan I was supposed to follow was to grab the bar under the seat across from me, after the roll stops (on the low side again), unbuckle, pull myself across, then follow the seats till the group exit.
I refused. My heart was beating like a bird's. I couldn't calm down. The instructor pulled me aside and asked me what the issue was. "I grab a big breath, hold it, and when I'm upside down can't keep my air." He thought for a second, actually nodded his head a couple times, and, no sh!t, told me: "Next time, right before you go underwater, take a big, deep breath." And then he stopped talking. I wanted to punch him. Seriously? You get paid for this teaching?
I said Nope, and DOR'd (drop on request). Thankfully it didn't affect my job.
Why this long story? As I said, I was in my early 30s, and during this training, an incident in my youth came flooding back. Something I had apparently buried for almost 20 years.
When I was 14, a week away from turning 15, I took the ARC Lifeguard course. During that course, we learned how to put an injured swimmer on a back board in the water. I (stupidly) volunteered to be the injured swimmer at one point. After I was all strapped in and the instructor said my classmates were good, they flipped me over. I have no idea how long I was underwater (seconds I'm sure), but it felt like I was going to die.
Point is, sometimes you can't mentally get over things. I don't like being near any ropes or lines or what-have-you on boats. What if I fall over and get a rope wrapped around my leg? Then, God forbid, the line gets tangled in the propeller? Nope. I can do open water out of sight of land. I'm okay with things approaching me, short of the gentleman in the gray suit (ask me over a beer about the remoras that attached themselves to my thigh in the Atlantic), I'm fine with a lot of things in the water. But not upside down, blind and strapped in.
We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams
First of all, @IronMike: that is an epic story and I really enjoyed reading it!
Since this is a mental topic and I am a Psychologist specializing in treatment for anxiety, I thought I'd weigh in. Keep in mind, however, none of this is professional "advice" and being an anxiety specialist doesn't exempt me from personal fears of shark encounters.
Let's assume that you have already weighed the reward of an ocean swim in a certain location against the risk of a shark (or other marine life) encounter in that location and determined that the reward is worth the risk to you. Once committed, it's time to "stop thinking about it". Now, that's harder than it sounds. If you try really hard to "not to think about sharks", you're probably going to think about them a whole lot. While that isn't the end of the world, it's going to make your swim more stressful and less enjoyable.
So what to do instead... There is a distinction between automatic thoughts (that are out of your control) and intentional "problem solving", "worrying" or "ruminating". You can't do anything about a thought that just pops up in your mind. By the time you realize it, it has already happened. But once you notice it, you can make a choice to let the thought go and go on to think about something else. You might have to do that over and over for awhile, but it will change your relationship to those thoughts and the feeling of fear. Meditation practitioners will recognize this as a basic mindfulness practice.
One of the most helpful things for me personally in doing this process effectively has been reminding myself that my fearful thoughts don't actually need my attention at that moment. (This would be different if a great white was actually spotted and I needed to decide to get out of the water). When I'm nervous, it feels like I need to pay attention to my fears and the risks, but the risk assessment was long ago completed and all there is left to do now is swim.
Before my Catalina swim, I told one of my crew members I was freaked out about sharks. "Oh, you don't need to worry about that, it'll be totally fine," he said. Somehow, I managed to adopt his dismissiveness and decided that the thoughts weren't worth my deliberate attention. It worked--I don't remember thinking about sharks at all during that swim, although I probably did once or twice.
I also used an idea I found on the thread @evmo linked above (check out the comment by @Janet) . I had read this thread several times before Catalina. Rather than picturing a shark attacking me, when I think of one, I replace that image with the shark swimming by, totally uninterested in me (which is a much more likely scenario) and me swimming calmly on. I do this whenever I'm thinking about sharks, whether swimming or not and it really has helped.
. Rather than picturing a shark attacking me, when I think of one, I replace that image with the shark swimming by, totally uninterested in me (which is a much more likely scenario) and me swimming calmly on.
Great advice @LakeBagger. (BTW thank you also for your interesting blog post about cold adaptation.) I was particularly struck by this paragraph. I think that this idea of getting reassurance by sharing your anxieties with someone there you trust and are already relying on, in this case your crew who you have selected presumably because you trust their knowledge and experience, is quite powerful, and can help manage other anxieties as well. The other point about positive visualizations replacing negative ones is also great for this or indeed managing other negative thoughts.
