Being in water calms my physical and mental illnesses — here’s how

I’ve always been in close proximity to water. I grew up with a muddy lake just footsteps from my bedroom. I spent my weekends in Virginia Beach, eating hot dogs with my dad — my hair sprinkled with salt and sand. It only makes sense that, in adulthood, I wouldn’t settle for living less than fifteen minutes away from some sort of body of water. Muddy, clear, salty, or fresh — as long as I can dip my toes into it — I’m there.

My emotional attachment to water runs deep. Childhood nostalgia and my lifelong connection to nature are obvious explanations for why I feel claustrophobic when I can’t dive in for a quick afternoon dip.

However, my mid-twenties have given my need for water a new purpose.

While I once hurdled my body into open waters, I now move through them with serenity.

I was diagnosed with vaginismus and HPV a few years ago after years of pelvic exams and abnormal results. My anxiety and mania coincided with feelings of helplessness in regards to my body. Three recent biopsies and the stress of an upcoming LEEP procedure sent me into a state of panic, throwing my immune system into a weakened state. My ability to calm down and rest was close to impossible. Since I work from home as a writer, I found myself pacing around my apartment, relentlessly procrastinating, and experiencing an overwhelming sense of dread. Moreover, relationships, socializing, and my arts practice all began to suffer.

As a coping mechanism, I seek the water.

Utilizing water as an aid for ailments isn’t anything new. The Greeks called it the “water cure” — they believed that water was an important, powerful part of holistic healing. Hot water can lower blood pressure (among other benefits), while cold water helps with inflammation and circulation. Water provides full-body immersion.

As Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc writes for Psychology Today,

“When coming into contact with cold water, our bodies conserve heat as our blood moves “from the surface of [the] body to the core.” The body then “reflexively bathes the brain and vital organs in fresh blood. This movement will bring nutrition, oxygen and also help gently detoxify the area.  Warm water will make the vessels [relax] which will bring blood up to the surface. This helps blood move back, away from the core, cleaning out the core.”

Studies have found that lowering the temperature of the brain can relieve inflammation and treat depressive disorders.

Moreover, Michigan State University’s Amber L. Pearson has found a link between mental health and the visibility of water — it’s called “blue space.”

Pearson says, “Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress.”

My walk to Lake Michigan takes approximately ten to fifteen minutes.

Once I begin to walk over the bridge that crosses Lake Shore Drive, and I see the clear blue water, I immediately feel a sense of peace.

My connection to the lake contributes so largely to my experience of Chicago. Without my early morning dips, and my mid afternoon breast strokes, this city would feel entirely different to me.

Living near the water is, of course, a luxury. An even bigger luxury is my career as a freelancer, which allows me to take breaks whenever I please. I know the water is always waiting for me.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “Swimming can improve mood…For people with fibromyalgia, it can decrease anxiety and exercise therapy in warm water can decrease depression and improve mood. Water-based exercise can improve the health of mothers and their unborn children and has a positive effect on the mothers’ mental health. Parents of children with developmental disabilities find that recreational activities, such as swimming, improve family connections.”

Water is a way for my body to feel nourished and cleansed.

My aches and pains, both mental and physical, disappear when I’m submerged in the lake’s azure crest. The cool temperature of the water reduces physical pain, while the calmness of my environment soothes my mental state.

The cognitive benefits of being near or in water are boundless.

Most early afternoons, around 3 p.m., you’ll find me on the rocks on the Southside of Chicago. I’ll be reading a book or listening to music. Eventually, I’ll slide in, and swim out to the buoy and back. I’ll let the water rush over my stomach, my feet — I’ll lie on my back and look at the skyline.

While my mania, my pelvic pain, and my stress sill plague me, I find solace in knowing that for an hour or two, every day, I’ll be free of those illnesses as I wade through crystal blue waters.

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