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Shirley

'I find it quite hard when the clocks change to get used to it being dark before I have switched my work computer off at 5 pm. And this year, with the ongoing pandemic, things seem more difficult because nobody is coming into my house in the evening and I’m not going to anyone else’s house. I miss that. So I decided I had to make a plan to help me cope with what could be a quieter winter.

The first thing I bought was good bike lights. Some evenings are calm and mild and I thought there is no reason for me not to get out for some exercise around the town on the bike.  I’ve done it a couple of times now and feel safe that I’m seen wearing my reflective cycling jacket and being able to have the road lit up too is great!  It is therapeutic for me to still get fresh air and exercise outdoors even though it is dark and there has been the added bonus sometimes of experiencing big open starry skies and a calming stillness.

The second thing was to set myself a challenge to do for the month of November. Something that would put me out of my comfort zone, something new, something to commit to, and on a practical front, not take up too much time so I could fit it in my working day.  And so I decided on doing a Dip a Day in the sea for 30 days. I go swimming in the sea from time to time but always in a wetsuit so for this challenge I had to go for the less warm option - a swimsuit! The only addition has been neoprene shoes and gloves.

I am very lucky to be able to go out my back garden gate and walk down the clifftop steps and be at a little beach inlet with a natural pool, shaped by rugged sandstone rocks. Traditionally this pool was the ‘Gentlemen’s Pool’ with the ‘Ladies Pool’ round the corner, it was deemed scandalous for men and women to swim together.

My friend Sandra has been joining me every day. She started out just saying she would do it now and again but like me, she is now completely hooked and we message each other with a countdown to Dip time, and then again later to say how invigorated we feel.

Basically, we arrive at the beach with cosy clothes on and a hat, strip down to swimsuit, walk into the pool and immerse into the water up to your neck. Shoulders have to be under. The cold really does take your breath away initially so we let out a slightly hysterical scream and then focus on calming ourselves and getting over the shock by controlling our breathing. It is surprisingly easy and quick to learn how to do it. Then we just sit and chat or swim a few strokes. We stay in for 3 - 5 minutes and that does feel like a long time. Probably could stay in longer but there is no need to, the physical and mental health benefits have been achieved. The body is amazing and you realise it’s on high alert to adapt to whatever is going on for you. When you swim in cool water the body cleverly tries to protect vital organs by reducing blood flow to the skin and limbs. Thus the core stays warm while the skin, arms, and legs cool down.

The theory is around our stress response. Immersing yourself in cold water puts your body into fight or flight mode. As you repeat this experience, you diminish this stress response. And having better control of your stress response means being able to better cope with life’s many minor irritations that can add up to chronic stress. I already see this happening.

Back home it’s an absolute joy to put on dry clothes that have been waiting on the radiator. Advice is not to shower or have a hot bath for at least 30 minutes to let your body warm up slowly. (Outdoor swimmers all know about ‘after drop’). Have a cup of tea and keep moving. There’s a whole other level of joy to have that warm shower and to put on your cosy clothes again. Such a buzz! A real sense of achievement, a privilege to be using nature for self-care, a boost to self-confidence about doing something you thought was not possible.

‘Cold water therapy’ has been in the news recently stating it could delay the onset of dementia. And there are lots of good articles on how it can help to improve your mental health. The cold water sends many electrical impulses to your brain and jolts your system to increase alertness, clarity, and energy levels. Endorphins - ‘happiness hormones’ are also released and this leads to feelings of well-being and optimism.

Find a pal, some open water, and give it a go!'
 

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