The first and only shark I've ever seen live and in person fortunately wasn't too big. My first reaction was a sudden startle as I realized what I was looking at. It was swimming in the opposite direction than I was and all of a sudden it just appeared. I estimate we passed about 20 ft from each other. Hard to tell. After I quickly realized it wasn't going to eat me, I got a chance to watch it swim by. It was beautiful.
I would compare it to the experience of watching a top notch athlete compared to the regular joe. The sinuous motion and power was mesmerizing. I was kind of sad when I couldn't see it any more. I was swimming near a reef and watching all the colorful fish swimming around. They wiggle and dart and whatever, but nothing could compare to the savage grace of that shark.
Curly where was that swim with little shark?
If i have money and still feel fit.one day.i wanna try false bay CT! Maybe will swim with a lot of big sharks!)))
I was on vacation on the island of Maui. It's a nice place to visit if you ever get the chance.
Hey Curly u great!
U sey Maui! I hear about that place!))) Interesting place!) I guess!)
I plan one day when (hope) be milioner $ .after do my lifetime ow dream Catalina go for relax toLas Vegas and than on vacation to Maui!
Will be Cool!
All the best and health
I’ve done Tampa Bay four times and saw dozens if not hundreds of eagle rays and some tarpon each time. Favorite snacks of bull sharks. I never saw one, but assumed they were there. I kept my mind on the job I had to do and told myself that the competition was worried about them, which made them slower. They’re not out there looking for you to eat. That’s what I told myself.
I’ve been zapped by Portuguese manowar on many occasions and even a lions mane jellyfish on one occasion. Massive amounts of pain weren’t going to keep me from my goals, and they didn’t. Do whatever it takes to get you over that fear even if it means lying to yourself.
Can u tell me Tampa or Atlantic is more hard?
U swim both!
If u must choose .just one from both?
I think u swim Catalina too?
For me all are hard and fantastic ow!
Many times i think for Tampa and Atlantic! Both are same km but maybe have some diferenc?
Catalina is another story for me!)
Txk and all the best
Ps swim u know? U are great ow swimmer befor.but know u like go ow swim? Compet or just for fun?
Thanks @LakeBagger some of those tricks I am going to try! I have gotten into the habit of whenever I get freaked out to just lay face up and take a couple breaths and then keep swimming and that seems to help a bit.
I’ve been fortunate to swim in lots of places around the world. Every swim has its challenges and even the same event can change from year to year.
The key is to always respect the distance. Never assume that you’ll get through it without your will and body being challenged.
I haven’t been able to swim Catalina (yet). I had a severe injury to my back that has pretty much ended my swimming. My open water career was mostly racing other people. The only solo swim I ever did was the English Channel and I swam it as if it was a race. I used the same tactics as if I was going against other swimmers.
Chris the King of Tampa bay!
Health and all the best!
That honor goes to Dave Parcells. He did it the most times. If you listen closely, you can hear him churning the water there now. He was the best.
Who dis, BTW?
Ha ha ok!
I know him.u swam only few times!))) But extremly fast!
That is important too!
My opinion! Btw)))
All the best
@swimmer25k Chris, I think you have put your finger on another great way to manage negative thoughts - a race like mental focus definitely helps keep negative thinking from intruding.
There is a shark that follows me whenever I swim in the open water. Lake or ocean, it doesn't matter. I've never seen him directly. I just catch glimpses of him from the corner of my eye from time to time. But he's always there, lurking in the darkness just beyond my field of vision. He used to be all I could think about, but not so much anymore. I suppose I just quit giving a sh!t after a while. I imagine he'll attack when the time is right, but worrying about it consumes a lot of energy and pleasure.
I have seen many real sharks in the water while swimming and while diving. I've even touched a few. The only time I recall a shark taking an interest in me I was holding a bag of bleeding lionfish. A nurse shark picked up the scent and came swimming right for me. She looked unmistakably committed. So I did what anyone would do, I pulled out my GoPro and started filming. Fortunately, my camera was attached to a 2-foot boom, which proved useful, as I ended up using the camera to fend off the shark. It's all on video.
Once, when I was swimming through a narrow, boggy East Texas slough, I was suddenly struck with an awareness there was a snake nearby. I can't explain why this happened. I'd swam through this section many times before. I didn't see the snake or touch it. I just became aware of it. Like a disturbance in the force. I sat upright in the water and, sure enough, there was a huge cottonmouth perhaps 8-10 feet in front of me, swimming right across my line. It was surreal. I sat there for a minute watching it swim away and trying to figure out how I knew it was there. Then I turned around and swam in the other direction, much faster than I'd come.
