How to Handle Mental Health in Swimming: Strategies for Athletes

Updated: Jul 11


Just as you would focus on your physical health by eating healthy and training hard, you must also focus on your mental health. This is especially important in swimming because it is an individual sport. You are relying on yourself to perform, which can often lead to anxiety and depression if you don’t do well.


Swimming can be very demanding, especially when you're trying to achieve personal bests. It’s important to understand that not every performance will be perfect. There will be times when you don’t drop time, no matter how hard you try. If you let every meet or practice affect your mental state, you will find yourself trapped by pressure and anxiety.



Positive Attitude


One of the best ways to handle mental health in swimming is to have a positive attitude. This may seem difficult, especially when you're feeling down about your swimming. However, it's important to remember that swimming is only a part of your life. There are many other things that make you who you are. It's important to focus on the positive aspects of your life and swimming. When you have a positive attitude, it will be easier to maintain a healthy mental state.



Realistic Goals


It's also important to set realistic goals. When you're setting goals, it's important to be realistic about what you can achieve. If you set goals that are too high, you may get frustrated and give up. On the other hand, if you set goals that are too low, you may not feel challenged and motivated to improve. Find a balance in your goals so that you're pushing yourself to improve but not setting yourself up for failure.


If you are looking for guidance around setting goals, talk to your coach about a goal meeting. A goal meeting is where you and your coach sit down and discuss the details of your goals. Goals can be short-term, mid-term or long-term. A short-term goal is something that you want to achieve in the next few weeks or months. A mid-term goal is something that you want to achieve in the next few years. And a long-term goal is something that you want to achieve in your swimming career.


Goals can be anything you want to achieve. Often we default to thinking of goals in terms of the outcome, or the time. However, you can also set behavioral goals, like completing 5 dolphin kicks off every wall in practice for a season. Behavioral goals are important because they help you focus on the process of swimming rather than the outcome. The outcome is the result of the process, so if you really want to improve, you need to think about how you swim.


This approach also allows you to be more comfortable with meets and practices where you don't perform the way you want in terms of time. When you are not feeling great in the water, or not going fast, focus on how you execute your stroke technique, turns, underwaters and breakouts. When you are back to feeling good in the water, these areas of your performance will feel better because you worked on them under stress. Practicing good technique and hard effort during these tough times in training will pay off immensely.



Journal Your Feelings


Keep a journal of how you feel. This can be a great way to track your mental state and see how swimming is affecting you. Write down how you're feeling after each practice or meet. If you're feeling stressed, try to find ways to relax. If you're feeling down, think of things that make you happy. This will help you understand your triggers and learn how to deal with them. Here are some tips to help relax:


  • Take a break from swimming. This doesn't mean quitting the sport, but it does mean taking some time off. Go on vacation, take a week off or even just take a few days off. This will give you time to relax and focus on other things.


  • Find a hobby outside of swimming. It's important to have other things in your life that make you happy. Find something that you're passionate about and invest your time in it. This can be anything from painting to hiking to playing an instrument.


  • Spend time with friends and family. It's important to have people in your life who support you. Spend time with them doing things that you enjoy. This will help you relax and feel good about yourself.



Seek Help


Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help. If you're struggling with mental health in swimming, reach out to a trusted coach or family member. There are also many mental health professionals who can help you cope with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Reach out to a sports psychologist if you are seeking professional help. These are mental health professionals who specialize in helping athletes. They can help you understand your triggers and develop coping mechanisms.


Many professional athletes face similar challenges. In a recent interview, Caeleb Dressel opened up about his challenges with mental health. He said "It's hard. It really is. I love swimming, but swimming can also be really tough on your mental state." He went on to say "I've had to learn how to deal with anxiety and depression." Caeleb Dressel is not the only swimmer who has struggled with mental health. Michael Phelps, one of the most successful athletes in history, has also spoken about his challenges with mental health. He said "I think the biggest thing that I've learned is that it's okay to not be okay."



If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please reach out for help. There are many resources available to you. Remember that you are not alone in this. We hope that by providing this information, we can help athletes maintain a healthy mental state both in and out of the pool.



PC: Jon Flobrant



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