Open water swimming has grown with popularity over this infamous year, swimming is well known for its health benefits but can moving into mother nature’s homemade pool be just as good for our mental health? Here are my 5 tips for getting started based on my own experiences and I share my own story of how I took the plunge into open water swimming. 

“As Pip looked on, safe on a towel with her book and a razor eye to make sure I didn’t just float away, I dived in.”

The Wandering Mind Logo - Nurse with tattoo's

Simone Garland

 

1. Don’t go alone.

NEVER swim in open water or the sea without someone with you. Even though I took Pip along (mostly for her own amusement) I should have probably had someone with me.

 

2. Find a local group.

Amplifying benchmarking in order to make users into advocates. Consider blue-sky thinking and above all, surprise and delight. Amplify core competencies and finally infiltrate new markets. Leading above the line so that we be CMSable. Funnel stakeholder engagement and finally build ROI.

We’re currently based in Woodbridge for a few months and I found local swim groups on Facebook. It’s given me the ability to build my confidence, get to know other people with similar interest and most importantly; learn. Once you find a group ask all the questions you can think of. 

3. Invest in some kit.

During the summer all you really need is a swimsuit and towel, but if you’re looking to try in the cooler months you’ll need some items to keep you warm, especially when you get out. I recommend:

  • Wetsuit
  • Dryrobe
  • Swimming Cap 
  • Wooly hat (if you’re local to Suffolk, check these guys out!)

Another good kit purchase and something I was quickly recommended to buy is a tow-float, this is essentially a brightly coloured blow up bag that attaches to your middle. It makes you easier to spot and doubles up as somewhere dry to keep your car keys/ phone etc.

4. Lower your expectations for your first dip

Amplifying benchmarking in order to make users into advocates. Consider blue-sky thinking and above all, surprise and delight. Amplify core competencies and finally infiltrate new markets. Leading above the line so that we be CMSable. Funnel stakeholder engagement and finally build ROI.

5. Don’t hang around wet and cold.

Our bodies acclimatise to the cold water because we’re moving, either swimming or treading water. This means our heart is working to pump blood round our body to get oxygen to our working muscles, this helps to keep us warm (even though it might not feel like it). When we get out and stop moving this is when we might start to feel super cold and risk cold water shock. Once you’re out, get out of your wetsuit or swim wear and start to get warm, this can be with blankets, warm clothes, wooly hats, dry robes. Whatever helps to make you feel warm, use it. 

Swimming & Mental Health

Water has some long standing history within mental health, albeit questionable at times. Water has been seen to have some powerful qualities which could be linked to religious views of cleansing and healing. At the beginning of the asylum era, institutions were built close to natural water sources on the premise that it could help to cure patients. As with many ideas in the early days of psychiatry they were taken to the extreme, at one point those held the throws of mental illness were subject to long painful hours in ice-cold baths under the impression it would ‘cool’ the body, reduce imbalance and reset the mind. I can see where this thinking came from, the instant shock of cold water submersion makes the ancient automatic brain override all other thoughts, however, its effects on “curing” mental illness now seem mad in itself. 

 

Since my initiation into open water swimming I have caught the bug. I’ve started to go regularly, joining local open water swimmers where I can (and when safe to do so in line with any COVID restrictions) and even though I’m still the new kid on the block I’ve embraced my “newbie” status and often grill weathered swimmers for tips on improving. 

 

From my so far short stint as an open water swimmer, I am on board with how it can support a healthy mindset, feeling in touch with nature is linked to higher feelings of wellbeing. For me it provides an incredible sense of freedom, any difficulties or stressful situations I’m facing on land seem to melt away as the chill takes over. Challenging yourself outside of your comfort zone not only helps to build resilience but also self-worth. Open water swimming gives you this in the shed-load, any dip longer than 5 seconds gives you a huge sense of achievement. 

Open Water Swimming During A Pandemic

When the first COVID-19 lockdown was placed upon us and gyms and swimming pools closed their doors, I, like many others, started to get an inch for trying open water swimming. This wasn’t just because of the physical benefits but also swimming is my way of clearing my mind, debunking any built up stress. Without it I was feeling mentally sluggish and unmotivated. Over the course of a few weeks that itch turned into a plan, until one fateful afternoon I was sat on Dunwich beach with my girlfriend, Pip, gearing myself up to get in the biggest pool around; the sea. In my head I had images of myself ‘at one’ with the sea, gliding through the waves like butter. Luckily I also know most of the time my expectation of things rarely rolls over into reality. After an undignified fight with my wetsuit behind a bush not only did I know to lower my expectation, I was also ready to get going. 

 

I hadn’t given myself any fixed time or distance to achieve, I just wanted to get in and experience what it was like. I attempted, slowly, to make my way to the shoreline. Trying to not to let it look like I was struggling to navigate the stones that were like little hot pokers beneath my feet. The few onlookers curiously glanced over to see why some strange lady was standing around in a wetsuit adjusting a pair of goggles. As I stood looking out to sea, my toes wriggled in the sand that was moving with the tide causing my feet to slowly submerge in the wet seabed, I realised just how minuscule I was in comparison to my pool.  

 

As Pip looked on, safe on a towel with her book and a razor eye to make sure I didn’t just float away, I dived in. Under the murky waves my senses sparked into life, the instant coldness of the water for a moment takes your breath away but in its place, you feel sharper and aware of your surroundings. Taking my first few strokes, mother nature didn’t waste any time letting me know who was boss, I was in her playground and currently without the rule book. My mind tried to revert back to pool swimming, trying to help me get into some rhythm it counted; one…two… wave to the face. As I powered on, either misjudging when to take a breath or at one point literally finding myself washed up on shore I found more often I was crawling along the sea bed rather than gliding over it. I realised something, through every wave to the face, and struggled stroke; I was enjoying this. I took a break to give my burning shoulders a rest and admire my distance only to realise I was likely only a few hundred meters away from where I started. Despite my lack of progress I enjoyed every minute. Floating in the sea makes you feel weightless, moving with a natural current with a soundtrack of the waves rolling into the sandy coastline, it gives you a strangely comforting feeling. The only way I can describe it is it makes you feel happy from the inside.