It is a well-known fact that exercise can improve your mental health.
However, the restrictions and lockdowns due to COVID-19 has meant that going to the gym to exercise has been a non-starter, but COVID-19 hasn’t stopped the Jordanstown Loughshore Swimmers (JLS) from diving into the sea to get their fill.
JLS is a community of 1,300 people that have come together over Facebook out of their enjoyment of sea swimming.
Recent studies have shown that any cold-water swimming can help train the body to deal better with stress, as the initial plunge into the water starts your flight or fight response, which triggers your adrenal gland.
Professor Mike Tipton, of Portsmouth University noted that:
“This adaption makes you less reactive to the shock of the cold water but, could also make you less reactive to stress.”
COVID-19 has affected the broader population’s mental health, as regular routines have been thrown off, face-to-face therapy is harder to get and people have been isolated for the good part of a year.
A recent study stated that people’s mental health has suffered as a result of COVID-19.
“The increased mental health risk associated with isolation and loneliness, alcohol misuse, domestic violence, the economic recession and corresponding risk of unemployment. These factors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have the potential to increase the risk of mental health problems.”
Sea swimming has a positive effect on the members of JLS, as one of the group Steven Nicholson speaks on his own experience on how sea swimming helped him through his depression.
“I was terribly depressed when I started and having something to get up and to go to, that people needed you there. Because in the group we don’t let people swim by themselves, but having people who are going through similar things helps.”
Nicholson went on to describe that out of the 200 people who swim regularly, the majority of the 20 daily swimmers struggled or struggle with their mental health.
“In the group, we all have a very similar mindset and the majority of the 20 people who swim every day, and the majority of all those people I’d say they’d either have, had mental health issues or are going through mental health issues.”
Another JLS member, Halys O’Neil spoke on the best part of the swim, is getting into the water.
“There’s a bit where you get in and it’s absolutely Baltic, but then you get down and it literally takes your breath away for a couple of seconds and then your body goes ‘I remember this!’ and you relax into the cold and it’s magical! It’s like a wee switch goes and your body goes ‘Oh yeah I like this’ and you all relax it’s lovely.”
Lisa Herron, a newcomer to the world of sea swimming, joined us before her nursing shift began.
“It didn’t take very long for me to get addicted to it. It’s that feeling that Halys talked about and then you just kind of want more of it; it’s like a drug.”
Sea swimming is something that everyone can enjoy, with the added benefit of possibly improving your mental health which during Covid-19 is an important factor.