By Sadie Caron
Get ready for a cliche: it’s been a tough year. The pandemic has put serious strain on many people across the globe. Isolation has caused extra challenges that make dealing with day to day life even harder.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a huge surge in rates of depression and anxiety worldwide linked to isolation and fear of infection. I am among those many people that are struggling with their mental health “in these unprecedented times”.
We all have things that we miss about pre-pandemic life, like going to the movie theatre or trivia nights. For me one of the pre-pandemic things that I’ve been missing the most is swimming. As a former synchronized swimmer I grew up in the pool, but growing up in Calgary, Alberta, I didn’t have many opportunities to test out open water swimming. I moved to Vancouver a couple of years ago, one of the reasons being a deep love for the ocean. During my time with Fraser Riverkeeper I have learned so much about open water swimming, and my interest is piqued.
I read an article about how Finland is the happiest country on Earth, and that many Finnish immigrants living in Canada believe that the key to their country's happiness is linked to a culture that embraces cold water swims. There is a correlation between cold water immersion and increased dopamine levels (which is commonly known as the happiness chemical). The prospect of combining my love of swimming and my mental health struggles inspired my 2021 new year’s resolution to take a dip in Vancouver waters at least once every month.
Since I’m trying to explore local beaches close to home, I fired up the Swim Guide app, which lists beaches based on proximity to you (and of course shares the most recent water quality results). I started January off at the beautiful Sasamat Lake. After checking the forecast every day for clear skies, I prepared for my chilly dip. After coming from Alberta, Vancouver’s winter seems absolutely tropical. But still, jumping into waters below 10 degrees Celcius is not the most tempting idea. I packed up bundles of clothing, towels, and blankets to warm up after what I thought would be a painfully cold experience. The water was still, reflecting the beautiful forest surrounding the lake. I ran into the calm water without giving my instincts the time to kick in and dove my head underwater. Immediately after submerging, I swam back to my warm towel and clothes filled with pride. It felt so amazing. It felt amazing because I accomplished a goal that I’d set out during a weird, challenging time. But also, after splashing into the cold water it felt like my body was tingling with warmth and adrenaline. Before the dunk I’d been feeling very fatigued, slow, and low-energy, but then after I was buzzing. The most shocking thing was that after getting out of the water I didn’t even feel cold. The rest of the day I radiated with joy over this seemingly small accomplishment.
One dunk in cold water is not going to cure my depression, but getting outside, exploring beautiful local beaches, and setting a goal that I can look forward to for the whole year feels like a fabulous form of self care. With no birthday parties or vacations or nights out dancing, amid the endless video calls and nights alone watching Netflix, it is so nice to have something to look forward to in 2021. If you’re looking for something to help make you feel good and connect with the beautiful world around you, take a dip. The water’s fine!
For anyone who is seriously struggling with their mental health, here are some resources from the BC government to help you get the care you need.