After a couple of weeks of hiatus from blogging, I’ve had time to think about the part of outdoor swimming that has affected me the most. It’s also something that people feel a little coy talking about, and is proving very hard to verify scientifically.
Swimming in wild water makes you happy. Every single outdoor swimmer will attest to this! This time last year I was going through a very rough patch mentally, and I was finding it very hard to be focussed, and even to get out of bed in the morning. This was a contributing factor to my decision to have a career break and concentrate on myself for a while. Since joining the Tynemouth outdoor swimmers back in March, I have been up and out of bed before 7am almost every day! The positive mental benefits I have felt from swimming in the sea are almost too numerous to mention. I feel joy and expectation before going for a swim. I get an immense feeling of camaraderie and belonging, with my fellow swimmers. When I’m in the water, she calms me down with her soothing rhythm. My head starts to empty of all other thoughts, and I’m there, in the moment, and it’s just me and the sea. Throughout the day if I feel myself getting anxious, I can take a minute, and think back to the swim that morning, and it calms me down.
This impact on mental health isn’t something that is talked about enough in my opinion. Before I started swimming, I thought of doing it as exercise and nothing else. My doctors and other people I spoke to never mentioned it as an option for improving my mood. I think that wild swimming is still seen as an extreme sport. Its popularity has definitely increased in recent years, but it still seems to be viewed as something that athletes do, not “average” people. When chatting to a few new people that I’ve met through social media they said they were too nervous to join my swim tribe, as they thought they were all “serious” swimmers, as they had heard that we swam triathlons and across the channel! I tell you what, when they eventually came for their first dip, they quickly realised that some of those swimmers are the least “serious” of the group! The fun and companionship we have in and out of the water is hilarious. The saying goes, ‘never judge a book by its cover’, well, never judge a swimmer by his swim cap! (Honestly, I wear one that says I’ve swam the Coniston chillswim. I’ve never even been to Coniston, let alone swam it!)
When wild swimming comes up in conversation people that don't swim will either think that you are insane, or an inspiration. Sometimes both. The number of people that think I'm absolutely bonkers for going in the sea, let alone going in the sea when it's 5 degrees centigrade, are far too numerous to mention. Happily, there are the odd few people that say that I'm a brave, and amazing woman, and the glowing praise from these few definitely outweighs the “nutter” comments! It becomes quite easy to deal with the people that think you're mad, because once you start doing it, you realise that they have absolutely NO IDEA what they are talking about. You can then just smile at them with an almost pitying smile, knowing that you have a way to get the best natural high ever, which they will never feel.
I think one thing that puts people off swimming outdoors, and marking it as an extreme sport, is the fear factor. Wild water is totally unpredictable, and if you’re not aware of your own abilities you could easily get into trouble. Once you have got past the first barrier of actually going for a swim, you then need to remind yourself what you can do. Know your limits and abilities. As I mentioned in a previous post it's so easy for the sea to turn on you. It's like a wild animal, I'm not trying to scare you, but you need to respect it. It can kill you. Wild swimming is not a place for bravado, or caving to peer pressure. If you think you can't go in, then don't. No one will think less of you, I promise. Sometimes I just stand in the sea and play, jumping the waves, pretending I’m a kid (or a mermaid!) and sometimes I just sit on the shoreline and let the waves rush over me, digging holes in the sand. If you have someone to go with you then all the better. You can keep an eye on each other, and they can get help if you get in trouble. For your first dip, definitely go with someone else, if you can find someone who knows the water, then that’s perfect. It is scary, and having a fear of the water is totally normal, and reasonable, and sensible! It’s just important not to let that fear control you, and prevent you from living your best life. I have a fear of clowns, and I love comic book movies, so I’m sure as heck not going to let my fear stop me from watching every Batman movie involving the Joker! So, in order to actually get in the sea, you may have to push yourself a bit (maybe a lot!). Be aware of the dangers, but don't let them put you off! You'll have to force yourself through the initial pain and shock of the cold water, as well as any mental barriers you’ve put in the way, otherwise you will never get in. If you never get in, you'll never get the joy. I promise you, after that first dip, you’ll be hooked.
It’s very easy to find reasons not to do something that will push you a bit outside your comfort zone; It’s too cold today, I’m too tired, I don’t like my swim suit, I read on the news that you shouldn’t go swimming in the sea. All of these are just barriers you’ve put up. None of them are real reasons not to go swimming! I’ve actually felt all of these things over the last few months, even ‘I just don’t want to go’, but I pulled myself out of bed, got my horrible costume on and went for a dip. And I tell you what, I felt so much better after the swim! You have to be willing to just give it a go. That willingness is your amazing first step to better mental health, if you’ve made it that far, imagine what else you could do?!
Hints and Tips
Give it a go
Ignore the haters!