Cold Water Panic

Recently a Tri-athlete friend of mine told me of her bad experience that now has her a bit panicked when swimming in cold water. Water in the 50s and 60s is commonplace for triathlons and it can lead to bad experiences for many even if you are wearing a wet suit.

Here is what can happen. Cold water creates a normal physiological reaction. It constricts the chest making it hard to breathe. Our bodies adapt quickly and we can once again breathe. The wet suit is meant to keep us warm enough in these cold conditions to stop this reaction.  And well, it doesn’t always work as well as it should and you can have the reaction, generally reduced in intensity, but still there. This reaction, especially when more subtle, can create anxiety, or even be mistaken as anxiety instead of just a physiological reaction.  Either way the athlete is now left with lingering doubts.  Here are a few helpful tricks to help stop this problem

  • Make sure it fits: First and most obvious, make sure your wet suit is a good fit. Many people wear wet suits too large because it provides more freedom of motion. Wet suits keep you warm by trapping a layer of the cold water next to your skin and warming it up. If your wet suit fit is too loose the water does not remain trapped and cold water continues to flow in forcing your body to continue to warm up the constant influx of cold water. It is a line you have to manage based on how much cold you are willing to tolerate.
  • Bring a container of warm water: Regardless of how your wet suit fits you can help keep the cold at bay. Start by bringing a large container of heated water. Before you get in to swim pour warm water down the wet suit. Ensure the water gets down the legs, and sleeves.  You need to do this while you are wearing the suit, allowing your body to trap this warm layer of water in the suit. Now you are starting with a layer of water you don’t have to warm up. This will have the added advantage that you will not feel the cold water as much as you climb in.
  • Choose your cut wisely: Big arm holes and sleeveless wet suits are great for mobility, but not so good for keeping you warm. Find the balance that is right for you.

It is much easier to avoid anxiety by being prepared and avoiding bad situations than it is to get over anxiety caused by a bad experience.  I often feel that the hardest anxiety to get over is the one you do not understand.

Consider these three concepts for staying warm and enjoy your swim more.

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