It's funny how we can happen to come across the opportunity to by chance, and that making a decision in a split second can have a huge impact on your life.
Coldwater swimming was that opportunity for me, and it came along just when I needed it most. My family and I relocated to North Devon in 2018 from Berkshire. After fifteen years of working for a domestic abuse service as a front line worker, I was to face a new challenge of managing the refuge accommodation in our new home town. In addition to this, my partner and I moved in together for the first time, merging our families, meaning that my duties were now as a mother to four children rather than two.
Whilst I enjoyed my new role and was very happy living as one larger family, I had the increased weight of responsibility along with the distance from my friendship group in Reading, and I had no outlet to relieve the stress I was under both at work and at home.
I have tried weightlifting, running, reiki, yoga, and a whole host of activities to help me with stress and anxiety, but none of those activities were really helping me, and none of them had really given me the chance to meet new people in our new home. I found myself in a position of loneliness, having very few contacts outside of work.
What was fantastic, is that we all instantly fell in love with North Devon, and have spent the majority of our free time at one beach or another since we have lived here. I can actually feel myself relax, and the weight of my worries dissipate the moment my feet the sand.
During many of our walks, I have watched the surfers in awe, admiring their skill and feeling envious that they were in the waves, and feeling inadequate that I was on the sand. Then on one of our walks, I saw a group of people in swim gear warming up and then launching themselves into the sea…This idea, that if that group of people could swim in the sea in just a swimming costume, maybe I could too – came at a time when we were in lockdown, and I found myself feeling more anxious and overloaded than ever.
I set about searching the internet for information on cold water swimming, and wrote a Facebook post on a local page, asking for guidance from anyone with experience, and a buddy for that first swim.
The first time I got into the water was November 2020! The sea was wild that day, and it was so cold that the water took my breath away. Standing in the water, jumping the waves that approached me, my senses were overwhelmed and I found myself being so focused on the moment, on the sights and sounds, on the fizz of the water as each wave crashed past me, there really was no room in my mind for anything but the present.
I can only liken the experience to an overwhelming feeling of inner peace, and being part of nature, in a place of real privilege, just me and the water. All my thoughts are focused on my surroundings, and the feeling of weightlessness, and for the duration of that swim, and for a considerable amount of time afterwards, I feel completely relaxed, all anxiety and worry having been washed away.
Following that initial experience, I have made sure that I get into the sea as many times a week as I can! I found an amazingly inspirational group of women in the national social enterprise known as The Bluetit Chill Swimmers and set up a local group, 'The Bluetits Of Westward Ho!' with a friend.
Swimming with other like-minded women has been fantastic, we have shared so many laughs, and a few tears as well. We keep each other to account, in making sure we stick to giving ourselves the time for self-care, and for us, that means getting our butts in the sea as often as possible!
I would really recommend cold water swimming to everyone, it really does not matter what shape your body is, your age, or any other barrier that you might imagine. You might just find real magic from floating about in a cold body of water, just like I have.
Wild and cold-water swimming is on the rise across the UK. Nick Fletcher, who is the founder of Absolutely Bear - an ethical clothing and lifestyle site that is on a mission to reconnect Brits with nature - says the sport has many hidden benefits. Besides the social and health benefits, Nick says it's a great way to appreciate the scenery and the environment; "Swimming pools often have clocks, concrete seating and sterile settings. Swimming with distant greenery, woodlands, or natural views will feel not only more rewarding and motivating during the swim, but it’s a grounding experience to realise you are part of the natural ecosystem and feel connected as a human to the planet around you."
Swimming is a life skill which comes in handy at so many points during your adult life. From being able to enjoy a swimming pool when you are on holiday to being competent in the sea- it’s something that could save your child’s life one day so well worth teaching them early on....
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