I spend much of my working life talking and training on wellbeing, both for adults and children. Several years ago I realised that outdoor swimming was an essential part of supporting my wellbeing. At the beginning of 2019, I decided I wanted to do more outdoor swimming. I love swimming and I swim every early morning Monday-Friday in my local pool, that time is precious and an important part of my routine, also it has given me a lovely swimming community to be part of. However, outdoor swimming brings a different joy, the joy of being in nature, the amazing feel of cold water on my skin. It’s hard to explain but it is wonderful.
At the start of 2019 I wrote a list of outdoor places I hoped to swim, it was a mix of lidos, and sea swims, and rivers. I hoped that I would be able to swim outdoors at least once a month from around April/ May. I decided to keep a list of all the outdoor swims so that I could see over the year the different places I had swum. I managed to swim outdoors every month from February-December, some of these were cooler lidos but mostly they were rivers, sea, lakes, ponds and tidal pools. I have swum outdoors 43 times this year.
Swimming outdoors is about pure pleasure for me, it’s not about the distance or the length of time in the water, it’s about the joy of the experience. I feel so alive when I swim outside and it makes me feel so happy. Swimming outside has also become something that I do with my husband, our children have now left home ( mostly!) when our youngest left for uni in 2018 I knew we needed to find something that we could do together, a way of reconnecting. Outdoor swimming has become that thing.
In my wellbeing training, the final point I put to the group is an encouragement for people to discover what makes them happy, the thing that makes them smile when they think about it and brings them joy. So much of our lives can be busy and hard, often taken up with meeting the needs of others, putting in place something that brings us joy is a good start for wellbeing.
I am currently writing my list of ideas for outdoors swims in 2020, starting on January 1st!.
These last few weeks have been an opportunity for me to slow down, in term time I spend half my working week supporting 4 yr olds with social, emotional and mental health needs, the other half of my week is for writing and training. I have learned over the years that as the term moves on and as the school year progresses I feel less creative, I have less energy or headspace to think and dream.
Over the last few years, I have created a pattern over the summer holidays which works for me. I have worked out what I need to recover and relax; this starts with a family holiday for a week, usually somewhere remote where there are very few people, big open spaces and water to swim in. During the first weeks of the summer break, I spend time resting, reading, I will do small pieces of writing work in a gentle un-rushed way. Then usually by week 3, I start to dream and imagine, to have creative ideas about possible side projects. Then towards the end of the summer holiday, I will start to plan and prepare for the new children. I am not yet in the stage of being ready to think about the new term, I am still in the stage of needing to be gentle to myself, allowing myself to dream, think, and try out creative ideas. I have learned to love this stage, I never used to think I was a creative person, but being married to an artist for 27 years has shown me and encouraged me to be creative. I used to be afraid of trying out something new, especially if it was something public, but I have learned to be brave, to try things and it’s ok for them to not work.
Over the last couple of years, I have also realised that I need to spend the summer holiday intentionally taking care of myself, and I have learned the key ways to do that are by wild or outdoor swimming and spending time outside. These are intentional acts, knowing that I will need to feel relaxed and rested at the start of a new school year, but I have also learned that wild swimming and being outdoors is often the time when I have more creative ideas. If I have an idea for a new book I will often go for a walk to sort it though in my head or swim to help me clarify something that has been buzzing about in my mind.
I have three weeks left until term, still time to creatively think and gently try new things, and plenty of time for more swimming!
During half term, I have been thinking a lot about how to thrive during term 6. Term 6 is often the busiest term of our year, we take on new children and end with the children we have supported all year. From the last 5 years, I have learned that by the end of term 6 I am exhausted and drained both emotionally and physically. I love my job as a nurture consultant with 4 year olds, it’s incredibly rewarding and challenging which works well for me, however, I realised I often spend term 6 in survival mode not thriving and I want to change that.
