I actively dislike being cold. I am a chilly person, not of heart but of body. Goosebumpy. A high tog duvet lover. And yet, here I am walking into the open Irish Sea on an unseasonably cold August morning. And it’s not all flat and mill pondy, oh no, it’s wild out there. Like the wave pool at Butlin’s on steroids.
What AM I doing? The truth is I’m not sure. It was a silly experiment that I agreed to with my trusty friend and business partner Amy after the second glass of red wine when I was warm, on a sofa and a bit giddy. And somehow, we have held each other to account and here we find ourselves, walking, rather inelegantly into the ocean at seven in the morning. “It’s supposed to be a holiday?!” my inner dialogue screeches. Thankfully Amy puts me at ease with helpful comments such as, “It’s a bit like we’re doing a suicide pact isn’t it?” as the icy water starts to seep into my ill-fitting wetsuit. Yes, I’m wearing a wetsuit, I’m a novice at this remember?
We swim for our lives to the first buoy, fighting to keep our floaty wetsuit legs under the water and trying not to swallow the facefuls of seawater the waves are throwing our way. Goggles. Goggles would have been good. Contact lenses hate seawater. I know this.
We made it. Clinging to the buoy, mildly hysterical we notice some people surveying us from the beach, they look concerned. “Don’t wave,” I say to Amy through chattering teeth, “They’ll think we’re drowning and need help.” Maybe we are. Maybe we do? We persevere to the second buoy, breathe, and then the third, breeeeathe, and then admit defeat and pretty much get washed up on the shore like a pair of old carrier bags. WOW. That. Was. Bracing.
Truly it was pathetic, we swam about 500 meters tops. But you’d think we’d swum the English Channel that day the way we swanned about. “We are open water swimmers now.” “Look how glowy my skin is from my open water swimming.” “Now I see what Wim Hof – Ice Man is on about. I get him.”
Who knew that getting out and doing something a bit bonkers, at a bit of a bonkers time could have such a halo effect on your whole day? So much so we actually did it again the next day. Most unusual.
It’s widely accepted now that cold water swimming can have a host of positive effects on us – increasing our metabolism, improving circulation and boosting the immune system and more besides. A fascinating body of research being done here in the UK is revealing that regularly swimming in cold water could even make you less reactive to everyday stress. It’s not a giant leap to suppose that this could also lead to increased resilience and performance in the workplace. Time to ditch that wetsuit then, gasp.
The science is yet to prove why but it seems we humans have an inherent need to connect with nature. And in these troubled times, we believe it’s elemental. Research from Ambius; a British Human Resources consultancy reveals almost 40% of office workers spend a maximum of 15 minutes outside each day. This is considerably less than UN guidelines for the humane treatment of prisoners where it’s explicitly stated inmates must have “at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily.”
Thought leading businesses are leading the way in incorporating nature to improve workplace wellbeing and employee productivity. Amazon opened its first biophilic office in Seattle in 2018. It features beautiful grounds for workers to rest and recharge and the three domes which form the heart of the building are flooded with natural light and over 40,000 plants from 30 different countries. Last year, Microsoft built three tree house workspaces in the 500 acres of woodland that surround the company’s Redmond HQ. A pricey business indeed but studies have found that the ROI of biophilic offices is as much as 3:1.
Here are three Welfy ways to find your edge in nature and reap the positive vibes:
1. Get lost.
When was the last time you went for a walk in nature and intentionally got lost? Not since your Famous Five days I suspect. There are a bunch of people who are obsessed with this, “roaming” they call it. The key is to let go of the fear of getting lost and embrace your surroundings. Really notice. Maybe have your phone at the very bottom of your bag though – have you seen that Danny Boyle film where the guy traps his arm between two rocks? Better safe than sorry.
2. Get cold.
If you’re generally landlocked like us in Birmingham and don’t fancy throwing yourself into the local canal, there are groups that ensure you find the best spot to submerge and do so safely. If you’re even slightly curious, why not check out your local wild swimming group here? We’ve found our local one which is still meeting whilst observing government guidelines, it’s called Swim & Tonic – I mean, how can we not?
3. Get out.
Finding your edge doesn’t have to be extreme. It is just as courageous to commit to a 20 minute walk outside every day whether you’re at home or in the workplace. This is truly a habit worth having as it will generally make you feel happier, healthier and more productive. If you can, take your walk at the same time each day and do it in the morning. Resist the urge to wear sunglasses on sunny days – Dr Rangan Chatterjee, author of the 4 Pillar Plan explains how we want the natural sunlight (or even daylight) getting into our eyes to aid our natural cicadian biology.
It leaves me wondering, does challenging ourselves in the great outdoors right now feel so good because it shows us that we are bigger and braver than we think we are? That we will not be defined by this pandemic?
Or is it because it makes us feel small? Grounding and reminding us that we are just a tiny part of something infinitely vast? “This too shall pass.”
Either way, it’s superb, so jump on in.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anaïs Nin
Vanessa Moran, Co-Founder of Welfy: workplace wellbeing training that works