The soothing benefits of wild water swimming - The Mind Map
By Joe Minihane

The soothing benefits of wild water swimming

Swimming to soothe an anxious mind.

Published 27/03/2018

Seven years ago journalist Joe Minihane found himself in a state of serious worry, a cycle that was beginning to tip over into a more permanent state of depression. Here, Joe shares the soothing benefits of swimming. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s a weedy river, a pancake flat sea, a carefully–tended pond or an icy lido. If there’s a chance I can take a dip, I’m going to seize it.

Swimming is my escape valve, a way of finding my emotional balance whenever I can feel my mind beginning to swell with anxiety. It doesn’t need to be a long soak. A few minutes breast stroke, ideally in cold water, always brings me back to myself.

I discovered this when I started making regular trips to the mixed bathing pond on Hampstead Heath when I lived in London. It snowballed after a one–off jaunt to help cool off on a summer’s day. When I realised that being in the water helped me feel calm, centred and less anxious, its effects staying with me for hours afterwards, swimming became akin to an obsession.

This obsession led to me swimming wherever and whenever I could. Reading everything I found about the subject before meant I soon alighted on Waterlog by Roger Deakin. Deakin was a naturalist and eccentric who had his own moat running around his Suffolk farmhouse. He swam all over the UK for his now cult classic travelogue and I decided that I wanted to do the same. I began following in his breast strokes, starting a blog, Waterlog Reswum, which is now a book, Floating: A Return to Waterlog.

Discovering how much I loved swimming and the powerful effect it had on me came at around the same time that I began to understand I suffered from anxiety. For years I thought it was normal to be as tightly wound with worry as I was. Everything, large and small, stressed me out. It was only when I started swimming regularly that I realised that my anxiety was real and that it could at least be eased by taking to the water.

When I’m in the water I have a sense of the now that I find it virtually impossible to tap into on dry land. I can only focus on moving my arms, kicking my legs and making sure I’m breathing. That way I enter a ‘flow state’, forgetting everything else and training my mind on the task at hand. That feeling stays with me long after I’ve dried off and picked up my day where I left off.

Being in wild water, whether it’s the sea, a lake or a river, makes it even better. The water is often cold, meaning my body gets a hit of endorphins and dopamine. And beyond that, there’s the sense of becoming part of nature. Rather than observing the scene, I am at one with with it. With the birds that call the water home and whatever else is unseen beneath the surface. I have a powerful sense of being part of something bigger, which I find extremely soothing.

These days I swim regularly off of the beach in Brighton, where I’ve lived for the past two years. I still have issues with anxiety. I see a therapist to help me get perspective on it. But when things are getting a bit much, I know for certain that stepping into the water will leave me feeling better than I did before I got in. I’ve never regretted a swim and I’ve always felt more balanced after going for one.

Floating: A Return to Waterlog is out now