Submerged: Tonic for the Soul

Published in Coast magazine and Hampshire Life magazine.

From under the dark clouds of covid-19, when many Britons grew weary, a surprising new movement started to grow.

If you asked most people how they spent their daily exercise during the various lockdowns, they’d probably tell you they went for a walk, maybe a run or did a Joe Wicks workout in their living room. But for a growing number of people, this wasn’t enough. They decided to up the ante and spend their time outdoors time testing their grit in the chilly waters of Britain’s beaches.

Amidst the tragedy, has come plenty of resilience, and in this case, in the form of cold water submersion and its feel-good powers. As more and more people have become aware of the physical and mental health benefits, cold water sea dipping has exploded in popularity throughout the UK, with current sea temperatures still averaging between 6-10 degrees.

This is by no means a new spring trend; these dippers continued their quest during the icy winter months, when the water was at its coldest. 

Rebecca, a Hampshire GP, and her sister Charlotte, started during the first lockdown and continued throughout the winter, braving crunchy layers of ice and frosty steps on their walks down to Highcliffe Castle beach, their designated spot. For them, their motive is the challenge.

Charlotte said, “when it's super cold, there is a lot of build-up and anticipation, then after - there is the release and feeling of accomplishment.”

They peel off their woolly jumpers and bobble hats and stride to the shoreline, sporting only black swimsuits and boots. Their warm breath visible in the early morning air. After one deep inhale, without hesitation, they plunge into the ocean. After some lengths and a natter whilst treading water, they emerge a shade of coral pink, looking utterly ecstatic.

She explains how it all started; “with little going on due to Covid, and being unable to travel, I was keen for an outdoor challenge so I decided to swim in the sea every day for a month - I became hooked and decided to carry on into the colder temperatures.”

She continues, “there is a lot of build-up and anticipation, then after - there is the release and feeling of accomplishment.” Rebecca, inspired by her sister, adds; “It gives me a sense of having a mini-adventure, by doing something challenging and freeing. I love the calmness that follows, especially in these strange times. The invigorating physical buzz and the hot cup of coffee afterwards, make it all worth it on a chilly day.”

The benefits are quite remarkable – science has proven that immersing yourself in cold water can increase blood circulation and white blood cell count, as the body is forced to react to the change in conditions. It also releases endorphins, the natural pain killer.

Endorphins are also responsible for the euphoric natural high, associated with cold water immersion, which might explain the addictive element, and why so many go back for more.

For Victoria, Head of PR, OTO CBD, the incentive was the reward of total invigoration. She found the feeling “totally addictive” and started plunging herself into the sea during the first lockdown and the occasional dip soon became three times a week. She said, “for me, there is a very clear before and after. With all the uncertainty and fogginess surrounding the current situation, it brings instant and immediate presence and clarity. I feel awake. I feel alive. It’s also a moment that has brought me closer to the women I love. We plunge, we scream, we laugh, we frolic in the waves or marvel at the stillness. It’s truly joyous.”

Her swimming buddy, Gemma, adds; “after you submerge into the coldness of the water all worries are washed away, and you step out feeling completely renewed. Now when I feel stressed and anxious rather than reaching for the wine, I head to the sea!”

For florists, Issy and Emma, who usually dip together, it’s the connection to nature that entices them into the big blue.

Emma said “there’s something really metaphoric about meeting the water however it is, wild and roaring or completely still and calm, you have to have complete respect for it and for yourself.”

She continued, “for me it’s about knowing my boundaries, facing fears and feeling completely connected to nature and my primal self. It makes me feel so alive, it’s truly a euphoric feeling...after you’ve warmed up! It’s been such a lifeline during the lockdowns too. I read somewhere “you never regret a swim” and I find that to be true.”

Issy adds, “it makes me feel brave, strong and alive!” Jane, a nursery nurse, also talks of the swims ‘lifting her spirits’ with “everything happening

around the world” and describes herself as “on a high” afterwards which “sets her up for the day”.

For Printed Textiles Designer, Laura, agrees; “I wanted to put myself in an uncomfortable situation to strengthen my mind to face my fears”.

She laughs; “with this new warmer weather, it’s definitely easier to get in… I never thought I’d say this but part of me is missing those chillier starts!”. For most, it’s been a way to clear the mind of the dizzying anxieties of the past 18 months. There is a noticeable gender divide, in the cold water seekers: the majority being women.

For these ladies, sea swimming is now a fundamental part of their identity. Each dip a release and reset from the overwhelming realities of the global climate. A mini

adventure and achievement.

Clare, an artist, who has been swimming for a number of years, says: “It is the acceptance of what is. A magical quality to something that is just there. It drops you into being instant, present, into realising the insignificance of yourself. You leave your land yourself, to be floated and supported by something that feels wider and bigger.

After what has seemed an incredibility long winter, spring is finally here –  the dormant cold has released its grip and we’re being blessed with growth and greenery, blossoms sprouting and unfurling.

The experience of cold water emersion reflects an embodiment of both nature’s journey and our country as a whole – emerging from bleak, renewed and transformed. Energised and ready.

Clare summarises the feeling perfectly: “You feel as if you shed everything. It embodies that sense of acceptance of who we are, what we are now. It is about experiencing the poetry of what it is to be human.” 

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