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‘Mindfulness in motion’: swimming for mental health

‘Laura’, one of our Information Service volunteers, explains why swimming helps her maintain good mental health


24/01/2018

I have struggled with anxiety for most of my adult life. In fact, I think I suffered from childhood depression as well. I seem to have a bout of anxiety which is swiftly followed by depression about every two years.

There are usually triggers, often stress related. I am getting better each time at recognising these triggers and responding to them more promptly. One of the first triggers is the inability to get to sleep due to racing thoughts.

I am very fortunate to have an amazing GP who will always take the time to really listen to and support me. Medication often helps, as does talking therapy. I have benefited from many years of one-to-one psychotherapy as well as a short course of group CBT. I find yoga really helps me and I have spent time in a range of different ashrams which are wonderfully relaxing spiritual retreats.

Swimming has also been hugely important in helping me to manage my mental health throughout my life. I was never very sporty at school but I took private swimming lessons and I was a strong and confident swimmer by the age of 10. It was also at this age that I first began experiencing difficulties with my mental health.

As an adult, I have always sought out a swimming pool when I moved to a new area. When I was doing my teacher training, a fellow student described how swimming always helped her sort out any problems or issues that she had. I realised then how important the calming effect of swimming could be during a very stressful time.

Since then I have continued to swim to maintain and support my mental health. The physical benefits are an added bonus.

As someone who tends to live in their head, swimming helps me to reconnect with my body.

It is one of the most mindful things I do. A friend recently described swimming as ‘mindfulness in motion’ which I thought was very apt. As well as being able to think away any frustrations or challenges, the repetitive nature of lap swimming enables me to forget my worries and focus on the methodical movement and rhythmical breathing involved.

For me, this is what is so relaxing about swimming. When I feel stressed or anxious, swimming takes me out of myself, albeit temporarily. Therefore, swimming plays a crucial part in my recovery from mental ill-health.

Swimming makes me happy too, and I have loved swimming in seas and oceans all around the world.

Something about being underwater where it is quiet and calm is incredibly liberating for me.

I have also challenged myself to swim for charity. I have entered the national Swimathon for the past few years and I now plan to make this an annual event. I swim 100 lengths continuously, and the training programme for this stretches me beyond my regular 40-50 lengths three times a week.

The sense of achievement at the end of the event is fantastic, as is knowing that I have raised money for a great cause.

I’m so glad that I learnt to swim as a child. I couldn’t have known then how important it would be to me in adult life. I trained to be a swimming teacher about five years ago and I love passing on my enthusiasm for the sport to my pupils. Some children are very reticent at first but seeing them develop in confidence in the water is hugely rewarding.

Swimming is such an important life skill. It has certainly saved me!

Fancy having a go yourself? Find your nearest pool at swimming.org.

Or contact our Information Service if you or a loved one needs advice.

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