Stress and anxiety affect everyone, so if you’ve stumbled across this article, know that you are not alone. In fact globally, between 6-18% of people around the world experience anxiety. While there are many ways you can combat those tense feelings of nervousness, worry, and agitation, the most simple way is to practice mindfulness and meditation. Going for a swim can be the most meditative time of your day.

Instead of focusing on just your physical goal of getting the laps in, use this time to focus on the sensations you encounter.

Swimming remains one of the most popular forms of physical activity across the world and offers a unique opportunity to promote, maintain, and improve wellbeing. Swimming has a lot of potential to reach all types of people regardless of gender, age, disability, or socioeconomic status.

  • Kids: Swimming helps children develop more quickly, helping them learn key skills like walking, talking and counting faster.
  • Adults: Swimming helps adults reduce stress and anxiety, and improve their quality of life.
  • Elderly: Swimming helps older people stay mentally agile, slowing memory loss that often happens as we age.

Today we’re learning how to practice mindfulness while swimming:

TUNE IN TO YOUR BODY

When you experience anxiety and fear, your sympathetic nervous system fights back more. Your body releases hormones and chemicals which trigger a fight or flight reaction to combat. This is what’s really going on when you feel like you’ve lost all control and are overcome with strong emotions, discomfort and anxious thoughts.

When you’re in the water, you are making one of the strongest mind-body connections, which is why swimming is such an amazing way to practice mindfulness. If you experience this rush of anxiety while swimming, take a moment to focus on how your anxiety is manifesting as a physical sensation:

  • Begin each swim with purpose. Instead of focusing on getting the laps in, let go of the thoughts that are distracting you and be fully present in the water.
  • Pay close attention to the way the water affects your body. Appreciate the little things–how quick you feel when pushing off the wall in a streamline position, the cool air on your arm as it comes out of the water to take a stroke, the bubbles when you’re underwater, or the sun’s reflection on the ripples in the water.
  • Pause between swim sets, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and tune into your body and how weightless and free you feel. Release your thoughts and be present in the moment.
  • After you complete your swim, take a moment to appreciate how your mind and body are connected to move you through the water.

Related: The Physiological Benefits of Swimming

FOCUS ON YOUR BREATH

In times of anxiety, it’s important to focus on the here and now. Head to the pool and try not to fixate on your past or future concerns. A great way to do this is to focus your attention on your breath.

Mindfulness helps create space so we’re able to be less reactive to the content of our thoughts. Try these steps before, during or after your swim:

  • Take deep, long breaths in and out of your nose
  • Roll your shoulders back, relax your eyes, and release all tension in your body
  • Observe each inhale and exhale and pay attention to the way your lungs fill up with air
  • Focus on any sensations that may arise and use your breath to focus you back in the moment
  • Pay attention to the way the water moves, the temperature of the room, and the way your skin feels in the chlorine
  • Now, appreciate how it feels to rest in your thoughts and be aware of the moment you are in

Related: The Well-Being Benefits of Swimming

JUST FLOAT

Swimming activates the entire body. Being underwater is an immersive experience that can do wonders for your brain. Connect with the water and practice mindfulness:

  • Lie on your back in the water, take deep breaths and pay attention to the way your body rises and falls
  • Dip your ears in the water and find joy in the silence
  • Go deep underwater and just play! Have fun! Do some flips and pretend you’re a dolphin.
  • Appreciate the pressure in your ears and behind your eyes when you go deep underwater
  • Open your eyes underwater and focus on the way your hands look
  • Find joy in the fact that your goggles fog up and you can worry less about visual distractions
  • Take your swim cap off and feel you hair sway back and forth in the water

Related: 4 Ways Yoga will Make You a Better Swimmer

KEEP A LOG OF YOUR THOUGHTS

It’s hard to not get carried away with our thoughts. They consume us throughout so much of our day. In moments of mindfulness, you can focus on shifting the way you react to these thoughts. Throughout your swim, let the nervous, sad, or stressful thoughts come. Note them, reflect on them and then focus on letting them go.

Instead of pulling away from these feelings, you are accepting that they are real, and teaching yourself how to deal with them in a non-reactive way.

After your swim, log your workout in the MySwimPro app and add notes to the workout for how you felt:

  • Couldn’t stop thinking about my to-do list during the warm up
  • Had to work hard to focus on my form in the warm up drill
  • Felt nervous before the main set
  • Finally felt completely distracted and happy during the cool down

Related: 8 Benefits of Swimming You Probably Didn’t Know

Looking for more swimming tips, workouts and training plans? Download the free MySwimPro app on your iPhone, Android or wearable!

6 thoughts on “Mindful Swimming: How to Reduce Anxiety

  1. Awesome! I’ve always told my swimmers swimming is like yoga in the water. Very Zen.

    Except you could drown. There’s that. 🙂

  2. Swimming is spiritual to me. After all, we are 75% water depending on how much you drink.
    But it is more than that….we were all created in a womb, so miraculously by two beings and we literally swim for 9 months! When a baby is born in a water bath, it automatically holds it’s breath and goes back to it’s fetal position, while still attached to it’s cord. I remember my first baby a son, opening it’s eyes looking at me under water. His father went under water also to watch this. He came up so calm and just moving his arms and legs. He never cried and we stayed in the warm water for quite some time, just listening to us talking to him. Stayed there until the placenta delivered, cut the cord and voila a swimmer was born. I had a second baby boy the same way, but his older brother was in the warm tub with us. He held his little brother and his words to him were..”Hi Lars! Swim baby swim! They both started swimming within a month of birth and eventually became competitive swimmers all their life and as adults. When we get together for Holliday’s, we can’t go very long without swimming. Like a fish out of water, must return or it will die.

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