How wild swimming changed the way I viewed the great outdoors

20 Sep 2021
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students

More than a year after Covid hit UK shores, it’s safe to say that things have changed – but there are some positives amid the terror and, if nothing else, it’s got more of us outside than ever before.

I’ve always loved being outside, but the first national lockdown was the first time I really began to appreciate the landscape I have around me. Fortunately, I live very close to the sea and have stunning countryside to explore from my doorstep, so I didn’t have to go very far to seek out nature.

But I also know not everyone had this luxury during lockdown, which is why I’m even more appreciative now, a year on.

The thing is, I already spend a lot of time walking the coast path with my dog or cycling the local moors and I’ve always used the great outdoors as a means to achieve something; whether that’s walking a certain distance or beating my personal best on the mountain bike.

But my whole mindset changed thanks to one quick dip in the sea… sans wetsuit.

Taking the plunge

Now, I’ve never minded getting in the ocean; from surfing to paddle-boarding, I’ve tried it all, but always with a wetsuit to keep me toasty and warm.

So, when my friend started wild swimming in just her cossie and a swim hat, I was pretty surprised (and impressed) at her bravery. What was the fun in doing something so mind-numbingly cold, when you wouldn’t be able to even swim that far or for that long?

I had to try it for myself – and it changed everything I thought about the great outdoors.

Reaping the benefits

Wild swimming isn’t for the faint-hearted, but I can guarantee you’ll get a little bit addicted if you give it a go.

In fact, the mental health benefits of wild swimming are now even being recommended by doctors as a way to battle stress and anxiety.

That’s because it’s essentially an invigorating adrenaline rush that connects us to nature in its purest form. Dedicated enthusiasts will jump into anything – rivers, lakes or oceans – to get that cold water therapy that helps us reset our souls, all while wearing just regular swimwear.

And that’s exactly how I felt when I jumped (or, rather, tentatively shimmied) into a natural ocean pool for the first time – completely invigorated.

It wasn’t even about swimming far, either. In fact, I barely swam at all, instead just treading water enough to keep my body moving while marvelling at the freezing sensations running over my skin.

After a few minutes though, my body slowly began to acclimatise, and I felt almost warm. Around me, it was pouring with rain, and I couldn’t have been more connected to nature if I tried.

This was experiencing nature in its most primal form.

Building the habit

From then on, I made it my mission to go wild swimming as much as possible. Whether it was jumping in after my evening run for a cool down or simply catching up with friends, embedding wild swimming into my routine felt like a necessity.

Now, whenever I’m feeling stressed about work or something else, I head to the nearest body of water and give myself a much-needed mental cleanse; I can honestly say that those days I manage to get in are the days I’m most at peace.

More than anything, it has made me appreciate the outdoors in a whole new way and build a greater understanding about the important role it plays in our mental health.

I’m not the only one who’s cottoned on, either. Since lockdown, the movement has exploded across the UK, particularly as gyms and public pools closed and people tried to find new ways of exercising.

Honestly, I can’t blame them.

The best part is that almost anyone can give it a go. Even if you’re not near the sea, your local lake could be the perfect place for a dip.

Before you dive straight in, though, it is worth nothing there are some dangers to be aware of, too. Hypothermia is a very real thing and so is drowning – so, wild swimming needs to be done responsibly.

For information on how to stay safe, click here.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.