For more WRAP® support, visit PEERS’ WRAP® Program webpage, download the WRAP® app, and find out more about WRAP® online.

By Vilma Sakalauskaite

Open Water Swimming For Anxiety Relief

Open water swimming is a new wellness tool for me that I started a month ago and have been using on a daily basis.  Swimming really helps my mood and it opened a whole new world for me. It is a wellness tool that provides me with a workout, hardening of the body, nature, and community. At first, I thought all I would do is get in and out of the cold water and that will be enough for me. Then one day during my walk, I came across the Odyssey Open Water Swimming group at Berkeley Marina, and it sparked my interest. This group is open to all levels of swimmers, offering a non-competitive atmosphere. As long as you can keep yourself above the water, you’re good. Some of the swimmers are accomplished athletes. Watching them is inspiring. As in PEERS WRAP groups, where we support and inspire one another, swimming with others, is just as inspiring. Besides, doing things that are hard is easier when done in groups. 

Feeling ambitious, I’m wondering how long it is going to take me to train for the famous “Escape from Alcatraz” swim. Most people at Keller Beach in Point Richmond, CA where I usually go, swim 1 mile; some, more. Some are in wetsuits and some in “skins” (without wetsuits). The first five minutes are the coldest but I get used to the cold quite quickly. I haven’t used a wetsuit yet. 

Now that the pools are closed due to COVID-19, many swimmers have no other choice to swim than to get into the Bay. Some of the people I encounter are very focused on distance swimmers. They get into the water fast, without lingering for 10 min in the water up to their thighs as I do. They swim, swim, swim, and get out. Not me. When I slowly get into the water, not only do I want to get my workout, but I want to also enjoy playing in the element, floating, watching the birds, and watching for the seals. 

I’ve encountered seals four times this month while swimming in the East Bay. Seals are friendly, sometimes curious creatures. I do not think there are any sea lions at Keller beach. But, people at San Francisco Aquatic park, as I’ve heard, come across sea lions as well as seals. I learned from a conversation with a fellow swimmer a way to tell the difference between a seal and a sea lion if you can only see the head of the animal peeking out of the water. Sea lions have two ears sticking out and seals do not. And yes, there are sharks in the bay, in case you are wondering. But not to worry, the sharks in our bay are small and not the kind that attack humans. There has never been a registered fact of a shark attacking a human in the history of San Francisco Bay. 

I think it has been very therapeutic for me to swim in cold water. It is like a spa treatment that I get every day that is deeply relaxing. Ever since I started swimming, I’ve been feeling a lot calmer at work and I do not worry as much. I am noticing my body getting stronger and firmer. I read online that cold water swimming is really good for the treatment of depression and I believe that. After a swim, I feel invigorated, most alive, and sometimes I laugh aloud out of happiness while I’m in the water. I still cannot believe I’m doing it. I am very happy to share about my swimming at WRAP® groups as a Daily-To-Do list item, not just as an optional wellness tool.
WRAP® stands for Wellness Recovery Action Plan®. Click here to learn more about it.