Cold Water Immersion and Psychological Well-being


Today I completed my first winter swim. The water temperature was recorded at slightly under 5 degrees celsius. I managed just 8 minutes with wetsuit and socks on. It was bracing and painful on my hands. Somehow, I thought I’d be fine without gloves on. How wrong was I! As a previous competitive swimmer, this was of no advantage to me and I didn’t do nearly as much swimming as I had hoped. But, cold as it was, the swim was also an exhilarating experience and one I hope to repeat much more regularly. I have felt truly amazing the rest of the day. I loved it!

The group I swam with were diverse and welcoming. Their experience of open water swimming varied, as did their ages, professions and gender. It didn’t matter to them that this was my first time and I could see that the group were keen for me to enjoy it. They were also obviously looking out for me, to make sure I was safe and coping well with the water temperature. I have seldom experienced such warmth from a group of people I have never met before.

The benefits of cold water immersion for both mental and physical health is becoming more widely known and gradually making its way into the mainstream. The physical sensation afterwards, I am reliably informed, becomes addictive. It feels a bit like an all day endorphin rush to me. There is also evidence-based research out there on the benefits of exposing your body to the cold generally. It is believed to be one way to promote a longer and healthier life. So, even if winter swimming is a bit extreme for you, there are other ways to achieve the same exposure to cold.

However, reflecting on my day, (as psychologists are prone to do), I considered more holistically the benefits of my swim on psychological well-being. It is clear to me that the benefits of this and any group activity you might choose to participate in are wide reaching. Below are some of mine.

1. Conversation and company with a lovely friend on the journey there.

2. Being exposed to nature and appreciating the beauty of the Scotland that is right outside our door.

3. Meeting several new people and being welcomed with open arms (literally…I met a few huggers today).

4. The social and restorative aspect of the coffee and home baking afterwards cannot be overstated.

5. Setting myself a challenge and feeling a sense of mastery and achievement when I completed it.

So, in the spirit of setting challenges, here is mine to you…

Consider all the benefits of the activities you engage in. Remind yourself of why you need to do these things to maintain balance (whatever they are).

And if you struggle to allow yourself time for acts of self-care, ask yourself why and consider whether you can allocate some time for anything new that may just have that positive impact on well-being that you are looking for.

I’d love to hear what you come up with.

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