Weleda Arnica Ambassador Lindsey Cole recalls her first cold water swim
Discovering the wellbeing benefits of cold water swimming
A couple of years ago, I was living in a shed at the end of my friend’s garden in Spain, attempting to write my first book. I threw myself into isolation, which made me incredibly lonely. I slipped into a downward spiral of imposter syndrome, self-doubt and wondered what on earth I was doing with my life. I felt I was going to be living in a shed for the rest of my years, and I couldn’t see beyond those little four walls. My breath was shallow and despite the warm Spanish sunshine outside, it felt like I was living under a very dark cloud that didn’t seem to blow away.
I met up with friends in a London bar. Conversations ran from weddings to career promotions, from baby arrivals to home renovations - none of which I could add to. At 35 years old, it felt I’d failed at life. As I tried my hardest to suppress my feelings, they exploded into an embarrassing panic attack right in the middle of the bar.
The following morning, I peeled myself off my friend’s couch and headed to the Serpentine, a recreational lake right in the heart of central London, in Hyde Park. I grew up a keen swimmer, and had always meant to swim at the London lake, but never seemed to have got round to it. I met up with Stephanie, a regular Serpentine swimmer, who gave me a humongous smile. I feigned one in return. Standing in our swimsuits at the edge of the lake in March, Stephanie grabbed my hand as dog walkers passing by turned their heads. I squeezed her hand and grimaced as my first toe dipped in, muttering that it was cold.
“Come on. It’ll make you feel wonderful”, she cajoled, as my feet planted firmly into the ground. After three, Stephanie strode into the water, pulling me behind her. I shrieked as the cold Serpentine made my skin tingle all the way up to my mid thighs as I stood with my arms crossed, clutching my shoulders, scanning for an exit. “Come on”, she said again, disappearing under and re-emerging, the water in her eyes magnifying them like a pair of monocles, with a colossal grin and a chuckle. She reached for my hand, counted to three and tugged me under. I shot back out like a rocket, squealing from the pit of my stomach as I bounced on the spot, whilst my hands began to clap in applause!
Stephanie grabbed both my hands and we bounced together spinning in a circle like schoolgirls in a playground, as we continued to squeal and howl with laughter. I collapsed onto my back and floated, watching the few clouds in the sky melt and drift. I could hear nothing but the echo of my breathing muffled through my submerged ears. My lungs sucked in as much air as they could. I held it for a few moments and exhaled, squeezing out every last breath. I did it again. I was almost meditating. There I was, floating in a lake right in the middle of London.
I was soon disturbed as I neared a floating buoy with a duck standing on it warning me not to get too close to its nest. I apologised, chuckling, and then admired a bevy of swans gliding past elegantly which, unlike the duck, seemed unperturbed by my presence. A skein of Canadian geese flew overhead, leaving me mesmerized as I heard the whir of their wings. For the first time in months, I felt alive and, just as Stephanie said I would – it felt wonderful.
Stephanie had to dash off, but as the sun was beaming I relaxed on a bench outside the Serpentine changing room in my swimsuit to dry.
“So, where do you live then?” an older swimmer asked me.
“Oh. Well,” I began sheepishly, “I’m sort of living in a shed at the moment. In Spain.”
“How wonderful. That’s how I wrote my first book. In a shed at the end of my friend’s garden in Spain.” He said. I looked at him, trying to work out if he was being serious.
“Isn’t a magical experience?” I nodded, staring at him in awe as he shared anecdotes of his lifestyle that I apparently shared.
Two hours passed and I was now fully dry, but still sat on the bench whilst hearing other swimmers’ stories as they came and went. No one minded that they hadn’t met me before. Everyone chatted to me like I’d been swimming there for years. After just one swim I felt part of their community - something I’d yearned for, for a long time. I swam in the Serpentine every morning until I returned to my little shed in Spain.
That winter, I swam the length of the River Thames, dressed as a mermaid to highlight how we’re choking our sea creatures and aquatic life with plastic. As well as finding tonnes of plastic, I also discovered even more wonderful people who swim outdoors. People appeared from behind the reeds, asking if they could join me. Dressed in neoprene and goggles, I couldn’t always see their faces. They all wanted to help me on my journey, and take care of their part of the river.
I became such a fan of swimming outdoors that I spent half of 2019 cycling around Britain connecting with others who like to do it too. I found that bookending each day with a cold-water swim pumped adrenaline through my veins, which made it very hard for me to stop.
Now, if ever I feel a wave of a foggy head, I remind myself to go for a swim to instantly boost my sense of wellbeing. So many people I have met have shared stories of how swimming outside has helped them with their own anxiety, depression and grief. One swimmer told me how it doesn’t make his problems go away, but for that moment when he’s swimming he just thinks about that moment and his problems are left in a pile with his clothes on shoreline.
Swimming also helps with physical health. Blood rushes to our extremities as we get cold, which makes our heart work harder, increasing our circulation.
With its rise in popularity, there are hundreds of groups popping up all over the country. So there will always be someone and somewhere readily available for you to join. With a group comes camaraderie, lots of giggles and most importantly, copious amounts of cake. Cake and swimming outdoors go hand in hand!
We also get a natural high as cold-water swimming activates endorphins. I often feel quite invincible, as if I can take on the world, when I get out the water.
My skin is sensitive and really suffers in the cold. Before I get in the water I smother my face with Calendula Weather Protection Cream, which protects skin in harsh environments. After my swim, I pour a couple of capfuls of Arnica Muscle Soak into my bath and lie there until I’m warmed through. Then I moisturise with Almond Soothing Facial Lotion and a good dollop of Skin Food.
In summertime, Weleda’s waterproof Edelweiss Suncare range is my go-to. I've got sensitive skin so I love Weleda's products because they're natural and the company also cares about the environment, which is really important for me. Weleda have been doing their thing for years, so I know they're a trustworthy brand.
To read more about Lindsey, read her interview here
To find a safe and sociable outdoor swimming location near you, go to: www.wildswimming.co.uk