Sarah Higgins, Lead Nurse at MK Mental Health, shares her experiences of wild swimming during lockdown, including how it can benefit mental health and create community.
I started wild swimming in my local rivers about 4 years ago. I love the freedom of being outside, amongst nature and being free to keep swimming rather than being restricted to lengths as in a pool.
In the past I’ve tended to stop for the winter around October and go back to the pool, but Covid-19 changed that. When lockdown closed the pools, I decided to just carry on swimming until it got too cold – but it never actually did! Even in snow or 2.5°C weather I managed (with a friend) to keep going. The time in the water was shortened but the buzz of being in cold water became totally addictive. Once you get over the initial cold immersion and thinking “why on earth am I doing this?”, the joy of being in the water surrounded by natural beauty, hearing the birds singing and the frequent encouraging words from those walking by in their big coats and woolly hats (“wow, you are brave”, “that must be so cold, well done!”, “you must be mad! That water must be freezing”) counteracts any misgivings about getting in! Getting out and being able to get dressed whilst shivering is a bit of an achievement but this is usually followed by a hot drink and cake in the company of other swimmers.
For me wild swimming is the very best de-stress which provides exercise, fresh air, and a sense of achievement (especially when it’s really cold!). I love the way the scenery changes with the seasons, all of the wildlife I have seen - kingfishers, herons, otters, swans, fish - and I love taking photos of the reflections in the water.
Wild swimming brought me a real sense of community and friendship. I have met some amazing people and am now part of a wonderful swimming community. We have had lots of laughs, shared sorrows, looked out for one another and eaten quite a lot of cake! This year, on my birthday, my swim friends sung happy birthday to me in the river and bought birthday cake for when we got out, much to the amusement of passers-by! I have also encouraged some of my colleagues to join me and no doubt bored people silly with my tales of wild swimming!
Wild Swimming is my passion. I know it’s not for everyone, but it definitely is for me and I hope that I continue to swim long into old age. Why not give it a try!
Always stay safe when wild swimming. Never swim alone and be aware of potential hazards – cold water, depth, currents, slippery rocks and reeds. Read more here: www.wildswimming.co.uk/health-safety