Self Care and Some Similarities Between Sea Swims and Pandemic Living

This post has some self care coaching ideas for living through a global pandemic and doing your best to continue to minimise risks to yourselves and others. While also enjoying life and taking advantage of being able to do things we couldn’t when locked down for so much of the past nearly 2 years…

Whether you’re a sea swimmer or not, I hope you’ll find this advice helpful.

Imagine everything (assuming you LIKE the sea) is the ocean.

You WANT to swim.

But it’s cold.

Some say freezing but, well, cold.

Some people are already in, wearing bikinis and woolly hats. Others are in full wetsuits. Some are stoic. Others are squealing.

Maybe you love swimming out of your depth but monitor currents and the choppiness of the waves, making sure you do everything in your power to ensure you live to swim another day.

Maybe you hate being out of your depth so stay in shallower water.

Perhaps you go with friends and loved ones. Maybe you go alone.

In terms of the pandemic, you may have liked elements of lockdown or hated it from the very start. You’re likely to have experienced a full coronacoaster of emotions (and you may have lost loved ones or had it yourself). As things continue to change confusingly, get clear about what feels good for YOU in any situation. What do YOU want to do? What feels safe? What feels necessary? What feels like fun?

Don’t compromise your health or even LIFE

I read something where someone had been back to Ireland and having not braved the Atlantic for however many years, chose November and described the afterdrop effects and his shame at having stayed in for too long because his friend was.

Then, in one of the online swimming groups I’m part of, someone described after effects including feeling dead afterwards. Lacking energy not just for the rest of their sea swim day but for the next day or so too.

Several other members warned the swimmer to make future swims shorter, warning that the description correlated with hypothermia symptoms

And one person said, ‘But it’s amazing, isn’t it?’ and I wanted to scream.

Yes. Being in the sea – even being BY the sea – is a magical, wondrous experience.

We have the mountains too and I’ve cried (happy tears) more than once, awed by the beauty of it all.

But it shouldn’t cost you your health or life.

What feels right for YOU?

For me, my weekly dips set me up for the entire week. At this time of the year, 3 minutes is good going. And that’s wearing a short wetsuit and rash vest between October and at least April over my togs. I wear sea gloves and shoes year round on account of purpley blue hands and Raynauds

If it weren’t for the Raynauds, would I ignore my body’s whispers and ultimate screams (purple hands, extreme cold and inability to move or hold anything let along get dressed and defrost)?

In the past, totally,

I’ve stayed in longer than I should have when having fun with friends and not wanting to spoil their fun.

But as a Mature Almost 46 Year Old, am much much better and recognising the need to listen to MY body.

We all feel the water differently.

I delight in staying in longer when that feels good but am grateful for the shortest of dips because I’ve made it to the amazing Atlantic and am so so so so lucky to have this option.

I haven’t worked this hard and for this long to let a moment of stupidity take it all away.

In terms of the pandemic, it’s not like instant death by drowning but carelessness might mean infection and potentially passing it on to someone without your resilience or good enough health (or long terms consequences for yourself). Without being morbid or too anxious remember that what you do makes a difference. Your actions matter. You can’t control the tide or weather or waves but you can take sensible precautions and enjoy what’s possible to enjoy.

Take one step at a time

Spring, summer, autumn or winter, I HOPE to sea swim but know that I have the right to change my mind at any moment.

Younger Me mentally bludgeoned myself to be braver (often stupider) than I felt but friendlier self talk not only is kinder and gentler, but helps me accomplish WAY more than my old default self loathing scolding managed.

Anytime someone says ‘You’re brave!’ before I’ve gone in, I quickly say that I’ve not done it yet. I don’t want to claim credit for something I’ve not done. I also don’t want to coerce myself into doing anything that doesn’t feel right.

I gave myself the one step at a time rule after a terrible swim in my 20s where I’d borrowed a too big wetsuit from a friend’s husband and it let so much water in, I might as well have not been in a wetsuit.

Typing this more than 20 years later, I’m covered in goosebumps and shaking my head (will amend it to more soothing self talk in a moment) at my ridonkulousness just at the memory.

I genuinely thought I was going to die of the cold.

I thought they were going to have to cut my corpse out of the wetsuit and it was enough of a shock to the system that I grew up a fair bit then and there.

When you think of the pandemic, you may have been an essential worker, out since the very start, long before the vaccinations were approved and available, being heroic. You may have been cut off, working from home, alone, doing your best to minimise contact and spread. You may have had to navigate homeschooling and sending your beloved children back to school. You may have had to use public transport and been in other situations where you were unable to social distance. You may have minimised social events but want to make the most of the connections we all need now – in a safe, sustainable way. It’s not all or nothing. You get to choose by activity, people involved (how safe do you feel doing _____ with ______) and so on. What feels worth the risk? What brings you the biggest benefits in terms of feeling connected and having fun? What – socially – sets YOU up for the whole week?

The sea is always different

Some seas don’t need such caution – in Mombassa, Kenya, where my mum had grown up, I was getting up at 6am each day because if I left it too late, the sea felt too WARM to swim in. In Goa, where her side of the family is from, lovely temperature but holy macaroni those waves are fierce. Other places have felt idyllic, simply walking in (no bracing yourself for the cold) and calm enough waters.

These are general memories.

In reality, every day there (sometimes more than once a day. Am addicted), it would be different.

And here in Ireland, day by day, week by week, there are differences to process not just in terms of temperature or choppiness but potential pollution after storms and so on.

Listen to other swimmers as well as official sources and take each next best step based on the best information you have access to as well as listening to your own body and intuition.

And in terms of the pandemic know that we’ve all had a crash course in living with uncertainty, in getting more comfortable with not having a clue. In holding our plans and hopes more lightly because things can and do change. Know that we’re coming through this (hopefully) and each day, we’re learning more and better able to adjust our course accordingly in order to balance health and safety and FUN.

Are you feeling good about the way YOU’RE handling 2021?

If not, what would you like to do differently?

What are you pleased about?

Have you even stopped to CONGRATULATE yourself for getting through such a strange nearly two years? Through navigating conversations about deeply held and often opposing values and beliefs?

You ROCK!

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With love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor

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