The life-changing benefits of sea swimming
The advantages of open water sea swimming cannot be overstated with research showing that it can provide a wide range of benefits from improving mental health to strengthening the immune system. Caitlin*, a regular swimmer in Salthill, said that, for her, sea swimming has been “completely life-changing”.
Caitlin reflected on her quality of life prior to taking that first step and giving sea swimming a go: “I was at a low point in my life where even the simplest of tasks would drain any and all of the energy right out of me. I felt completely overwhelmed with my responsibilities and oftentimes felt as though I was operating on autopilot waiting to eventually crash. I didn’t feel in control of myself, my mood, my emotions, or my life which honestly was a very sobering realisation.”
That realisation is what made Caitlin want to take a step in the right direction and give herself the gift of self-care, a gift that was seemingly lost in the post for a long time. “I decided that I need to do something that would give me back that long-lost control of my life,” said Caitlin.
When asked why sea swimming in particular was the answer, Caitlin responded with: “I remember always thinking to myself ‘wow, I wish I could be like them [regular swimmers at Blackrock in Salthill],’ and then thought ‘well, why can’t I be like them, what’s stopping me?’ So, I decided I’ll wake up early the next day and go for a swim myself.”
Implementing such a drastic change in routine was no easy feat, laughs Caitlin; “I remember the alarm going off at seven o’clock in the morning and being annoyed at my past self for having such unrealistically high expectations for my future self when getting out of the bed at all was a struggle some days.”
What convinced her to get up and go despite it being the last thing she wanted to do that morning, funnily enough, was the thought of never having to do it again: “I told myself I’ll try it at least once and if I hate it then I won’t have to do it again and I thought that was fair because I was beyond convinced that I will not be going swimming the next day.”
Caitlin admitted that it wasn’t all bad, “I got there just after 7.30 as the sun had already risen and to be honest, getting up for that sunny view alone was worth it.”
“I reluctantly made my way to the water and contemplated just leaving it at that, ‘surely, I had taken a big enough step for the day’ I thought to myself, but then people were trying to get past me to get into the water themselves and out of nothing but pure embarrassment of holding up the line, I got in.”
Mistakenly thinking that the hard part was now over, Caitlin said she was shocked to learn that it, in fact, was not. “All I could think was how cold it was, how breathing was something that now required brainpower, and that there’s no way I’ll be doing this again. My goal was to stay in for ten minutes which even at the time I thought was quite ambitious.”
However, the difficulty of it all started to subside: “Eventually I regained control of both my thoughts and my breathing and felt pure bliss slowly creeping up on me.
“It really was a beautiful morning, the water was calm and for what felt like the first time in a long while, I felt calm too. I remember thinking about nothing other than how beautiful the sky was and how nicely it reflected on the water. It was almost like my mind was switched off for a moment and I was completely incapable of thinking about anything other than the present moment.”
What Caitlin experienced that morning was no coincidence. Research has shown that hydrotherapy is the ultimate form of mindfulness as the shock of the cold water allows the swimmer to think about nothing other than their breathing at that moment with all other thoughts being ultimately silenced.
Not only that, but according to IPRS Health, sea swimming boots your immune system by increasing white blood cell count due to the body being forced to respond to changing conditions. Thus, improving your immune system’s defence. Sea water is also rich in vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, which is proven to be good for the skin, for relaxing muscles and promoting deep sleep.
Endorphins, the chemical responsible for making us feel good, are also released when swimming in cold water. That good feeling is what motivated Caitlin to turn this into a habit.
“I told myself that I’ll be back the next day, and I was. I kept coming back. Even to this day I can’t believe how drastically better I feel just because I go for a swim for 10 minutes in the morning. I look forward to getting up and going. I look forward to seeing the other regulars, it’s such a nice community there, it’s so welcoming.”
Incorporating sea swimming into her life has been nothing short of life changing, declared Caitlin.
“My energy levels are higher, my mood is more often positive than not, which is a nice change. I look forward to getting up out of bed, and I feel ready to conquer the day because I started it off with doing something difficult. So, if I can manage to get myself out of bed at seven o’clock in the morning and swim in cold sea water for 10 minutes then I can do just about anything.”
*Caitlin is a pseudonym to protect the identity of the interviewee, who wishes to remain anonymous