Open Water Swimming and Mental Health
6 reasons why you should try open water swimming this summer/autumn!
You have probably already seen the trend of open water swimming that seems to have taken over Northern Irish shores the past year. People are wading into our freezing waters, no matter the season or weather. You’ve maybe even stopped to watch a group of people cheer each other on as they build up the confidence to each finally take the plunge. Perhaps you have asked yourself the same question we all have, why put yourself through it?
Open sea swimming is not only great for your physical health, but it has many mental health benefits too and you don’t need to be an expert to take part in it! Just as long as you do your research on where is safe to swim and how to keep yourself as safe as possible, you can start with little dips in the sea and build up from there! Check out the many benefits of open water swimming below:
Swimming is one of the best and most accessible forms of exercise that you can do for your body! Whether you're 18 or 80, swimming engages almost every major muscle group and is a great form of exercise to build your strength, improve your fitness and benefits your cardiovascular system too. Swimming is also gentle on your joints, aches, and any injuries, so it is a great way to ease into exercise and reduce tension in your body. Being active and exercising is an important step to maintaining and improving your wellbeing, and benefits your mental health as well as your physical health.
2. Connecting with your Body
Open water has soothing properties and can help you relax your mind and body. The calming nature of the water can help you disconnect from daily life and reconnect with your body. This allows you to be in the moment, to focus on yourself and pay attention to your mind and body. Swimming is also a great exercise for focusing on your breathing and becoming more aware of how you breathe is a helpful mindfulness technique.
3. Mood & Happy Hormones
Immersing yourself in cold water increases the production of mood-elevating hormones like dopamine, serotonin and beta-endorphins. These happy hormones help you feel more positive and are important for maintaining your wellbeing and happiness. You will also feel the effects of these feel-good hormones after your swim, as your body experiences the post-exercise euphoria. People who swim regularly have been shown to have reduced levels of stress and anxiety, attributed to the endorphins released during and after swimming.
4. Reduced Anxiety & Stress
Studies have shown that repeated exposure to cold water has been shown to increase physical and mental resilience. By having regular exposure to open water swimming, you begin to develop a physical resilience to the cold temperature. The shock of the cold water stimulates your body and sends your brain sensory information, helping you adapt to the cold environment.
As the cold stimulates your body, it also stimulates your brain! As a response to the cold, your brain releases the stress hormone cortisol. The more you immerse yourself in cold water, it allows your brain to become used to the cold and lowers the levels of stress hormones. This will not only help you adapt to the water but can also help you respond to other stressors in your life and help reduce stress and anxiety.
Swimming is a great exercise that you can do by yourself, but it is also a great way to socialise with others outdoors and join other open sea swimming communities. Whether it is practising swimming together, taking part in a challenge, or visiting your local beach - it can be a great way to meet new people! The opportunity to socially connect is key to improving and maintaining your mental health and wellbeing, and a great way to share positive experiences with others.
6. Connecting with Nature
Being in nature has been proven to have a positive impact on your mood and mental wellbeing. Spending time in the open sea can help foster a more positive mindset, and help you detox from the busyness of digital life. It allows you to take notice of your senses and helps you stay in the present moment, all as you exercise! Try open sea swimming this summer and experience the mental health benefits that come with being in the water.
AWARE Sea Splash
Join AWARE on Sunday 12 September 2021 to make a splash and mark World Suicide Prevention Day! We'll be braving the icy cold water at Helen’s Bay and Benone Strand to raise vital funds and awareness for mental health in Northern Ireland. Whether you're a seasoned swimmer or more of a toe dipper, take on the challenge and help us continue providing support to those living with depression, anxiety and bipolar.
For more information on this event, click here.
Safety is important when open water swimming, here are a few notes to keep in mind:
- Keep yourself warm after your swims, even in the summer. Warm-up slowly using warm clothing and a warm drink.
- Make sure the water is safe for swimming - keep a close eye on the tides and educate yourself on rip currents.
- Always swim with someone else, or somewhere where a lifeguard is present or other people would be passing by.
- Be mindful of your limits, especially if you are just starting.
- Make sure you have all the right gear, including a tow float and a dry bag for your phone if necessary.