My body feels numb, and I can't seem to catch a normal breath through my trembling lips. My thoughts flicker like a tiny flame between "maybe I can just swim off" and "I can't do this!" OMG, what on earth am I doing to myself?
Oh yes, that's right, the Sabang freediving depth comp 2018 in Northern Sumatra, my first ever freediving depth competition and funnily enough, not my last!
I didn't enjoy this fear-driven primal feeling of escape hijacking my body and mind. Still, I was strangely fascinated by how my brain and body reacted together, creating this immense fear and negativity within this high-pressure performance environment.
I did enjoy my first competition apart from my nerves. So, I decided to research alternative solutions to help combat these competition nerves.
Freedive training for depth led me to a practice called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), an alternative treatment for physical pain and emotional distress. It's also referred to as tapping or psychological acupressure.
EFT, initially founded by the psychologist Dr Roger Callahan in 1979. Dr Callahan was a trained traditional psychologist who used many conventional techniques, including Chinese acupuncture. Whilst treating his client for a phobia with water, he mindfully noted his client's physical bodily sensations while thinking about water. A knot in her stomach accompanied the emotion. He used his knowledge of Chinese acupuncture to relieve her physical symptoms by getting his client to tap the end meridian point under her eye that is linked to the stomach, her symptoms and phobia were gone, and tapping was born.
This alternative therapy is commonly used with therapists to help people with their anxiety and pain. EFT has also been quietly popular with sports coaches to help athletes with mental blocks and performance anxiety for a few decades. The technique is easy to do and free, possibly explaining why most people have not heard of it yet.
So I signed up and paid for my next depth competition (Asian Freediving Cup 2019). I eagerly collected all the information I could on EFT and experimented.
In a nutshell, we have energy meridians running through our bodies. When we tap with our fingers on the endpoints of these meridians (like acupuncture), our body finds this very relaxing, increasing the flow of energy and putting our body into a parasympathetic state. With EFT, you work with affirmation statements, you state what you fear, and you must bring up that emotion and feel it, then complete the tapping sequence until the feeling is reduced or gone.
It sounds pretty simple, but sometimes the problem you are tapping about is not the real problem, and you may feel like nothing has changed. The subject matter or issue could be likened to a "tabletop". It would be best if you got detailed and specific, find out what the real problem is that are maybe the "legs" propping up the "table", as our emotions are complex it may be more than one issue.
I wanted to improve my competition nerves, but that is too broad a subject to tap on that alone. I had to get to the root of why and what I was feeling to take the table apart.
I practised a few deep visualisations of the whole competition scenario that I was to expect. I imagined my self-preparing in the morning and completing the entire dive from start to finish. During these visualisations, I noted my physical sensations and feelings. I wanted to feel which parts of the competition and dive made me feel so anxious in my gut.
Amazingly some real specific feelings showed themselves, such as:
- Lung squeeze at depth
- Not being good enough
- Fear of failure
With this information, I tapped in more detail on the above thoughts and sometimes they led on to even deeper thoughts, like a table nest (a table within a table) chipping away at the real fear and route of the negative emotion. During the process, I monitor the intensity of feeling on a scale of 1-10, checking in if I am disassociating fear and anxiety with the subject.
I used EFT before every training dive on the run-up to the competition. I can genuinely say that it helped me feel more comfortable at depth and mentally prepared for the competition. During the competition, all my nerves did not wholly go, and a few times, I had to perform a tapping sequence whilst on the warm-up buoys under the watchful eyes of the safety divers and judges. The tapping helped me settle my heart rate at the beginning of the countdown to breathe normally and passively.
Well, something worked! I walked away with three white cards and two medals from the Asian Freediving Cup, and I will continue to explore this technique for my next competition and depth progression.
I also offer guidance and coaching in EFT. Please feel free to contact me directly.
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