Feeling overwhelmed happens at times to all of us, and in a wide variety of circumstances. Remember the first time you got into a car with the intent of driving it–so many controls. Or your first weeks in university–so much to read and know about. Or perhaps caring for a sick relative displaying many unusual symptoms.
If you had a chance to look at a previous post describing 16 differences noted in open water that are not apparent in pool swimming, it can be easy to see that someone’s fear of drowning can be overwhelmed by significant anxiety regarding several of these variables.
For example, when you feel the coldness of the water, you may worry that you may develop hypothermia or tight, inefficient movements if you are in there even 10 minutes. Add that to a feeling of restrictiveness of a tight wetsuit, that may also impair your stroke movements or give you a choking sensation. Add that to a worry that you will almost certainly sink to the bottom if you don’t stop moving your arms. And… well, you get the picture–you can fill in any other fears you you may be harboring–the more of these, the more likely you are at risk of panicking when in the water.
So, how to get past feeling overwhelmed? One step at a time. “Chunk down” your feeling into manageable bits. When learning to drive a car, understand what the steering wheel does and how it works until you are comfortable with it. Get the feel and function of the gas pedal and brake pedal, and perhaps the clutch. Then blinkers, headlights, and the rest. Start small and build up. Almost everyone who starts learning to drive, eventually succeeds, in part due to persistence and cumulative skill development.
And so it is also with open water swimming. Done correctly, an instructor, can start with whatever skill set you have, and build your skills and confidence one step at a time. These steps are outlined in sequence in Swimming in Open Water: Become Less Anxious and More Confident When Getting In Over Your Head.