By Ashley Ward
For the past nine years I have been working as a swimming instructor – having a love of the water started from an early age – swimming in the sea, jumping the waves, donning a snorkel and mask to see what lies beneath the surface, floating aimlessly feeling supported as my eyes stare up towards the sky or swimming at the pool either alone or with friends – water has always been part of my life.
I met John when I was inviting adults to join lessons at a local health club – a guy in his mid 30s who was working hard in the gym as part of rehabilitation from an accident he had been in several months before. We sat and chatted over a coffee for some time, he was open about his diagnosis of PTSD and described the traumatic events that had led to this. He was keen to get in the pool – he had enjoyed swimming as a teenager – the following week our journey together began.
John worked hard on his technique taking time to concentrate on his body – the physicality of what he was doing. He worked hard on his breathing – breathing out and breathing in, he felt the water as it washed over him – he listened to the sounds that it made – the calmness that he felt and the thoughts that he was having – we were lucky to be working in a quiet pool and soon he realised how this time was lessening his PTSD.
To both of us it was clear that not only was swimming helping him to get fit again but it was having a positive effect on his mental health. The coolness and the calmness of the water, the mindfulness of his swimming, the collaborative way that we worked and his sense of achievement enhanced every part of himself, not only could we recognise this but the psychiatrist that he was visiting regularly urged him not to stop the time we were spending together.
I have often found myself talking to swimmers about the benefits they get from swimming and always amongst the top three answers is that it makes them feel good – mentally !!
More recently wild swimming has become a popular sport – swimming outside in natural surroundings in water that is very cold helps some people suffering with mental health problems particularly PTSD.
The theory surrounding this is that our stress response and inflammation. Immersing yourself in cold water puts your body into fight or flight mode. Starting with the cold-water shock response, dipping into cold water puts your body under stress. As you repeat this experience, you diminish this stress response.” Obviously, for people with PTSD, having some degree of control on your stress response can be hugely beneficial.
You don’t have to be a competitive swimmer, you don’t have to be able to swim all four strokes, just getting into the water and moving in anyway you can for as long as you can is proven to help.
For me swimming is a lifeskill – swimming saves lives – but it has many benefits and as I reflect on my own love of water it is clear that it provides me with different things – relaxation – yogic breathing – mindfulness – quiet – supported exercise – natural.
endorphins – time to switch off – time for me and if I want to time to join a group of other people that love the benefits that the water has to offer I can !
Go on – Dive in !! Stop treading water and take the plunge !!
You might find that it helps you in more ways than one !!