Ask Swim Mom: Anxiety or Arrhythmia?

by SwimSwam Contributors 1

August 01st, 2020 Swim Mom

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Dear Swim Mom,

How do parents handle kids with anxiety and can it be caused by too much demanding school work or performance pressure in swimming? How can a parent figure out when it is a panic attack or something else related to the heart such as arrhythmia?

I’m curious myself if other parents have encountered swimmers with anxiety?


Anxious Swim Mom


Dear Anxious Swim Mom,

These are very good questions and whether it’s anxiety or heart arrhythmia, a doctor is needed for a diagnosis and treatment. I know many swimmers who suffer from anxiety — especially at the college level when they are learning to live away from home, juggling the demands of school, the full-time job as a college athlete along with the pressure to perform. My own daughter suffered from anxiety beginning in high school.

I do believe performance pressure may trigger anxiety and parents may make it worse. It can also have a genetic cause, or be due to traumatic or life-changing events. During these crazy days of uncertainty for our kids and families, we are more susceptible to anxiety and depression. Many have had their entire worlds turned upside down. A psychologist I know, who is a swim mom and works exclusively with teens and young adults, said that in today’s world of COVID-19 she’s treating more and more kids who are talking about suicide.

I believe mental health issues are common and it’s helpful to be open about it and have conversations with your kids. Look at the many Olympians such as Allison Schmitt and Michael Phelps who have come forward with their own mental health struggles to help remove stigma and ensure others get help. The HBO documentary, “The Weight of Gold,” which Phelps produced and stars in, explores the stories of many top athletes who suffer from anxiety and depression and the importance of getting treatment.

As parents, we can learn from psychologists and doctors on how we can help our children with anxiety. Many colleges have sports psychs and other resources for mental health. is a valuable place to find a therapist. As for a heart issue, that of course needs to be placed in a doctor’s hands as well.

What advice do you have for Anxious Swim Mom and have your swimmers experienced anxiety, too?

If you have a question for Ask Swim Mom, please email Elizabeth Wickham at [email protected].

Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.

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10 months ago

As a swimmer with SVT my doctor said one way to differentiate is that arrhythmias usually have a sudden onset and a sudden return to normal rate, whereas anxiety is more gradual. Obviously ECG will determine but often arrhythmias revert to normal rhythm before they can be captured.