How Wild Swimming Helped My Anxiety: Emily’s story
Discovering outdoor swimming has been so beneficial to my mental health
In the beginning…
Around 6 years ago, I began feeling very anxious. It crept up slowly and started with a sense of unease ahead of social events or functions, then a reluctance to go to new places, and finally, absolute fear at the prospect of being anywhere indoors that was new to me, or in a space where there were lots of people.
My anxiety manifested itself in irritability and a lack of concentration. When I was pushing myself to try and attend an event or go eat out at a new restaurant, the fight or flight response would kick in and my body would scream at me to get up and leave.
Panic attacks were common and I would experience awful stomach cramps, an incredibly dry mouth and diarrhoea. The panic attacks were incredibly draining physically. I’d spend the days after feeling lethargic with heavy limbs and a sense of disappointment in myself.
For a long time, I saw mental health illness as a weakness and refused to admit what was happening to me; both to myself and others. Keeping it to myself made the anxious feelings and panic attacks so much worse.
In time, I realised that speaking about how you are feeling makes you feel much better. I told my partner and my family how I was feeling, and realised I didn’t need to force myself to do things – I could take it at my own pace while I was struggling.
As well as researching coping mechanisms myself (distraction techniques, incorporating more movement into my routine, and mindfulness all worked brilliantly for me), and alongside a spell of counselling, I discovered the joys of wild swimming.
The first plunge
During the first lockdown, I began swimming outdoors at Warleigh Weir and instantly fell in love. The initial shock of cold, the determination it took to remain in the water, and the beauty of being in the present moment…it was a revelation.
When you’re in cold water, you can’t help but empty the noise in your mind and think only of how the water feels. Wild swimming quickly became the time for myself and an opportunity to be kind to my mind.
Overcoming the resistance to cold water has also helped me to build mental resilience – the sense of achievement after a swim is amazing. While often painful for the first few minutes, I’m left feeling well for hours!
Breathing as it’s best
I’ve previously struggled with any breathing techniques used for anxiety and mindfulness; wild swimming has helped this. The cold can be a real shock and the temptation is to panic and to start breathing very quickly – you have to learn to be calm and to breathe evenly and deeply. This in turn has helped when I feel anxious as I put those breathing techniques into practice.
Falling in love with the wild
Another benefit of wild swimming is the community. It doesn’t matter where I go for an outdoor swim, the people are so friendly and inclusive; we share a sense of achievement and a common appreciation for nature.
Discovering outdoor swimming has been so beneficial to my mental health. I’m more mindful, have an increased resilience and am more aware of carving that time out for myself. So, as lousy as lockdown was, I’m thankful that it gave me the time and opportunity to fall in love with wild swimming.
Thank you Emily for this beautiful piece on wild swimming. If you’re looking to find out more about outdoor swimming, head to the RNLI website.
Posted on: 14th April 2022