Overcoming Anxiety

The scene of the crime… The diving board: Blackrock, Salthill

“What’s wrong with you?”

Anxiety – That’s one way to describe it as I stood, stuck to the diving board. “Come on! Don’t overthink it or you’ll talk yourself out of it!” shouted my mate Jamie who had already jumped in ahead of me. Why was I finding this difficult? I’d done hundreds of dives before and taught others to do them too. “What’s wrong with you?”, I said internally. A former Irish Water Safety Instructor of five years, I grew up in and near a lake close to my family home. Yet, here I was, a few years later, out of diving practice and I’m suddenly and surprisingly, feeling like someone who has never swam before, uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. I didn’t expect to be faced with overcoming this anxiety.

Young Learners ‘Beating’ the Fear

The greatest satisfaction I had when teaching water safety was when the younger groups finally had enough confidence to get their feet off the ground. When someone who is learning to swim breaks that trepidation and they move forward or backwards without the aid of the floor below or a floating object, it is incredibly satisfying for them and the teacher. That is their fear, you see, that if they allow themselves to be immersed in the water, the water may take control of them – that they won’t come back up. When they succeed in tearing up that notion, they emerge full of confidence and with an increased appetite for learning. And young people are incredibly tough when it comes to learning these lessons, when it comes to overcoming anxiety.

Learning to swim
Children are resilient learners – They don’t care if they fall down, they get up and go again!

It can take a bit longer for adults to overcome this anxiety, especially when the environment is water. But we are not hopeless – there is always hope, whether you are dealing with a difficult patch at work or struggling with a new or existing skill set. As my father once remarked (in his wisdom): “You don’t have to be better than anyone else, you can just be as good as them.” Small steps.

Dealing with Heights

Heights have never petrified me but I’m certainly not the best man to climb up a tall ladder. When I was growing up, this was always something I battled with and diving into a deep body of water helped me to overcome some of that height anxiety. With that being said, I am a little uncomfortable if I cannot see where I’m diving.

It’s so important to be aware of any submerged rocks or branches when diving into open water, especially head-first dives. The majority of spinal injuries can be unforgiving. This was always one of the first lessons I learned growing up and one I passed onto any class I ever had the pleasure of teaching.

I’ve swam more times than I can count at Blackrock. However, I’d never dived off the pier prior to this visit and it had been a few years since I had did any diving. I hadn’t planned this swimming visit. It was a last minute decision and I followed Jamie out to the edge of the pier before suddenly stopping dead. Wait. I was scratching my head, puzzled: “Hmm… How do I do this again?”

The Jump

And here I was, an experienced swimmer, with no fear of cold open water, petrified of jumping in, just a few feet above the water – This couldn’t be the case, surely. No joke. I didn’t want to do it. And I couldn’t figure out why because just a few years ago, this was so easy. I was faced with the challenge of overcoming a sudden bout of anxiety. Count to three… 1… 2… 3…

Looks easy… Right?

When I finally left the pier, my chin was glued to my chest as I stared at the water. I could feel my feet searching for the comfort of the ledge but there was no going back, the impact was inevitable and there no use in worrying now. The adrenaline set in. I let out a roar before I disappeared beneath the surface. I felt the cold, refreshing water cover me from head to toe and I came back to the top. Yes, I remember this feeling. This is why I love the water.

Out of Practice

I felt silly, stupid – You get the idea. Moreover, I felt relieved – I could still do it. It hadn’t magically disappeared. Well then, what had happened? I was anxious because I questioned my ability. What normally felt natural to me, had rotated out of alignment, causing me to second-guess myself. Now I could laugh at myself again. All good.

You’ve heard this tale before though, right?

This is just one anecdote, told by one person out of billions. So many of us have stories with uncanny resemblances to the above narrative. One can be the biggest obstacle in one’s life. But sometimes we all just need a little help to overcome the difficult patches we face. In my case, I knew I could manage the uneasiness because it was a jump I had done many times with ease in the past. Out of practice, I simply needed to remind myself that I could make the jump.

Thankfully, I had a friend to push me over the edge (no pun intended) to show me that I could still do it. If you’re struggling to get back into a hobby or an activity or task that you once enjoyed, ease into it, with the help of a friend. Seeing someone else do something brings logic to and neutralizes the madness we conjure up in our minds when deciding that we can’t do something.

Overcoming Anxiety can be a Tailored Process

It’s not the same for everyone, though, remember that. We all have a pace that we are comfortable with. Find what suits you and embrace that adrenaline. Challenge yourself. It’s good for you. But never put your physical or mental health under unnecessary pressure – Life is too short. We are all different and deserve an individual process when trying to win the battles in our lives. And don’t be afraid to ask for help, reach out to a family member, a close friend or even a local counselling service. Take it step by step. Be brave. And have fun. Otherwise, what is the point?

By the way… I’m not for one minute suggesting that I’ll be off doing professional cliff diving any time soon… Bit by bit.

And there you have it, a short anecdote on Overcoming Anxiety! Thanks for reading folks and please get in touch if you have any questions about your own worries. If you’re feeling stressed, or overwhelmed, please also get in touch. We’d love to help in any way that we can.

Chris and Cathal

Read other articles in the series ‘Thoughts on Therapy’

This blog article (Overcoming Anxiety) was written by Barry Gilmartin – Former IWS Instructor with The Irish Water Safety.