The Bluetits swimming group are pictured on the beach, facing the sea and jumping with joy in the air. They're all wearing swimming gear
Image credit: Ella Richardson

Two experienced swimmers discuss their confidence and cold water

If your confidence levels hold you back from exploring the cold-water world, check out what seasoned outdoor swimmers Sian Richardson and Kerry Dawson have to say

Women have often been held to an unrealistic standard of beauty, and this is a product of social and cultural changes over time. And the swimmer’s high has the ability to energise the mind with the release of endorphins, making you relate getting into the cold water with feeling good about yourself, and therefore loving the body which allows you to take on a challenge such as cold-water swimming.

Taking on that challenge then makes you feel good about yourself, this is where the swimmer’s high comes in. It is one of the most fabled aspects of cold-water swimming. The high starts when your body enters the cold water and the fight or flight response begins. This triggers the synthetic nervous system resulting in the release of endorphins and dopamine. This chemical release can leave you feeling optimistic, ultimately leading to an increase in your mental strength.

Finding confidence in community

Sian Richardson, founder of swimming group The Bluetits, has felt the benefits of the cold water first hand. With no original plans to start a group, she set out swimming one winter with the goal of completing an ice mile – a one mile swim in water of 5°C or less in standard swimming gear. 

Sian Richardson, founder of cold-water swimming group, The Bluetits, stands smiling in her swimsuit and bobble hat
Founder of The Bluetits, Sian Richardson, started out training for an ice mile before setting up the swimming group for like-minded chill swimmers
Image Credit: Ella Richardson Photography

It took Sian three years to complete the ice mile. Little did she know, she would meet people while training who were intrigued by what she was doing, and a few even joined her in the water – enter The Bluetits. 

The founder said people had their concerns about the cold-water dips, including exposing their bodies in a swimsuit. But she proclaims that “cold water gives you a boost” and it is the process around cold-water swimming that is the best part. 

“You might never ever feel completely happy in swimsuits, but you made the decision to let the water make you feel good about yourself”, and this is how to overcome the challenge says Sian.

The Pembrokeshire swimmer added: “You had the courage to turn up to the swim, you had the courage to expose your body in front of somebody else, whether that is in trunks, a bikini, or a wetsuit – it doesn’t matter.”

She says that you concentrate a little more because your body is a “little bit wobbly”, and the process surrounding the dip then makes you feel good about your body too when you get dressed outdoors.

“I never really look forward to getting into the cold water, but I know what it will do for my mood,” says Sian. At her regular swimming spot in Pembrokeshire the waters are around 8°C at the moment, so even she finds herself shouting: “F*** me, this is really cold!” But, she says feels amazing in her body when she gets out of the water.

It also does a lot for self-confidence. “Nobody makes a fool of themselves, and they realise they have courage,” Sian says. 

The seasoned cold-water swimmer says that because your senses are heightened by that fight or flight response, things appear more beautiful when you are in the water, and it feels “euphoric”. Sian sends a reminder: “The fix is quicker than going for a run,” and your brain holds on to the feeling of how good you felt in your own skin after that first cold dip.

The magic of solo swimming

But you don’t have to be in the freezing waters of the Welsh coast to get your body confidence boost from the cold water. Kerry Dawson, an Essex-based advocate for cold-water swimming, has travelled all over the UK swimming in lakes, rivers and the sea.

Kerry says: “If I could just bottle the magic of cold-water swimming and hand it around to people that needed it most, the world really would be a better place.”

I found myself feeling empowered, proud and had a new-found respect for my body

Kerry Dawson | @outdawsy
Frequent cold-water swimmer, Kerry Dawson, sits in a cold-water pool in the garden
Kerry Dawson in her ‘cold tub’ where it all started in the first winter of cold water dipping
Image credit: Kerry Dawson @outdawsy

The wild swimmer says she spent most of her adult life disliking her body but finding a love for cold-water a few years ago made her truly body confident. 

Kerry goes swimming all year round and gets into the water whenever she can. She started posting about her dips on social media to share how her new passion was making her feel. She says: “The immediate benefits of regular cold-water swims and dips were obvious. It lifted my mood, cleared my head and gave me mental clarity. 

“What wasn’t so obvious was the effect it was having on my overall self-confidence and that included my self-esteem and body confidence.”

Kerry Dawson, a frequent cold-water swimmer, admires the view from the rocky, cold-water pool she is sat in
Kerry Dawson taking it all in. Everything appears more beautiful in the water 
Image credit: Kerry Dawson @outdawsy

She didn’t have a sudden switch from loathing to loving, but background changes happened and the confidence came over time. “I found myself feeling empowered, proud and had a new-found respect for my body.”

Body confidence is a mindset. For Kerry, it is the regular cold dips that get her mind in the right place. “The mental energy that I have saved by not concentrating on my flaws has allowed me to live a very full life and I continue to push my body to achieve more than I ever thought possible.”