Rachel Jones is part of several wild swimming communities – both online and in real life. She credits outdoor swimming with helping her to overcome issues with anxiety and, from discussions with other swimmers, she's realised that a lot of them also use swimming to manage their mental health. Her book, Toes in the Water, collates these inspiring stories of lives changed by the water. Here are just some of the ways outdoor swimming has had a impact on Rachel's outlook.
Wild swimming comes with many benefits. The most pronounced and amazing thing for me has been an improvement in my own mental health.
Swimming gives us an acceptance of diverse body types and differences, and there is a fundamental sense of inclusivity. Unlike traditional swimming pool settings, where there may be more emphasis on appearance and body standards, wild swimming environments tend to focus on the joy of being in nature and the shared experience of swimming. Being part of a community that embraces different body shapes and sizes can promote self-acceptance and boost body confidence. There is nothing like being half naked in a car park after a swim, scrabbling to get your clothes on in January, for suddenly just not caring about what the bodies around you look like!
I have also felt more body confident by overcoming challenges. Wild swimming can involve navigating various conditions, such as cold water, currents, or rough waves. It is truly amazing what our bodies can do, and at times when I have smashed the ice to get into the water, I am aware of how amazing the body really is. I have a much more body-positive mindset now.
Wild swimming can help shift the focus from the external appearance of the body to its functionality and the joy of movement. We are so lucky as swimmers to experience body immersion and experience the sensation of the water against our skin and the freedom of movement. This sensory experience can promote a stronger connection with the body and a heightened awareness of its capabilities. Body confidence thrives in open water and does our mental health a world of good.
Wild swimming allows us to temporarily disconnect from the pressures and demands of daily life. Immersing yourself in the natural environment, away from the distractions of technology and busy urban settings, can create a mental and emotional space for relaxation and escape. It provides an opportunity to break free from routine and immerse yourself in the present moment. The feeling of the water against your skin, the sound of splashing or gentle waves, the sight of natural surroundings, and the smell of the outdoors can all contribute to a heightened state of awareness.
Wild swimming, especially when swimming in open water, can elicit a flow state as you become fully engaged in the physical act of swimming and navigating the water. In this state, the mind is often free from distractions and immersed in the immediate experience. The repetitive movement of swimming can also have a meditative effect.
Being surrounded by the beauty and serenity of nature can be calming and therapeutic. It allows you to appreciate the wonders of the environment, fostering a sense of awe and wonder. Swimming in natural bodies of water can have a refreshing and rejuvenating effect. The coolness of the water, the physical exertion, and the release of endorphins all contribute to an uplifted mood and a sense of emotional release. I can’t count how many problems I have taken to the water – but somehow, I always leave feeling lighter and less burdened.
Relief from physical pain
While wild swimming may not directly address or cure physical symptoms it can provide certain benefits that may offer relief or contribute to overall well-being. Immersion in water and the surrounding natural elements can induce relaxation, reducing stress levels. Swimming releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. Engaging in wild swimming can stimulate the release of these endorphins, potentially improving your mood and providing temporary relief from symptoms associated with mild depressive feelings. Hello dopamine fix!
Swimming is a low-impact, full-body exercise that can contribute to your improved physical fitness and overall well-being. You may experience an increase improved blood circulation, and a release of muscular tension, potentially providing relief from physical symptoms – and certainly anecdotal evidence has shown us that this is the case with a variety of conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis.
The confidence to face other life challenges
Taking the initiative to try something new and potentially daunting can cultivate a sense of bravery. Wild swimming may involve overcoming fears related to water, depths, or unknown aquatic creatures. This willingness to step outside your comfort zones in the context of wild swimming can translate into greater confidence when facing other life challenges.
Through the lenses of community, mental health and the environment Rachel’s book, Toes in the Water, celebrates the personal swimming journeys of the outdoor swimming groups she’s a part of. The royalties from the book will be donated to the Canal and River Trust to help fund environmental work and campaigning. Buy your copy HERE.