The Big Chill: Shock Away The Lockdown Fatigue With Open Water Swimming

This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you fancy something that will take your breath away, quite literally, keep reading…

Before you assume that I’m making a narcissistic comment on my authorial abilities, I must clarify that it is the joys of the icy cold water that will be robbing you of your breath, not I.

We know you’ve watched everything on Netflix, so one more film won’t hurt. Besides, you have nothing else to do and watching Friends again is never a valid excuse for avoiding anything. Seriously? Friends? Get some taste. ‘The Big Chill’, the superior watch of choice, (I’m not biassed I promise) is a 1980s American comedy-drama about seven former college goers who reunite in South Carolina after the funeral of one of their friends. A must watch if you haven’t already. However, the reason I mention this film is because it demonstrates that in a cold world, your friends are all you have. 

‘The Big Chill’ could also be considered a potential threat to the end of the universe, at which the average temperature approaches absolute zero. So let’s take these two meanings of ‘The Big Chill’ and apply it to cold water swimming.

“Have you ever considered jumping into a freezing cold lake? Or fancied running into the chilly water at the beach?”

Millie Nielsen

The first time I experienced ‘the big chill’ it was certainly not my idea. I was persuaded by a friend from university, far more daring than I, to drive to Exmouth on a rainy day in the midst of January. Yes, you read that correctly, January. Before long, we arrived at the beach and I distinctly remember the realisation dawning on me, I had made a grave mistake. A young couple bundled up in jumpers, coats, hats and scarfs even approached us asking us if we were mad; the only honest response could be ‘yes’. To this day, and this might sound a little far-fetched but it was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. 

No doubt you’ve seen plenty of enthusiastic cold water swimmers promoting it for its physical and mental health benefits. However, a newly recognised advantage you may not have heard of is how the temperature of the water triggers the same stress hormone we experience during a frightening situation. The cold water kickstarts the body’s fight or flight mechanism, developing an increased tolerance to stress. It can even reduce inflammation within the body, increase muscle recovery, and boost your immune system. I too called bullshit when I heard my mad friends claiming ‘I never get colds’ and they always feel full of energy, yet to my amazement, I was proven wrong.

I am no avid cold water swimmer and had no idea about all the countless benefits, I simply did it because I had nothing else to do that day. For me, cold water swimming puts a focus on the present moment, pushing aside the endless to-do lists. It becomes a time-out from the constant churning of our everyday thoughts as you focus on the cold water and keeping warm. All the other benefits that come with it are just a bonus! 

Taking a plunge and experiencing a ‘big chill’ pushes you to get out of your comfort zone. My first ‘big chill’ definitely did, but the euphoric feeling afterwards was worth it. The cold water triggers a release of dopamine, boosting your self-esteem and leaving you with a prolonged, wholesome buzz. 

So, grab a friend, find some cold water and experience ‘the big chill’. If you don’t live near the coast or by a lake, you don’t need to venture too far for a similar sort of experience. A cold shower in the morning does just the trick. Start off warm, but towards the end turn the handle towards cold and stand under for 60 seconds. If you’re feeling brave, don’t start off warm. Trust me, try it! It’s better than coffee. 

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