Super Brain Blog – Season 3 Episode 8

Show Notes S3:E8

How Blue Spaces Can Make you Feel Better With Catherine Kelly


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In this episode I speak to Dr Catherine Kelly author of Blue Spaces How and Why Water Makes You Feel Better about the science behind the health benefits of spending time in and near water and how swimming in the sea helped Catherine cope with bereavement and loss.

During this episode we discuss

  • How Catherine’s life changed with the sudden death of her mother
  • Finding solace in the sea for six years in Westport
  • Studying for a degree while coping with multiple miscarriages, moving house and ultimately pregnancy & birth
  • Me time
  • Her near death experience in 
  • Acceptance



Blue Spaces How and Why Water Makes Us Feel Better – Dr Catherine Kelly

Beating Brain Fog – Your 30-Day Plan to Think Faster, Sharper, Better

Guest Bio

Dr. Catherine Kelly is Director of the Wild Beach School, Brighton. She has been a geography academic for more than 20 years. With a degree in Natural Sciences from Trinity College Dublin, she also holds a Ph.D in Geography, a BSc. in Stress Management, and diplomas in Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques. She has lectured at various universities in the UK and Ireland; her research and publication areas include geography, environment, and the field of wellbeing. She also sits on the Board of the Sussex UNESCO Biosphere. Catherine is passionate about the sea, learning, nature and helping both adults and children to enjoy, explore and relax outdoors by the coast. She lives in Brighton and is a proud member of local ‘salty wellbeing’ group ‘The Salty Seabirds.’

Over to You

If you’ve experience the benefit of Blue Spaces – I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

If you enjoy the Super Brain podcast please take a moment to rate and share it.


Sabina Brennan 0:01
Hello, my name is Sabina Brennan, and you are listening to Super brain, the podcast for everyone with a brain. Swimming in freezing cold water in the middle of winter is most definitely not my cup of tea. I won’t even have a shower unless the water is piping hot. Having said that I’ve always admired people who do take the plunge. I’ve often paused during my lockdown walks to watch increasing numbers of people wild swimming on the coldest of days. My guest today, Dr. Catherine Kelly, a self-described salty seabird has written a book about how and why water makes us feel better. Catherine Kelly, this is your first ‘book book’ rather than an academic publications it’s your first, we can’t count our PhDs as books.

Catherine Kelly 0:55
I mean, I’ve written lots of academic papers and book chapters for academic, you know, audiences. But this is my first book for real people as I call them.

Sabina Brennan 1:04
And it’s sold out on pre order, which is absolutely amazing. It’s called Blue spaces, how and why water can make you feel better. And in a way, I’m kind of not surprised that it’s sold out. Maybe pre-pandemic, I might have been surprised. But I think this kind of wild swimming or sea swimming is something that people have taken up to cope with the pandemic. That’s not just something I’m imagining is it?

Catherine Kelly 1:31
No, you’re not at all. And it’s really big in the UK where I live in Brighton and all over the UK. But I have a dear friend who lives in Dublin, one of my oldest friends and she told me a few months ago, Catherine, everybody is doing it here and I wouldn’t believe her because I lived in Ireland until I was 33. And I never saw anybody get into the sea, apart from the very occasional sort of ‘oddball’ person.

Sabina Brennan 1:59
Yeah, you would see people, you know, who did that Christmas morning swim in freezing cold and yeah, because it was Christmas morning. But I live in Clontarf. And that’s where I walk. And you know, I walk along the coast and there’s so many swimmers. There just hail rain and shine. It’s incredible. Do you think it’s the pandemic? Or was it something that was building before the pandemic?

Catherine Kelly 2:21
I think it’s definitely the pandemic, the huge surge in it. I mean, it’s started to grow I think naturally a little bit here about four years ago. Five years ago.

Sabina Brennan 2:33
and here is you live along the coast. You live in Brighton

Catherine Kelly 2:37
I do I live in Brighton an hour south of London, right on the sea, five minutes walk to the bottom of the road. I’m really lucky. But it’s not very, you know, exotic sea, compared to say, the west of Ireland or whatever, but it’s urban sea, and it’s good sea, and it’s everyday sea, which is great.

Sabina Brennan 2:54
What do you mean by everyday sea

Catherine Kelly 2:56
That you can integrate it into your everyday life. So it’s not exotic holiday sea where you feel like you have to get ready for it or buy a new swimsuit or anything like that. It’s just you know, everyday life. And I think if you live in a coastal city, you’re really lucky. So Dublin is is one of those

Sabina Brennan 3:14
I’m less than five minutes from the sea, actually

Catherine Kelly 3:17
Oh you have to get in

200 yards from the sea. I don’t get in. And I come back to you though about that in a minute. So it’s not that you were always a sea lover or a swimmer. It was a life tragedy that brought you here was really for you a means to survive something really shocking that happened.

