From the smile on Joanna’s face you would be forgiven for assuming she has a pretty perfect life. Friendly, chatty and confident; she comes across as someone with no worries, and the phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’ fits her well. You would certainly never suspect that Joanna once had anxiety so debilitating that she was unable to get in a pool. Yet, just last year, that’s exactly what happened.

“I signed up for the Aspire Channel Swim, but unfortunately shortly after I started I ended up suffering from severe anxiety and panic attacks and had to be signed off work” Joanna said. “For a time I didn’t do any swimming as I was afraid of having a panic attack in the water”.

It would be perfectly reasonable to expect anyone to give up on the Aspire Channel Swim at this point. But not Joanna.

“I was determined to not let anxiety control every aspect of my life” she said. “So I got back into swimming and just took my time. As the total lengths built up I knew that I had the strength and motivation to just keep going! I became more determined than ever to finish it, both for myself and the people who benefit from the money raised”.

With the support of her friends and family, Joanna managed to complete the full 22 miles of the Aspire Channel Swim – an absolutely incredible achievement! By completing the swim, Joanna helped Aspire continue to provide practical help to people paralysed by a spinal cord injury. However, she also discovered a personal benefit of regular swimming:

“Over time, I started to realise the health benefits of swimming that had almost been overshadowed by my anxiety. I loved the effects of swimming on both my physical and mental well-being”.

The theory that swimming improves anxiety and depression is proven to be true. Exercise in general releases endorphins, also known as the ‘happy hormones’, as well as ANP which is a stress reducing hormone that controls the brain’s response to anxiety and stress. What’s more, the repetitive motions and regular breathing needed while swimming produces a feeling of letting go; being able to put your worries and thoughts on pause while you swim.

It’s shocking that 1 adult in 6 in the UK is thought to suffer with some form of diagnosable anxiety and depression. We certainly all experience stress, sometimes severely, at some point in our lives. However, Joanna is proof that swimming can be an effective momentary relief from life’s difficult moments; 30 minutes to focus purely on ourselves.

“I was so determined to finish the challenge while going through a really difficult time in my life” she said. “Every time I got back into the pool, I knew that I was slowly getting there”.

Joanna is truly inspirational. However, perhaps the most inspiring thing she said to us was when we asked her what her advice would be for anyone completing the Aspire Channel Swim:

“Keep going and persevere. Strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on…so keep going!”.

If you've been inspired to sign up to the Aspire Channel Swim, sign up here!

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