We've all come across that viral audio on social media discussing how exposure to cold water can trigger more dopamine release than cocaine. As a dedicated sea swimmer who regularly plunges into chilly waters, I wanted to share a non-scientific perspective on why this practice personally works wonders for me.
As some of you may or may not be aware - Last year I completed 100 consecutive days of sea swims (or dips as I call them) from October to mid January some of Ireland's most doom, gloom and cold months. I've always been a regular sea swimmer but set myself the challenge last year to ensure I kept it up through the colder months because even missing a day or two at a time when the temperatures are dropping so quickly can make it hard to get back into. This was also at a time when I had begun to realise the true impact the time in the water has on my life and well being and thought to myself I'd be mad to stop or only be going on the more rare occasions as I had in previous years just because of the temperature. This year I actually decided to do the challenge again and I am 75 days in as I write this so thought what a great time to tell to why embracing the cold ACTUALLY works and that's coming from someone who once hated it.
You're forced into the present moment. All you should really be focused on when immersing yourself into the cold is getting your breathe under control and the harsh conditions and shock to the system make it almost impossible to think of anything else. For me this is definitely one of the reasons I value it so highly. I am a fan of traditional meditation but admittedly struggle to actually silence my thoughts and enter a state of true presence in the present. For me my time in the sea each day is my meditation. Once I have controlled my breathe I usually feel called to appreciate what is around me, whether that is a little baby seal bobbing his head a few hundred meters away from me or the pink and orange hues of the sun breaking through the clouds at sunrise or sunset or even the cloud patterns of a brewing storm. While I am in the water my breathe and what's around me is all I need to be concerned about.
A sense of community. From the small talk on the beach with other sea swimmers about how the temperature is today, to dragging already existing friends in for a swim with me I feel I have gained such a huge sense of community from heading into the water each day. At a time of year when we can become so isolated and socialising becomes more difficult that sense of community is so important.
Showing up for yourself. I took this one away from my challenge massively last year. This year I decided to do it for charity for the accountability however last year I did it purely for myself. It became a way that I was showing up for no one else but myself and meant that if I didn't show up the only person I was disappointing was me. It was a test to my own determination, drive and discipline. Of course this is on an extreme end and not everyone has to do a 100 day challenge to prove they have shown up for themselves. Carving out that time for yourself even once every few days or weeks especially this time of year is a win.
It gets you outside. We all know Ireland is dark and cold through the Winter months and finding the motivation to do almost anything outdoors can be hard but that vitamin D is so important. Getting into the water is an easy way to brave the elements and the outdoors in the months you want to avoid them.
DOPAMINE DOPAMINE DOPAMINE!!! I BET YOU FEEL ALIVE AFTER THAT! Is what people usually say as I head back up the steps to my car from the freezing cold water and the truth is I DO! And despite how much I may have been dreading a swim I never regret one because of the feelings that come afterwards. It is like a joy, clarity and just overall sense of achievement.
So perhaps I will leave you with that reminder - You never regret a dip.
(Please always swim safely, tell someone you're going if you have to go alone. Swim at familiar spots. If in doubt don't paddle out. Acclimatise yourself to the cold, splash hands and face and enter the water slowly to avoid shock.)