We live in constant stress. Most of that stress is caused by the social construct that we live in. Mortgages, jobs, competition, policies, laws… They exist because we decided to organise the world in this way. If we were to organise it in a different way, these issues would cease to exist. So in a sense, these issues are artificial. If animals could talk, they’d probably agree. A bird in the sky sees no borders, sees no bank accounts, sees no interest rates. A bird can truly live in the presence.
And that is why I like to experience of swimming in ice cold water. It offers me to possibility to travel away from this paradigm. It seems like a temporary escape, but I do come back differently afterwards.
Before taking the plunge, there are many mental hurdles to take. You know it is not going to be nice and a part of you is revolting. Your mind breaks down the entire effort into many smaller steps. Every step encompasses a decision. The decision to go for a swim, the decision to pack your gear, the decision to go to the water, the decision to get undressed, the decision to step to the edge.
And the biggest one of all is to actually jump in the cold water. You know what is going to happen when you jump, and you know it is not going to be nice. You are actively choosing for discomfort, or flat out spoken, pain.
This is the first benefit. Daring to choose for something that is uncomfortable. pushes your mental and physical limits. Not out of competition with others, just with yourself. This is a training that will pay itself back many times later.
When you submerge yourself, many things happen. First of all, as you can imagine, you put your body under tremendous physical stress. Your system gets in a shock. It screams to get out.
The key here is to remain calm. Pace your breathing, one breathe at a time, in and out. I imagine myself being a captain on a ship, my body. I am only the captain, I am not the ship. I hear and feel the hull is suffering, but I also know the ship is very well capable of coping with these extreme conditions. My mind is safe in the boat cockpit.
Let your body do what it knows what to do: adjust. It takes around a minute before you notice. Your body is protecting the most vital organs which resides in your core. It therefore circulates less blood to the auxiliary organs. You start noticing that your body can handle these conditions a bit better.
Some people like to bathe, I prefer to swim. At a certain point I decide to return. When I turn around, I see the distance back to the shore. Somehow it is always much more than I thought it would be.
And this is where your personal leadership is trained. You are under extreme pressures, but you also realise it is of utmost important to remain calm. Panic is not an option. The only way out is to swim back, stroke by stroke, meter by meter. What keeps me going is the thought of being on the shore again.
As I focus on the next meter ahead of me, I have no time to think of anything. My pressing appointments, the depressive state of the world or the cashier that was not nice to me, they have all become irrelevant. What a bliss.
As I reach the shore, I climb out of the water. I feel a sense of euphoria, but I do not let myself indulge in it. It could lead me into taking unnecessary risks. I know it is important to dry yourself as soon as possible and immediately get warmly dressed. Your body will notice that the dangerous conditions have disappeared and your systems starts opening up again. It circulating the warm blood away from your core to your limbs. This can result in the after drop: your core temperature going down.
As I warm up, all the challenges of the rest of the day don’t seem so heavy any more. The body can handle it, I just need to remain calm.
Please note: if you feel inspired to do swim in cold water, please prepare carefully. Read thoroughly the information you can find on the internet and ask for experiences, advice and assistance from others.