6 min read

Is skinny dipping good for mental health?

Why is screaming in cold water as the tide takes you out popular but skinny dipping isn't?
The Milky Way Galaxy seen from Croatia

hello camera

This week’s photo are views you might have while going for a skinny dip.

You can get prints of the photos in this weeks newsletter on my print store or you can tip me on Ko-Fi so I can buy film for my camera.


Cold swimming is popular or perhaps trendy right now. I don’t know if it is actually considered popular in comparison to going to gigs or sportsball events. They are certainly on trend right now. But that leads me to ponder why people are doing these activities. I can’t believe a growing number of people are choosing to walk into 5c water simply because it’s trendy. Salted caramel is trendy and I can understand people buying into that. 5c water though? Logically people must be doing this because they genuinely find it helps. Can science say whether it is a placebo effect or not yet?

There are studies being done on the effects of cold water swimming on your physical and mental health. There’s evidence to suggest it isn’t a placebo and can be beneficial to you.

I personally find the experience of facing an anxiety via a situation that causes a bit of an adrenaline rush coupled with a wonderful view of the world around me does help from time to time. That said I’m writing this as I’m about to go to the dentist and have a tooth removed. Will I walk out feeling alive and my best self ever? #Blessed. I think not. What if I wore a VR headset so it felt like I was swimming? A fascinating idea but I have a NHS dentist. They’re so underfunded they can’t afford to play BBC Radio 6. (Future Pete - I did not walk out the dentist feeling #blessed. I sat in my car and cried.)

What are the constituent parts of the experience and can be replicated in other ways? Could a cold shower and waterproof VR headset provide a similar experience? Does the social side of things add something? Do you need to overcome something to feel alive? Maybe it’s the sense of silly playfulness that connects you to being a child again that helps? People are doing research into the subject to answer these questions. It is an interesting puzzle.

What’s more puzzling, to me on a Saturday morning, is why has cold water swimming become popular but skinny dipping hasn’t? Sure one is about looking and feeling your best while dancing around in cold water screaming and the other is cold water swimming. wink A quick check on Facebook shows a UK wide skinny dipping group I am in has gone from 90 members to nearly 1,000 in the last few years. Whereas an open water swimming group for one specific spot locally has gone from 0 to 5,200 in about the same time. That’s interesting.

I get why one group is super popular and the other isn’t. Fear. People are afraid of being naked and vulnerable around others. The UK is absurdly afraid of nudity unless its for comic effect. Hen parties carrying inflatable penises around at lunch time on a Saturday is “fine”. Sitting outside in your back garden naked, sipping a coffee and reading a book is likely to end up on TikTok for everyone to scream and point at. “Oh no! Look at it! Put it away mate! Ugh!”

You could argue that skinny dipping provides all the benefits of cold water / wild swimming and even more mental health benefits. People are wearing nothing at all. Nothing at all! When you’re doing something extreme like walking into a 5c cold lake completely naked in a group of people no-one is going to judge you for being overweight. All your “flaws” are on show to be accepted by those around you and also yourself.

I remember being afraid to go to the swimming baths because I would have to walk out the changing room without a t-shirt on and everyone would see how overweight I am. It took me a while to be ok doing that. I eventually released that while I’m overweight I’m still here swimming. I taught myself to go from not being able to swim well to the lifeguard suggesting I do a triathlon. As I slowly accepted myself and became comfortable in the environment I could focus on swimming. Turns out I’m not bad at swimming once those issues weren’t holding me back. Of course I’m not skinny swimming in my local community pool but I am confident enough to wear speedos. Am I doing it to proudly display my package hoping that there are ladies out there looking to put a ring on it? No. Unlike Amazon delivery services my package isn’t an oversized box compensating for a tiny filling. I simply wear Speedos because I dislike swimming trunks and longer clingy shorts feel oppressive for some reason. There is a logic to it backed my confidence I have gained over the years.

It is fascinating that so many people are doing cold water swimming for mental health reasons and yet society isn’t really pushing the envelope. People are risking hypothermia and being swept out to sea by walking into cold water in speedos and bikinis yet to do it naked would be truly weird. It isn’t weird. It feels great to remove all obstacles between you and the water. You feel more connected to the moment than you can in man made fibres. You are fully integrated into nature not hiding away inside an encounter suit. You feel a bit of an adrenaline doing something risky and silly too. As an adult I don’t think we have enough experiences like this in our lives. It’s one problem to the next. We’re not free enough to be silly.

If you’re curious to try skinny dipping I’d suggest a ninja dip. It’s what I do because I don’t want people to see me naked. I’ve got a bum that’s been crafted by years in an office chair rather than a gym. It shouldn’t matter. I’m trying to make it not matter. For now, Ninja Dips. You go in wearing your swimsuit and whip it off while in the water. Unless the water is absurdly clear no-one will know. Maybe don’t wave your swimsuit around like a flag either. It’s a bit of a give away. I would also advise you to learn how to read a map. What seems like a random line on a map could actually be a train line that could cause a train load of people to pass by you moments after you walked naked out of a river in a “quiet” area. Hypothetically of course...

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