Swim England Members

Tips to support swimmers who experience mental health problems

On Mental Health Awareness Week, Swim England and mental health charity, Mind, have provided some tips for supporting swimmers.

The focus of Mental Health Week this year is dealing with loneliness. Loneliness can be a difficult emotion to deal with, but there are things we can all do to help others cope with loneliness and prevent some of the negative feelings and mental health problems that can come with it.

Swimming is one of the things that could help, acting as a distraction from negative thoughts for a time and stimulating the mind as well as the body, in a positive way, whilst giving the opportunity for social interactions that can lift your mood.

The two charities are currently working together to update Swim England’s ‘mental health and swimming’ fact sheet to provide mental health information, tips and advice to swimmers and those who support them.

Here’s an insight into some of the tips to consider in order to help those who experience mental health problems participate in aquatics.

Support

  • Start off small and build up their swimming levels at a pace that works for them. Even small amounts of swimming can give them a natural energy boost.
  • Encourage them to attend with someone they trust to help them get started. Swimming pools should allow them to attend with a friend or support worker for the first few sessions.
  • Look for groups of like-minded people. Some pools will have sessions aimed at those who experience mental health problems.

Remember

  • If the person experiences anxiety or panic attacks they might find that swimming can cause some sensations which may feel like they are having a panic attack, such as being unable to catch their breath or breathlessness, raised heart rate, feeling shaky or dizzy.
  • Starting off slowly may help them to spot the difference between the physical effects of swimming and those of a panic attack.
  • If they do experience a panic attack, try to exit the pool and find a quiet space to recover or remain in the shallow end.
  • When swimming, sometimes people can hyperventilate as the water could be colder than they expect, so it’s best for them to test it out by dipping their toe in and climbing into the pool gradually.
  • Encourage them to take deep, slow breaths when they take a break or after a set number of laps / lengths. This helps to reduce the likelihood of them starting to hyperventilate.

Avoid

  • Triggering situations, for example, if they want to avoid crowds they may want to go swimming at a quiet time.
  • Excessive swimming, especially if it is taking over their life. If they feel anxious when they miss a session or if swimming is becoming more important than work, family or friends, they may be developing an unhealthy relationship with physical activity and potentially an exercise addiction.

Mind have developed a guide to help physical activity providers support people who may be experiencing an exercise addiction.

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