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How swimming helps with ALL of my mental health issues

Illustration: Julie K.


It counts as exercise... but does not feel as muchIt's exercise I actually come back toIt helps with my anxietyIt helps with my self-acceptance issuesIt helps with my sensory issuesIt helps with my depression and suicidality

I've taken up swimming -- well, aquafitness and swimming, to be precise -- for a few years now. I took the opportunity of getting introduced to it through the lower student fee my university was offering at a local swimming pool. At the time, I wanted to practice at least one sport and a dear friend was taking the same class.

Though honestly, I never really liked swimming. Splashing around with my friends? Sure. But proper swimming, on my own? Nah. Not for me, I thought, plagued by the painful memories of trying to follow the guidance of an overwhelmed sports teacher back in middle school. Well, turns out, when you're not a teenager pressured in front of a whole bunch of other equally uncomfortable teenagers, it feels a lot more relaxing to calmly try and make it to the other end of the swimming pool, at your own rythm!


So here's a few reasons why swimming and aquafitness help me with every single one of my mental health issues.


It counts as exercise... but does not feel as much

First and foremost, swimming is excellent exercise. And as you know, exercise's good for you and you should do plenty of it. But when exercising is difficult, as it is for me because I lack motivation and consider it an annoying chore, swimming feels... liberating.

  1. It's an excuse to stop doing work
  2. You get some proper me-time
  3. You get a feel of summer even in the midst of harsh winter
  4. You don't have to get up soon to do it, some swimming pools open in the evening


It's exercise I actually come back to

... Because it feels so light! I have a history of trying out sports and not liking them long enough to continue beyond a semester or two. Basket-ball as a petite woman feels very frustrating, football is blah especially when you're a woman trying to play with men because they suddenly turn into a much-cornier and misogynistic version of themselves, volleyball hurts my delicate wrists, climbing has to be indoors most of the time... and I could go on like this for a long time.


But not swimming. Especially if I'm taking 15 minutes to myself in the water after 45 minutes or 1 hour of aquafitness. It feels easier. I'm not going to lie: I've just spent 3 months not going to the swimming pool, because just getting out of the house in rainy weather was discouraging. But it's better to spend one-year-minus-three-months exercising rather than not at all! And after all these years, I still commit to aquatfitness. Believe me, in my case it's nothing short of miraculous.


It helps with my anxiety

My therapist said it pretty clearly: exercise is super important when you have anxiety. I can feel that truth in my body, too: I spend a good part of the day as well as the night grinding my teeth without even noticing (and therefore without being able to do something about it) and tensing up, and whenever I go swimming or do aquafitness, I can feel my muscles relaxing afterwards and I feel better.

I also sleep better when I've soaked in the water for some time during the day, and I don't even have to stay very long.


Also, it helps with my stress factors, such as feeling like I don't belong (I do, it's a group where eveybody is welcome no matter their level) or that everyone will laugh at me if I ever attempt something (they don't).


And finally, as I often get a bit agitated because I am stressed or anxious about whatever is going through my mind, it helps use up the extra energy in a productive way that won't also excite my brain further. Win-win.


It helps with my self-acceptance issues

  1. I realize that nobody looks at me like I'm a fat seal and my body is okay as it is. Though I can hide my body in the water if I really feel bad about it.
  2. I even go without shaving my legs and that reminds me that it's actually totally okay.
  3. I realize that my body can do much more that I thought it could and trust it would, so I feel proud-ish of myself even if I don't get all the aquafitness movements exactly right -- I'm not the only one anyway.


It helps with my sensory issues

I get tired from the sound and sometimes the light, more easily than most other people. I'm also an emotion sponge -- I absorb whatever everyone around me is feeling and that can be a real burden even though it also helps with human relationships because I am very empathetic.

But I get tired -- and swimming underwater, or just paddling slightly with my legs and arms while I'm lying on my back in the water, with my ears submerged and my eyes closed, feels very refreshing and calming. I get to be out of the noisy, noisy world for some time. It helps me reset myself, in a way.


It helps with my depression and suicidality

I get to shower at least with water (it's mandatory where I go, before and after getting in the pool) even if I feel too tired or disheartened to take a shower at home. Though afterward I generaly feel energized and motivated enough to properly shower once home anyway (I can't use the soap that's provided at the swimming pool for sensitivity and allergy issues).


Also, I can let myself be carried by the water, no matter how much I weigh and how bad my emotional eating has been (more of a self-acceptance issue, granted) or how much weighed down by life I feel. It finally lifts off and that is incredibly liberating.


And sometimes, when I feel really bad, I get to hold my breath and keep my head underwater for a bit. It feels as though I am drowning -- as if I were committing suicide. It takes me out of the world for a moment. And that feels good. So even if the pain doesn't entirely stop, it does lessen for a few seconds. And again. And again. And it takes away from the want to remove myself from the world because I do get that, for some time. Also, I can't commit suicide because the pool is being watched, so I am all safe for at least a while, which is important.


I can only say, go, go, go! Swimming and aquafitness are (good) for everyone and it's helped me tremendously. And it's generally less expensive than most activities!

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