Taking the Plunge
Wild swimming doesn’t feel all that ‘wild’ when you’re strolling down to meet the sea in between a pier and a chip shop, so I’ll just call it swimming outside. During the pandemic and the (seemingly) countless lockdowns of 2020, swimming outside became a treasured and consistent part of my life, and over the summer I shared this enthusiasm with about half of Portsmouth. Our local beach was heaving with swimmers, sunbathers and socially distanced picnickers, all of us making the most of the gorgeous weather and the temporary escape from our living rooms.
I love being in the water and was determined to keep swimming over winter, and it’s actually during these colder, quieter months that I really became hooked on sea swimming. When you’re standing on a frosty beach full of dog walkers bundled up in their winter coats, stripping off your layers and running into the water seems like a very weird thing to do, but even now I am not the only one! Every time I head to the ocean for a dip, no matter how early, there is always someone else braving the water with me.
But why are people so pulled to the sea even in the dark depths of a British winter (and chilly spring 2021!)? There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence on the topic, but now the science is catching up and points to cold water swimming being excellent for our mental health, especially in treating depression and anxiety. No wonder then that so many of us continue to take the plunge throughout a global pandemic!
When I walk out into the sea, the cold water honestly feels fine until it reaches my chest, where it takes my breath away. For a short time, I feel so cold that I can’t think about anything else. Then, I’m past the threshold and can enjoy a salty, stingy paddle through the beautifully murky water, taking me away from distractions and worries, and forcing me to focus on what is happening right now.
It also helps that my phone isn’t waterproof, so I leave all the news, social media and the rest of the world on the beach, unceremoniously stuffed into my shoes. This brief respite from everyday life allows me to connect with nature, and floating in the sea I am connected to all the oceans of the world. I completely agree that this kind of experience in nature can improve your mental health, and after a swim I always appreciate the little things and happy moments that can be found anywhere; from a warm shower bringing numb toes back to life, to a jiggly cup of tea slurped on the walk home.
Although swimming outside offers us a welcome retreat, we can’t escape the problems facing our oceans and wild spaces right now. During winter 2020, sea surface temperatures around the UK have been higher than usual, due to much milder winter temperatures overall. Over the next century our coldest months will continue to warm up, according to climate change predictions. This is a stark reminder that climate change is very real, happening now, and just happens to be one of the largest threats facing our oceans. It’s not only an issue of warming; climate change also means ocean acidification, and the exacerbation of all other marine threats.
Making time to connect with the nature all around us is powerful, and can make us feel more at one with the natural world. But it isn’t a quick fix to cleanse us of our feelings of guilt and helplessness, we need to translate that feeling of connectedness into meaningful pro-environmental actions.
The ocean has such a profound ability to make us happy, relaxed, and even healthier, and if it can do so much for us, we need to make sure we return the favour.*
(*This blog has been written by independent writers outside of our organisation. Beaver Trust welcomes a breadth of opinions, and those expressed within this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Beaver Trust.)
Jess is a marine biologist, science communicator, and sea swimmer currently living in sunny Southsea. Follow Jess on Instagram.
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© Jessica Howard 2021.