Over the last few years wild swimming and outdoor swimming has become a key part of my summer, last year I managed 23 outdoor swims over the spring and summer months and that was great. Last week I had time away in the Peak district and then the Lake district, I discovered a Lido in Hathersage at the beginning of the week and then I swam in Wastwater Lake at the end of the week. The swim in the lake was probably the most beautiful wild swim I have done. The water was amazingly clear and fresh, and the lake is surrounded by stunning mountains, including Scafell Pike. It was a cold swim, this is the deepest lake in England, but I decided I wanted it to be my first wild swim of the year without a wet suit. It felt amazing, the endorphins I got from this swim were fantastic! yes, it was cold, but it was so worth it. Since returning home I swam yesterday in my local favourite swimming spot in a nearby river and again this was wonderful. I have known for years that swimming really helps my wellbeing, both mentally and physically, that is why I swim five days a week in a local pool. Last year I began to realise that wild swimming particularly helps me to feel great. Knowing this I have realised that is what I need to do to thrive term 6, I need to swim outdoors at least once a week. So that is my aim, to swim in the local lidos and to swim in the river, I have booked it in my diary, to help me make sure I remember. I hope this will increase my wellbeing and help me to thrive this term not just survive this term.
During the last week, I have been in Cornwall with my family, staying on the Lizard, the countryside and coastline here is breathtaking. I have learned over the years I find it helpful to be in a wild space at the start of the school holidays, this helps to me let go of the previous term. Towards the end of a term, I crave wild spaces, where I can take coastal walks, swim in the sea, and find some spaciousness. I know that being by the sea helps me to feel relaxed and brings me huge amounts of joy. During the week I was reading a book called the Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols, he looks at neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, and medical research to understand why many people are connected to water and how water can be very good for our health and wellbeing. As a person who swims 5 days a week and who feels a real draw to being by the water, this book made so much sense and explained some of the strong feelings of joy and calmness I have when I am by water. The week away, being by water, enabled me to build up many more moments of joy in my memory.
One idea the book talks about is how we need to savor joy for 15 seconds for it to imprint on our mind. By noticing we are feeling joyful and savoring that moment with gratitude it will imprint on our minds. I have read this in a few places over the last few weeks, and this has made me think about how we can help children imprint joy in their minds. Many of the children I work have an imprint of sadness and hurt on their minds, and do not always recognise when they are encountering joy. Neuroscientists have found that hurt and sadness sticks to our minds and memory immediately, whereas joy takes 15 seconds to stick. As trusted adults who are co-journeying with them, we can notice it for them, comment to them e.g. wow you look so happy there, you are smiling and laughing, I think you are really enjoying this moment. Helping children to build up a memory bank of joyful moments is such an important way we can support them in their wellbeing.
I have just spent the last week with my family visiting three islands Arran, Islay, and Jura. It has been a week of slowness, exploration and wild swimming. All 3 islands are beautiful and abound with wildlife. Significant amounts of time were spent watching and noticing, looking for golden eagles, trying to spot otters, laughing at seals playing, noticing hares run by, seeing highland cows on the beach and family swimming in freezing cold water and loving the experiences. This week I have really enjoyed the wide open spaces that the islands provide and I have loved the quietness and lack of people!.
I spend half of my working week supporting children in school who are finding life challenging. This is a wonderful but also at times intense job, involving lots of emotional regulation, being present for staff and children. By the end of the school year, I am aware that I long for space, quiet, fewer people. I also spent a lot of time talking and writing about wellbeing. By the end of July, I know that for my own wellbeing I need to be outside, fully embraced and surrounded by nature for an extended period of time. I have learned over the years how restorative being in nature is. Florence Williams in her the book The Nature Fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative, explores evidence from across the world on how being in nature helps our mental and physical wellbeing. She talks about a recent increase in the idea of Forest bathing in Japan, this is basically about people spending time in forests. It is viewed in Japan as a preventive therapy, as a way of counteracting ‘karoshi’ which means death from overwork. The effects of being in forests have been measured with hundreds of people by Chiba University researchers. Their research showed that a casual walk in a forest had a 12.7% decrease on the participant’s cortisol levels and 103 % increase in the parasympathetic nervous activity ( Relax state) (Williams 2017).
Over the next few weeks I will be writing, planning, thinking and dreaming about the next academic year and beyond. I hope that this time spent in truly wild places has helped my creative thought processes.