Another time I was swimming in my favorite lake, doing one of my favorite routes: a 6 mile out-and-back with lunch at the apex. I was about half way to the turnaround when I stopped for a drink. About 30 meters to my right, between me and the shore, was a brown floating object. It was probably the top of a submerged log. But it looked just like the snout and eyes of an alligator. I sat there for a very long time watching it (and it, I believed, watching me). If it was a log, it was a very large one, because it didn't rise and fall with the chop. I kept repeating to myself, "There aren't alligators in Lake Ray Hubbard." But I really didn't know if there were or not. The thought hadn't occurred to me in the 40+ years I'd been swimming in this lake. Eventually I turned over and kept swimming. When I got to my lunch spot, I climbed out of the water and immediately pulled my phone out and googled, "Are there alligators in Lake Ray Hubbard?" Turns out, alligators are spotted in Lake Ray Hubbard every few months or so, usually after heavy rains/flooding (which was the case that week). When they are spotted, the TPWD issues permits and the hunters take them out within a couple of days. Since I didn't see anyone that looked like an alligator hunter, my 6 mile out-and-back ended up looking more like a 9 mile triangle...
"Lights go out and I can't be saved
Tides that I tried to swim against
Have brought be down upon my knees
Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."
@Spacemanspiff , that’s why I trained in Lake Grapevine. Gators suck.
I'd say it's important to differentiate a phobia from the protective fear that something in the water could cause you harm. Your explanation that your fear is irrational makes me think it may be more in the realm of anxiety and less protective? Forgive me if I'm off base, but it may be something to consider?
A phobia of fish kept me out of open water until I was over 30. I couldn't even watch Finding Nemo. I did exposure therapy -- like the stuff you see on TV. Going to watch goldfish from 5 feet away at the pet store, progressing to Monster Fish on TV, to buying fillets in the store and touching them, and even a whole dead fish that stayed in a cooler in my kitchen. Eventually I went snorkeling at our local aquarium with Moray eels, rays, and groupers and then got in a shark cage (maybe that's an option you have depending on your location?).
I'm still majorly anxious every time I get in the water, nearly three years into open water swimming. It was explained to me that the fear will likely never go away completely, but it's possible to learn to harmonize with it. Accepting that I will have fear makes it easier to work through (and swim through). That said, I have absolutely no ambitions to ever swim in the ocean.
Just a thought...
Wow! That's quite a voyage. I'm very impressed, as that couldn't have been easy to do. It is hard to understand fear. The physical reactions are very real with the release of chemicals raging through your system. Yet mentally, one person can be completely calm in a situation where another person is ready to jump out of their skin. Nature and nurture combine and it's your job to work around that.
And under no circumstances will I discuss my fear of Queen Snakes...
I sincerely relate to the OP, as i had the same fear of open water for a very long time. I realized it was all in your mind, and most likely nothing would ever happen. Thus, i was a battle of the mind. I would challenge myself to go on more and more daring swims, while reciting the litany from Dune, until my mind was clear.
"I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
I would swim on my back repeating this 3-5 times, while being completely vulnerable in the water(not being able to look into the water while scare intensifies it, lol!)
After continually exposing yourself to the stress you get used to it. I really hope this helps in some way
WOW! Thank you @celsarbo5 that is such an amazing poem/quote. I will use this for sure in the future... my only trick has been to lay face up and take a few deep breaths until flipping over and continuing to swim!
I can only hear that poem with Kyle MacLachlan's voice.
We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams
Really happy to hear that, it sure helped me!
I see you're a man of culture Mike 😉
Can’t wait for the Dune reboot this year..
We all have the same fear of dangerous animals, but some are better at controlling the fear. So not sure if it helps, but perhaps thinking you have an irrational fear or a phobia is making things worse and allowing the fear to perpetuate.
@musclewhale89 I grew up in Halifax NS, next to the ocean, but back then NO ONE swam open water. I moved to Ottawa ON (landlocked), where I developed into a marathon swimmer, so I've never had to face my fears of toothy critters. I've been hiding in lakes and rivers. I just moved to Upper Cape NB, the ocean is now my backyard. And there's no way I'm not going in it, my goal is to become an ocean swimmer and tackle existing swims but also plot new routes. So I'm facing a similar situation - wanna swim, gotta deal. My plan is gradual exposure, I'm swimming in shallow areas, when it warms up, I'll head further out with hubby on a kayak, and I'll probably start with an established swim guided by someone who knows the waters. And then? Well, I gots plans :-)