Panic Attack with a Smile

The title of this post is a pretty good, and by pretty good I mean entirely accurate, description of me.  It’s actually a pretty good description of most Sagittarius so fair warning if you know any.  I’ve often had the phrases, “Nothing seams to phase you,” and “You always have shit together,” thrown at me.  However, if you scratch below the surface there is a bundle of nerves full of perfectionist anixeity, fear of failure and overall trepidation of the unknown and anything I can’t control.

I’ve developed some solid coping mechanisms to deal with these swirling, whirling thoughts of dread in my everyday life but during my first open water swim (OWS) I had no coping tool at the ready sooooo 750m of the modified breast stroke where my head never went under the water was my mode of operation.

The weird thing about this was that I couldn’t put a finger on what was actually freaking me out.  I knew we were safe (the lake was quiet of boat traffic and we had a kayaker with us).  I knew I could swim the distance comfortably.  I knew I loved being in the water.  I was LITERALLY a panic attack with a smile – big smile!   

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get another OWS in before this weekend’s Sebago Lake Sprint Tri so, as any pragmatic person can appreciate, I simply explained to myself the illogical nature of everything I had felt and considered it taken care of.  Fast forward to this weekend and it was definitely NOT taken care of.  Whole swim – freestyle with my head above water (insert palm to face emoji).

I knew this was all in my head and that PISSED ME OFF.  I hated the idea of my brain inhibiting what my body could do.  It was time to take control, so I reached out to KGirl and we were in the water by 2:00 today!

Before we got in the water we spent a lot of time talking about the mental game and brainstorming some mantras I could use to get out of my head.  I learned 2 very clear things:

  1. I am a nerd.  When KGirl asked about the tricks I use while running to distract or focus myself (after giving her own fun examples of singing and making up cute rhymes), I responded with “math problems”.  I’m constantly calculating distance completed, distance to completion, average pace, projected finish time and/or simply counting.  Like I said – I’m a nerd!
  2. New sports remind us of how far we’ve come in our old sports.  The more we talked the more “queues” we discovered I could easily transfer to swimming like my race prep routine, visualization, and more silly counting.  It’s these tricks that I have come to take for granted.  They are natural now and I don’t think about them.  This transition to swimming has forced me to think about them.  Understanding my habits and tendencies will only make me stronger in all three tri sports.

I left the water today not with a feeling of dread but rather calm and accomplishment.  By the end I was starting to get my rhythm and even began to “just do” and not think about the swim.  I may find my swimming metronome just yet!  Oh and we saw a bald eagle….that HAS to be a good sign 😉

Do you use a mantra?  What tricks have you found to focus or distract your brain from the negative?


  1. I often will breath out with an “OHM” or a trill with my tongue as I keep my breath even and consistent with a three breath cadence to calm myself. Sounds weird but hey, if it works….don’t change it.


    • Doesn’t sound weird at all! I definitely do something similar while running as I try to calm the adrenaline and get my heart rate back to a moderate pace. I know it’s possible to do something similar in the water but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. More practice! Thank you for sharing!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s