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Choppy water. Flailing arms and legs. Sharks. Limited visibility. Frigid temperatures. Shuddering yet? The fear of open water holds back a lot of triathletes who are otherwise confident swimmers, taking pre-race anxiety to another level.
To help athletes with this problem, Lidia Garcia uses hypnotism. “Regardless of their training, if athletes have a doubt in their minds, what they’re focused on is probably going to come true,” says the hypnotherapist and running coach from Toluca Lake, Calif. Through hypnosis, Garcia can desensitize the fear until athletes are ready to race with confidence.
Most of Garcia’s clients fear “the pack”: getting beat up by fellow swimmers or missing a breath because water splashed in their mouths. Under hypnosis, she guides them through race day step by step. As soon as they show signs of anxiety, she’ll go through the fear over and over until the athlete can pass through. “It’s just like going on a rollercoaster,” Garcia says. “The first time it was scary, but the 20th time it’s like nothing. As soon as the water fear comes up and they get anxious, I replace that feeling with something else.”
Sports psychologists across the country are using hypnosis to help prepare athletes for competition. Runner Kara Goucher works with a sports psychologist who uses mental rehearsals, mantra reciting and anchors (triggers for emotional or physical changes), all techniques Garcia also incorporates.
Garcia starts sessions with an interview process to understand how your fear was manifested and why it’s holding you back. From there, she’s able to create suggestions to change the ideas you have in your subconscious mind.
If you’re thinking, “I can’t be hypnotized,” take note: Garcia says athletes are actually easier to hypnotize because of the mind-body connection they have from doing an individualized sport. And hypnosis doesn’t involve the pendulum-swinging “you are getting verrrry sleepy” scenario that leads to dancing with a broom in front of a room of strangers. She says everyone is hypnotized on a regular basis—those moments where you forget the past five minutes while driving, or when you’re crying during a movie, or how you feel right before you fall asleep, are all trance-like states.
Overcome Your Open Water Fear
• Create a vision board. Include photos of a goal race PR, your planned reward after the race (i.e. Coldstone) or a cutout of your head on Chrissie or Macca’s body. “Look at it for 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes at night. Meditating on it will change how the subconscious mind sees the result,” Garcia says.
• Put “anchors” in place—decide on a motion that reminds you that you’re safe. (Touching two fingers together is a common one.)
• Come up with a mantra that’s present and positive. “Keep moving forward,” for example.
• Do a full mental rehearsal of your race from alarm clock to finish line. The more often, the better.
• Try a session with Garcia if you’re in the area (starting around $80), or contact her for a recorded hypnosis that you can listen to pre-race. Lidiamgarcia.com