Life Lessons from the Sea # 15: Ten Tips for Staying Afloat When You Feel Like You’re Drowning


                          Photo credit: Jeff Sandquist
Years ago, I went swimming in the ocean with my husband, Matt, and our two small children, along with several other families. I mostly stayed near the shore with our two-year-old, Chad, while Matt rode the bigger waves with Amanda, our six-year-old, splashing beside him in her life vest. For a long time, Chad and I were content digging in the sand, building castles, searching for shells or racing small waves. But eventually, one or the other of us (probably me) wanted to play in the deep with everyone else.

Chad wore a life jacket, one of those full-body kinds, but it must’ve been a tad big, because it rode up around his shoulders whenever his feet couldn’t reach the ground. As long as he kicked, though, he was just fine. I swam out toward our friends and family with Chad hanging onto my back. The water grew deep. I’m a fairly strong swimmer, but I quickly tired in the tossing surf.

When we were more than halfway there, I unwrapped Chad’s clinging arms from my neck, intending him to swim alongside me. But it was much tougher for him to keep afloat in unsteady water than it had been, earlier, at the pool. I tried to kind of push him upward, but discovered it was easier to simply carry him. Pretty soon my arms and legs felt like noodles.

My strength failed. I slipped underwater, my toes grazing the sand beneath me as I held Chad high enough to breathe. We bobbed along like that for awhile, me surfacing for a quick gulp of air, then sinking under his weight. Fortunately, Matt saw my predicament. Maybe I yelled, I really can’t remember. He stroked over and scooped Chad into his arms. We moved to a shallower spot and finished out the day with fun and laughter.

While I’m no longer at the ocean, I still sometimes feel like I’m drowning. Drowning in work, responsibilities, appointments, errands, expectations, all while holding up so many other people. Helping them get where they need to be, do what they need to do. Have you ever felt that way? I don’t resent it. But I’m still learning how to manage it.

So, for today, here’s my top ten tips for staying afloat when you feel like you’re drowning:

1-5: Ahead of crunch time                  6-10: When the crisis hits

  1. Wear a better life jacket. What I mean by this is to take good care of yourself ahead of time. If you know a huge deadline is coming up, make sure you’re nourished and well-rested.
  2. Practice swimming. In other words, before you try to accomplish a massive task, try out something smaller that’s similar. Kind of like living on your own for awhile before trying to raise a whole family. It’s easier if we grow into greater responsibility. (But not always possible—so for emergency rescue, see 6-10, below)
  3. Really practice swimming. Or any kind of exercise. Exercise releases endorphins. This lowers our stress level. It also increases our stamina, giving us strength and endurance that pays off later in tough situations.
  4. Learn to hold your breath. Sometimes to reach a long-term goal, we sacrifice small pleasures now. Skip the movie and save your cash for something else more important.
  5. Switch off swimming with floating or treading water. Manage time wisely. Make lists and set priorities so you spend your time where it’s most needed. Develop the habit of completing tasks before they’re urgent.
  6. Call for help. Don’t be afraid to look to friends and family, or even willing strangers, in times of crisis. Seek spiritual guidance and comfort as well.
  7. Kick harder. Put in a little extra effort. Push yourself to finish up. When it’s all said and done, you’ll be glad you did.
  8. Grab a floatie. Squeeze in time to rest. A 20 minute nap is not only refreshing, but can provide the energy you need to finish up your day. Even a 5 minute meditation can rejuvenate and inspire.
  9. Don’t swim deeper. Don’t take on other, unnecessary projects, however small. Remain focused on your objective.
  10. Don’t drink the salt water.Tough times are part of life, but don’t internalize them. Good times are ahead along with the rewards that come from never giving up!


    What tips can you share for staying afloat?

  • My faith in God also helps me to remain grounded and not to feel like life is overwhelming. I ask God what to do next, and I do one thing at a time.

  • Excellent thoughts. Loving swimming myself, appreciated the points tied into your “adventure.” Glad everyone in the end was okay, even though that could be really tiring!

    Have a super weekend,

    Lee