Updated: Mar 15
"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea." Isak Dinesen
So it’s winter now. I’m scrambling around for socks and wellies rather than scrambling over rocks at the beach in my flip flops. What’s happened to that lovely turquoise sea? It’s gone grey and moody! Bit like me… and what will happen if lockdown comes our way? What if.. what if.. what if….?
The combined effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder and a global pandemic is having an effect on almost all of us, with or without a diagnosis of SAD. The uncertainty of a new Covid-careful life has even affected me, although my nickname is Hyper-happy EllaPella. Seriously.
Keeping ourselves healthy in mind, spirit and body is clearly on the agenda for winter 2020.
Not just SAD people this winter
But you don’t have to have SAD the seasonal affective disorder itself, to feel a little bit bleak when the cold sets in.
'The University of Bath found a quarter of people in a recent study had significantly elevated levels of depression and distress, exacerbated by lockdown and isolation’. The Times.
The low-level depression of winter blues seems to ebb and flow, with feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and irritability coming in waves like the ocean to many, as well as those who already struggle with their mental health. Opening the curtains to a grey dull day can feel a little dispiriting. Particularly when you live by the coast and you can feel the wind already whipping its chilly tentacles under the door as you struggle into your still damp swimsuit.
Because some of us… despite the weather … are still swimming in the sea. And we all seem to agree, that the chill swimming is boosting more than just our happy chemicals, serotonin and melanin. It’s boosting our resilience to cold water and more importantly, to life itself.
Blue Minds, Happy Hearts
The restorative properties of sea water has long been documented as an elixir vitae, but it’s the holistic effect of spending time outdoors in our blue seas that improves our health and well-being.
Jenn Sandiford, of Your Shore Beach Rangers, is a big believer of the power of the salty blue cure. She wrote about ‘Blue Minds, Happy Hearts’ for Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the positive effects of the marine events they run with Cornwall’s local youth communities with Your Shore Network, marine groups dotted all around Cornwall’s coast.
“… rock pooling, beach cleans, snorkelling and art workshops offer a variety of opportunities for anyone who’s interested to interact with the marine environment." She points out that:
“With the emergence of terms such as ‘nature deficit disorder’ and ‘social prescription’, it has become apparent that more and more people are becoming disconnected from nature, which is affecting people’s health and social welfare. . .”
But … I muse, as I struggle into even damper swimming booties at the edge of our local cove in North Cornwall in the drizzle … why exactly should cold dips work such profound magic?
Why cold water is a natural antidote
It seems that it’s specifically the cold water that makes our bodies adapt better to the stresses of life, and this is potentially a natural antidote to our winter blues in this unique year of dealing with a global pandemic. The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs, a series broadcast on BBC One in 2016, showed this very clearly in the case of Sarah, a young woman who swapped antidepressants for cold water swimming.
‘There is increasing evidence linking depression and anxiety with the inflammation that accompanies a chronic stress response to the physical and psychological problems of modern life. Through cross-adaptation, cold water swimming may be able to reduce this chronic stress response together with the inflammation and mental health problems that affect so many of us’.
So I think that means that our bodies getting used to the cold water makes us become more resilient in both mind, and body, so we can cope better with other stressful curve-balls that life throws at us. Excellent!
Wild, chill swimming
Wild swimming, chill swimming, open-water …whatever it’s called, one thing it’s not, is swimming in a tight-fitting black neoprene onesie. Oh no. A variety of outfits has been seen, including woolly hats and snazzy swimming leggings, whatever helps. But rarely, the full-on wetsuit.
And as some of you may know, I’ve started chill swimming with my local #Bluetits Chill Swimming group recently (look them up - they are all over the UK). I resisted for a while, thinking “it’s not for people like me”, but oh yes it is – it’s completely for anyone who can put on a swimsuit and swim around a bit. Or flap around in a flock a bit, as the Bluetits like to say.
"finding my happy again"
Anyway, they posted a film on Facebook, on #WorldMentalHealth Day, 10th October this year. This beautifully shot testimonial to the benefits of cold-water swimming is life-enhancing even if swimming is not your thing. Not only for the magnificent scenery, but for the heartfelt quotes from the Bluetits and Bluebells (women and men chill swimming groups). “So much stronger than I thought I was” and “it’s planted a seed of how to find my happy again”. Now how cool is that?
Creating your own cure
Perhaps we all need to make sure that even if we can’t meet up as we used it, we are all helping to create little support bubbles of happiness, as #Covid impacts our lifestyles. They might even be some tears, some sweat, or in this case, some sea water to boost the up days to our down days. But the point that I think that is often forgotten, as we trudge to work, to the shops, to the fridge… is that we can create these moments. We can create our own happiness, our own cures, our own lives.
So that’s why I’m dragging the dogs down to the cove again despite clouds gathering, picking my way through pebbles and seaweed, and shrieking with laughter as we jump over some foamy waves.
Ella is a life coach, qualified in NLP and CBT, using an integrated positive pyschological approach to coaching. www.lifecoachingwithella.com 07597157194