Escape, Exhilaration & Real Social Connections
I know, I know: the sea in this part of the world can be pretty chilly. But if the thought of taking a dip makes you shiver, you might want to think again.
Swimming in the sea has long been proven to be good for your body and mind – and definitely your soul. I was great during Lockdown, then we finally caught Covid that October and that stopped the weekly trips down to the beach that winter. The following summer, I jumped back in, in a very sporadic way but it was still delightful in the summer. I would hop on my bike, cycle down to the beach and have a quick dip and home again, or sometimes a little post yoga dip. Then, winter came and I gave up again. I took stock and realised that going on my own and having no one else to show up for was one of the biggest barriers I had. I had no one to be accountable to, no one to nudge and no real commitment.
I was lucky enough to be invited to join a group a few months back who dip and swim each week, religiously. I can honestly say it is one of the highlights of my week. I love it. We swim at the weekends, early mornings. We all sneak out of the house, threading carefully, minding not to wake child, nor pet. The bags are packed since the night before, each item carefully accounted for…. towel, swim shoes, dryrobe, socks, underwear… always double checking you packed your knickers ! In the early hours, kettles are boiled and flasks are filled. Mugs, milk, snacks are packed and off we go. We converve bright and early, when there is a quiet stillness on the beach.
A quick de robe and we are in ! It is a little cold now, I am sure in the coming weeks it will be getting colder too, but we chat, we laugh, we scream. We dip and swim and then that moment of …. “aaaaahhhhh”….” isn’t this lovely”… “I love this, this is great”, kicks in and until someone calls time, we happily float, dip, swim, chat, connect.
Upon getting out, we dress, get warm, make tea, huddle a little and chat about all the goings on of the week and what is to come for the following week. We are a mixed group and that makes it all the more interesting. We exchange modern life survival tips, congratulate the personal & important wins from the week and even celebrate birthdays. The chat is easy, it just flows. There is no care given to wobbly bits …. like not even one care or thought.,That mindset does not exist here and I think this is possibly the first time in my existence that has ever been the case. I literally could not give two hoots what I look like with that group. It is not about perfection here, but just being present. Being fully immersed and present in this weekly ritual, in this momemt. It is the ultimate escape from the daily grind of life.
We are new souls meeting, connecting and getting to know one another; strangers becoming friends. There is no judgement, no division just togetherness and support.
One of my absolute keys to success for this has been this group of wonderful humans who invited me in. I am so very grateful. There is commitment and support and a sense of community. When the day and the time is set and you know everyone will be there, it is easy, The commitment in your mind is made to go and do it and then, well you just do !
The science behind it
You’ve probably heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is what happens when our bodies are stressed. Your hypothalamus receives a signal to say something is wrong or you’re under attack, which causes your body to release both cortisol and adrenaline. This is exactly what happens when you get into cold water. But don’t worry – your body will counteract this cortisol by releasing endorphins (and we all know that’s a good thing!), which gives you that happy, calm feeling when you’re back on land.
Face your fears
If you’re brave enough to put your face in the water, your nervous system will send out a message that put your organs into ‘rest and digest’ mode, which lowers your heart rate and reduces inflammation. Because this is the opposite of ‘fight or flight’, it can make you feel totally relaxed. Your body will also release serotonin and noradrenaline into your bloodstream, which are thought to help your brain stop feeling pain.
Boost your mood
Remember those endorphins I mentioned? Well, when they’re released, they also trigger the release of dopamine, also known as the ‘happy hormone’. One study even showed that immersing yourself in cold water can boost your dopamine levels by 530%!
Jump start your metabolism
Spending time swimming in the sea can increase your metabolism, the process that transforms the food you eat into energy. The cold water activates a state called ‘cold-induced thermogenesis’, which means your body is using more energy and calories to bring your internal temperature back up.
Add sea swimming to your workout regime
Swimming is great for your whole body. You’re using your arms, legs, feet, and hands, whether you’re just staying afloat or you’re headed for a lengthy swim, and your heart and lungs will get a workout too. If you’re swimming in a wetsuit, boots and gloves, those all add extra weight and make your body work harder.
Reduce pain and inflammation
We all know to reach for an ice pack to reduce swelling, and I’m sure you’ve seen athletes jumping into ice baths after a game to help prevent injuries. The same applies here – the cold will reduce inflammation in your body and help you recover faster. So, even if you’ve been to the gym, it might be worth a quick dip in the sea nonetheless!
Remember to stay safe
As with all things, you need to be sensible when you’re swimming in cold water. It does have the potential to cause cold shock as well as hypothermia in extreme conditions. Use your common sense and talk to a lifeguard if you can. There might even be a wild swimming club near you that will do an induction for you (and it’s a great way to meet fellow swimmers too).
So next time you’re just dipping a toe in the sea, think about going for a full swim. I’ll see you in there!