Wild swimming and mental health
There is something about swimming in the open air that is both transcendental and grounding. It takes us out of our lives and puts us back in our bodies in a way that rarely happens in the eat/sleep/work mode of existence.
Swimming in any environment brings your attention to the present moment and to your body. The whole of your skin (the biggest organ in the human body) is being stimulated and you also have to concentrate on not drowning. These two things leave little space for worry, sadness or self-doubt and create a condition of enforced mindfulness, of full awareness in the present moment. Add to this the colder conditions of swimming outside and the increased vigilance needed if you are swimming in moving water and you can understand why wild swimming takes you right out of your head and into your body. It brings you quite literally 'to your senses'.
As well as the very direct change in focus of attention which wild swimming brings, there are other benefits which lead to good psychological health and resilience.
Swimming in cold water is a good way of keeping your body on its toes. Research has found that it:
- stimulates the production of endorphins giving you a natural high
- stimulates white blood cell production (the immune system)
- burns calories
- gets your blood pumping and flushes your circulation
- and improves your sex life!
Swimming with others builds relationships due to having a shared experience and through having fun.
Reconnecting with nature reminds us of the beauty of the world that we live in and can put worries into perspective...the world existed before us and will continue to exist after us. When in the water we have to face fears about the sea/river/lake, about being in control and thoughts about what is below the surface. Overcoming those fears can grow courage which you can take back onto dry land and into the rest of your life.
In therapy, people often report feeling bad as a result of sadness about the past or worry about the future. They may feel alienated from their body, from others and from the wider world. Once this has been understood the task of therapy is to make the necessary changes to life and self in order to feel better...and wild swimming is one very effective way of realising that change.
Always swim safely - follow the guidelines on the Outdoor Swimming Society website.
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About Vicky Cuming
Formerly a humanitarian aid worker with a core training in philosophy and economics, I retrained as a counsellor due to an interest in why some people survive or thrive and others struggle with life.
I work in the NHS and in private practice.
In my free time I get in the sea as much as possible.