How "Just Keep Swimming" Taught Me to Overcome My Anxiety

Freda Howell McMahon   |   February 15, 2019 

Huge, brightly coloured water slides sprawled lazily across the water park. As I sauntered to the shallow end of the wave pool, my cousin's voice rang out “If you go on the slide, I’ll go too.” Knees knocking violently, and my brain out of order, I made it to the top of the slide. Holding my breath, hands folded, off I went. WHAT WAS I DOING? A curve in the slide flung me into the air, and gravity did not help. Bang! My head hit the slide. My very life was in jeopardy as I whooshed deep into the water and fought valiantly to reach the surface. Water and anxiety were now bosom buddies in my body.

Two months ago, and a decade since the fateful day, I finally mustered the courage to sign up for swimming lessons. I regretted it instantly but I was not backing out now. The first few days were surprisingly easy; I had the security of my instructor's hands. And then things went progressively downhill.

At the start of each class, you could find me in my bright blue spandex, feet glued to the swimming pool floor, arms stretched out in front, frozen. I could not remember how to swim. I didn't feel conscious anxiety, but my body remembered that fateful day. Eventually, I was able to swim half the breadth of the pool. Slowly, but surely I was able to make it the entire breadth. Having conquered this shrub of a challenge, it was now time to take on an oak tree: the deep end.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I would survive. With each passing day, I swam further.

In retrospect, I am amazed at how far I have come. For me, water was not a safe place to be. Sure, it could let you stay afloat, but maybe I was the one destined to sink. The day my swimming instructor got out of the pool, frustrated by me freezing up again, things got serious. I did the only thing I could think of; I chose to trust God.

As I swam, I prayed . . . and prayed . . . and prayed. At times, my prayers were just repetitions of one word, “Jesus.” Other times, I would quote Scripture to myself, claiming God's promises. Paul may have had something totally different in my mind when he said, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength," but I was claiming it as my life preserver. And as I risked my life in the five-foot deep pool (I am 5’4.5), God came through. I did not sink! God was there with me, reminding me I needn’t fear because He was with me, I needn’t be dismayed because He is my God. He would strengthen me, and help me (Is. 41:10).

All I had to do was follow Dory’s advice to “just keep swimming” . . . and just keep praying. Because God had my back. Every morning I would wake up dreading the sight of my instructor, but I have to admit, she did more to help me draw closer to God than anyone else this season.

One evening when I was alone in the pool practicing my newly acquired swimming skills, the song "I surrender" was blaring through the speakers. "Here I am, down on my knees again, desperate for You." And in I went and swam the entire length!

Keeping my mind focused on God and surrendering to Him completely, letting go of my fear, and just swimming helped me reach the opposite end. In the end, surrendering in the pool turned out to be easier than I expected, but it is still something I have to work at every single day.

Overcoming my anxiety in the pool helped me recognise how often I am anxious in other areas of life. What are the things that make you anxious? Do you recognise the signs of anxiety within yourself?

Unlike moms who gladly embrace the season of motherhood in their life, it has been a difficult journey for me. I missed the societal approval and elation of good grades, paycheques, and the joy of a job well done. My misplaced sense of identity hindered my ability to see what/who truly mattered. But as I have begun to trust the One who is trustworthy and surrender to His will, being a mom to my little one has become an incredible privilege.

As a counsellor, I know many helpful techniques to reduce anxiety, but by far, what helps me the most when I am anxious is to just keep swimming knowing that God’s not going to let me drown. And when you decide to keep swimming, He will be there for you too, cheering you on. Peace awaits us beyond the anxiety.


Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

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Freda Howell McMahon

Freda McMahon lives in a little Goan village with her husband and two daughters. She is a counsellor by profession, a homeschooling mom, and in constant need of God’s grace. Dark chocolate with sea salt, good conversation and solitude are a few of her favourites.

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