10 Life Lessons from A Year of Cold-Water Swimming

If you’re curious about something, give it a go!

The moment I heard about a group of swimmers who were going into the sea every day, even though it was November, I knew I wanted to try it out. The first time I went, tentatively finding my way to the meeting point and introducing myself to the small group of hardy souls on the beach in the fog, I didn’t really know what to expect. As it turns out, it was one of the best decisions I made all year! Being exposed to the cold water, fun, friendship and the joy of doing something so far outside my typical daily experience lit something inside me and led me to this year of getting wet and having fun – and not only in the sea; my love of cold water has seen me get into cold rivers, stand under freezing waterfalls and get into an ice bath. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t followed my curiosity and said yes to adventure.

 Self-care is non-negotiable.

Investing in the right gear (neoprene boots have been worth their weight in gold through the winter), preparing a hot drink, always having a spare hat, tucking a hot water bottle down my jumper. All of the little things that make a fun and healthy activity stay that way, and prevent the cold becoming a problem for me. I’ve only had an after-drop once. The effect of the severe cold making me feel shaky and light-headed almost an hour after I got out of the sea last December. Paying attention to how I am feeling and doing what I need in order to feel as well as possible is now a habit. Noticing that I wasn’t always feeling my best has led me to invest in health coaching which is working wonders. I can look after other people better if I’m looking after myself, and making it non-negotiable makes it easier to stay consistent.

Enjoy the simple things.

Cold water, laughter, friendship, a hot drink, a warm hat. Simple things that make each day better. When such a simple activity as getting into the sea gives me so much, I know that I don’t need much more. The life I have created gives me the time and space to fit in a dip into the sea on a regular basis. I am grateful for this. And my gratitude extends to everything I have in my life that makes this possible. I am truly blessed, and being grateful makes everything feel better. We can go to great lengths to chase happiness, but when we slow down and enjoy the simple things, happiness finds us.

Community is what makes us feel safe.

Beginning my year of swimming in November, looking after each other was an important part of the plunging experience. From walking into the sea together holding hands, having a plunge-buddy to keep an eye on when the sea was rougher, giving my spare hat and gloves to a near-stranger because she needed them, to pouring out my friend’s coffee into her mug when she was shaking so much she couldn’t do it herself, community and friendship is at the core of the Pevensey Plungers, and to my cold water adventures. The group supports each other with life beyond the beach too. Sharing our ups and downs means that we never need to feel alone, and being seen and welcome on the beach, no matter how each of us is feeling means that we can all be completely ourselves.

If the isolation of the Covid pandemic taught us anything, it was that isolation hurts and we feel happier when we are connected to other people. We are all safer, and happier, together.  

Beach Buddies at Pevensey Plungers on my one year Plunge-aversary!

Make your own decisions and know when to quit.

There have been days on the beach when I’ve looked at the waves and decided not to go in, even though others have. There have been days when I’ve gone in when others have decided not to. Making my own decisions about my safety has given me confidence in my decisions in other areas of my life too. I recently posted about a day when the swell was quite big, but I decided to plunge anyway. I got knocked over by a big wave, and then I got out of the sea. I’d still got my cold-water fix, and I have nothing to prove by staying in when the sea is warning me not to. Knowing when to quit and when to push though is another skill that only comes with practice. The more time I spend in the same patch of sea, the better I know the local conditions, the tides and the shape of the beach beneath the waves. Paying attention to your surroundings and knowing when to quit and when to push takes practice, and my plunging adventures have helped me to pay attention on purpose.

Don’t turn your back on the waves.  

When the sea is rough, we don’t turn our back to it. Looking ahead so that you can see what’s coming is not only safer, it saves you from unexpected drenchings. The same is true of life beyond the waves. Don’t turn your back on the dangers, face them head on. You can see better that way and knowing what’s coming, no matter how unpleasant, is still better than it hitting you without warning.

Take radical responsibility for yourself and your wellbeing.

If you knew there was something that you could do to improve your mental health and wellbeing, protect your cardiovascular health, boost your immune system, reduce inflammation in your body, aid sleep and generally make you feel better, that was free and readily available with no side effects, would you take it? Living within a few minutes of the sea was my choice, so making use of the opportunity to protect my health that is on my doorstep feels like a no-brainer. We are each responsible for our own health and wellbeing, how we do it is up to us!

What other people think about what you do is none of your business.

Lots of people think that I’m mad for getting into the sea through the winter. They’ve told me so, on many occasions. But I’ve read the research, and I’ve felt the thrill of being in the sea, my body tingling with cold and then warming itself. Getting out of the sea and running up the beach to get dry and warm, the glow as my body rewarms itself, getting better and better at activating this response to be physically stressed and recover from it.

People can think I am mad for doing this. I think they are mad not to. Each to their own. Let’s each do what’s best for us and save judgement about what everyone else is doing.

It’s always easier not to.

There have been many days when I haven’t felt like getting out of my warm bed, going out into the wind and rain, getting down to my swimming costume on the beach and getting into freezing cold water. Some days the duvet has won the battle. Sometimes I’ve regretted not going for a swim.

I’ve never regretted a single plunge though. Every single time I have come out of the sea, a river or a waterfall after getting wet and cold I have felt elation. I have swum in the rain, when there has been frost on the shingle, when there’s been fog, in the dark, under clear skies and in sunshine too. I have jumped waves, floated in calm waters looking up to the heavens, felt my body being held up by the buoyancy of the sea, kicked my way out to a buoy and back,  and been knocked over by powerful waves. I’ve shriek with joy, laughed until my sides hurt and enjoyed stillness and silence. So many precious moments that I would have missed if I’d stayed in bed.

It’s always easier not to go. But it’s always better when I do.  

Do more of what makes you happy.  

Swimming in the sea might not be your thing. But I encourage you to find your thing. The thing that makes your heart sing. The thing that makes you smile so widely that your cheeks hurt. The thing that gives you a thrill and that you want to do over and over again. And when you find it, do it as much and as often as you can.

Our happiness isn’t always our priority, but it makes life way more fun when you give it more of your time and attention!

Bev, Lois and Me jumping for joy!

My year of cold-water swimming has given me a wealth of precious memories, not only with the Pevensey Plungers, but also with the Dippers, various lovely friends, my sister-in-law and my adventure buddy Jacky.   

I know that this year of plunging is the first of many, and that I will probably be swimming in the sea throughout the year for the rest of my life. And that thought makes me very happy indeed. I can’t wait to make hundreds more cold-water memories!

About the Author

Zoe Carroll

Zoe Carroll is a life and mindset coach who helps people to find their freedom through a range of coaching and therapy techniques. She is also a mindfulness coach and yoga teacher and believes that our body and mind are one and the same and learning to work with them both together is the key to success.

One thought on “10 Life Lessons from A Year of Cold-Water Swimming

  1. I remember my dip with you Zoe and the amazing feel good factor I felt and do when I get to the sea ,river or lake…
    I need to do more often
    I know I’m seeing you soon but know I forgot to say

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