back to all posts

Why do we swim?

Why do we swim? Why do we envelop ourselves in cold water out in the open? Or dip somewhere tucked away in the trees? We swim for so many reasons but there is one recurring theme that pops up time and again – we all seem to seek somewhere to reset our thoughts.

Whether this is to help manage grief or rehabilitation for some physical trauma, the act of walking into the cold water can be a relief (and a much needed shock). Having to focus on our breathing and managing our body’s reaction to the cold means we are unable to think of anything else. We are present and our mind is soley focused on managing what is happening to our bodies at that very moment.

"I found that learning to breathe through wading into the cold water helped me breathe through the panic attacks. And the endorphin hit of a cold water dip was like a healing balm for my shattered psyche."
– Sue, Why I Swim contributor

And after that cold water reset – we are able to drink in our surroundings without the distractions we may have brought with us to the water.

Connection with nature

The connection with nature is – for us – one of the main reasons we are so in love with swimming outdoors, a connection that stays in our mind long after we’ve left. We’re lucky to live close to hills, rivers and dams. But even living away from a city, we still crave the immersion in the landscape.

For Mental Health Awareness week (10-16 May 2021), Mental Health Foundation have chosen ‘Connect With Nature’ as their theme:

“It turns out that it is not just being in nature but how we open ourselves up and interact with nature that counts. […] even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress."
– Mark Rowland, Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation

Connecting with nature and these cold water experiences can have a positive impact on a host of things that blight so many of us:
– depression
– stress
– anxiety
– chronic pain
– respiratory disease
– dementia

Teaching your body to manage the shock from cold water in turn helps our body and minds manage other stressors that challenge us out of the water.

"In 2019 I was diagnosed with PTSD after an incident in my work as a paramedic. Whilst on sick leave I swam in the sea regularly and found that being in the sea and out in nature helped as much - if not more - than the counselling.

"The feeling of cold water on skin is invigorating and even healing. The sea was a place to escape from the horrors of flashbacks, stress and noise — and somewhere where I didn’t need an expensive bike, wetsuit or gym membership. I could just simply be myself, swim and escape."
– Liam, Why I Swim contributor


In and out of the water the companionship with those you swim with is just as valuable for your head and heart. Its a very special connection that seems to cut through the crap and get to the important stuff. Those people who know you are having a wee no matter how discreet you think you are being. Having the same conversations on repeat every swim and belly laughing about it, locking eyes with you while you try to steady your breathing, resetting you worlds with each other as you have your post-swim brew and cake. We don’t know what we would have done without those folks this last year. 

Of course, every one of us is different so we would never want to speak on behalf of your own swim experience. For our 'Why I Swim' project, we have heard so many personal stories from our community of swimmers. We’ve been so honoured to share these with you all.

We’ve included a few snippets in this blog but please do spend some time reading what people have shared with us over the last few months on our Why I Swim page: 

If you would like to share your story, email with 'Why I Swim' in the subject for more information.


If you are new to outdoor swimming and feel inspired to give it a go, please ensure you do so safely. 

Firstly, have a read of our tips for winter swimming here and familiarise yourself with what's useful to have in your wild swim kit.

We would strongly advise trying out your first swim with an experienced cold water swimmer until you are completely confident of your own abilities. 

The Outdoor Swimming Society has a great list of local swimming groups which is well worth checking out and a quick search on Facebook should provide results.

And if you have any questions, pop a post in the Swim Feral Facebook page and our fantastic community of swimmers will be sure to help. 



Here are a few useful links to about swimming and mental health:

Mental Health Swims

Mental Health Swims works with an incredible team of volunteers to make safe, welcoming spaces for anyone struggling with their mental health. The organisation wants to connect with social prescribers so that meet ups can be accessed by even more people.

Wim Hof Method

Might be a bit too much for some but there are lots of ‘Wim Hoffers’ across the globe who use Wim’s approach to cold water and breathing to unlock a host of physical and mental benefits.

The New Anatomy of Melancholy | Inflamed brain

Writer Amy Liptrot looks at the latest research into the links between inflammation and depression, and finding connections with English scholar Robert Burton’s identification of an ‘inflamed brain’ as a cause. Swimming is a cure that Burton uncovers and adds to his Anatomy of Melancholy.

Cold comfort: how cold water swimming cured my broken heart

After a painful breakup and the death of her father, one writer retreated to the coast of Brittany in winter where she tested the powerful effects of a daily swim in the icy sea.

Tamsin Calidas: I am an island | Wild Swim podcast

Tamsin Calidas followed her dream of moving from London to a remote Scottish island. Relocating and adjusting to island life wasn’t without its challenges, and Tamsin shares how sea swimming and finding a bond with nature has helped her overcome those difficult times, and has now started to inspire her creative work.



Mailing List

Keep informed of future Swim Feral projects and products. We promise we will only contact you when we have something we are proud to share.