Yeah. I mean, I did always love to sea but I didn’t grow up near it So it wasn’t part of my everyday as that I was a Sunday, Sunday’s in the summer, kind of person. There was rivers near us. So that was where we learned to swim. But yeah, 25 years ago, my mom died really suddenly of a brain hemorrhage just from nowhere. And yeah, it was a huge shock. And I was living in London. I was just finished my PhD. I had my first lecturing job in a university in London. And yeah, I was just, you know, thrown sideways. And I came back home to Ireland, lived in Dublin for a year with my sister. Sorted out a little bit of stuff at home. And this lovely job came up in the west of Ireland. And I went for the interview and I’d never to my shame I’d never been in County Mayo before.

Sabina Brennan 4:31

Catherine Kelly 4:32
and when I went as soon as I got there and I stayed the night before the interview, and I stayed in Westport. And there’s amazing, you know, Granite Mountain, Kirkpatrick hovering over clew Bay, and a walk on the beach that I took to sort of settle my nerves before the interview and I just felt it and I just thought I have to come here. This is where I need to be. And this place you know We’ll sort me out spoon. And it was very intuitive and very instinctive. Yeah. And it wasn’t until much later. I mean, my PhD is in geography. So I’m all about landscapes and I taught heritage, natural heritage in the west of Ireland. And I since went on to do a BSc in stress management. So over time, subsequently, I started to make sense and research and read about this stuff that now has a whole sort of research pushed behind it, but at the time, I just felt when I got there. This is where I need to be because this see, and this air will, will fix me. You know,

Sabina Brennan 5:40
I think I should say, as well as I mean, your mom was incredibly long. Yes. 4747.

Catherine Kelly 5:44
She’s younger than I am now. Yeah.

Sabina Brennan 5:48
Wow. Yeah. And you don’t have been chatting to her on the phone the night before. And sudden death at any age is very tough. I mean, like that my dad was in his 80s. But he was fine. He was in my house before and fine. And, and then suddenly, they’re gone. It’s a very, I’ve had both, you know, my mom died. So death of dementia. And in the end, the quick death is better. But I can say that because both my parents were in their 80s. But when someone is very young, that’s a very, very different, very shocking,

Catherine Kelly 6:17
yeah, no, my mom died very suddenly. And my dad died over eight years. And he was young too 64. But it was eight years of cancer. So I’ve had both as well. And you know, gosh, neither of them are pleasant. A sudden death, I think takes a long time for your brain to compute that it’s happened. It takes a long time

Sabina Brennan 6:37
Yeah, it does.

Catherine Kelly 6:38
And I don’t think you ever really believe that somehow, because it’s such an enormous thing to comprehend. And it’s one of those kind of existential things that mixes between surreal and real, depending on what you’re doing.

Sabina Brennan 6:53
It’s very strange. I would keep seeing my dad on the street. Do you know what I mean? It obviously wasn’t him. And yeah, just kind of very strange. And my husband, his brother died suddenly two years ago. And like that, he just died in an airport going to board a plane, you know, his daughter dropped him off and his wife was waiting the other end and he never came home it was the UK yeah Yeah. So that was shocking. And I know for my husband, it was incredibly shocking and took a I wouldn’t say they’re still over it.

Catherine Kelly 7:24
I don’t think you ever do get over us because it wasn’t expected. And it wasn’t.. you get used to it? Yes. It’s kind of like walking with a wound or something. You’d have a scar on you somewhere that you kind of say, Oh, yeah, that’s when that happened. Yeah, it’s kind of, it’s with you becomes part of you

Sabina Brennan 7:38
it really changed your life because you had this trajectory of you’re starting off your career in the UK, and you come home for a year you Your mother had a business. So you were trying to..

Catherine Kelly 7:48
That’s right we were? Well, it was my dad and my younger sister that were kind of stuck into sorting that I suppose, I rented a house in Dublin, and she came to live with me, she was still only in, in college in Dublin and 19 my mom died the day after her birthday. And it was all very raw, you know, and we just sort of hung on to each other a wee bit until we studied

Sabina Brennan 8:10

Catherine Kelly 8:11
And then figured out what to do. She took a year off University and then went back and then this job came up for me and this was a great thing.

Sabina Brennan 8:21
And did you sort of in a way take that year out? You know, as well, I

Catherine Kelly 8:26
no, I worked in DIT for a year a job came up,

Sabina Brennan 8:29
right. Okay.

Catherine Kelly 8:30
And I felt kind of guilty because I left them after nine months because this other thing came up

Sabina Brennan 8:35

Catherine Kelly 8:36
At the time, and I couldn’t pass it up. It was my perfect job.

Sabina Brennan 8:40

Catherine Kelly 8:40
In the best place ever.

Sabina Brennan 8:41

Catherine Kelly 8:41
I could work for the mayo Tourist Board probably but because it is just a stunning wild place. So

Sabina Brennan 8:47
you found and it is beautiful. And Westport is fabulous.

Catherine Kelly 8:51
It is.

Sabina Brennan 8:51
So you fell in love with the sea basically, at that point did you start to go swimming in the sea.

Catherine Kelly 8:58
I did

a bit of swimming in the sea. But initially it was more walking deciders. So I rented a house first of all, which had sea views and mountain views and then I ended up buying a house which was again, right on the sea it was like a five minute walk through a little wooded lane straight onto old head strand, which is a blue flag beach with you know, white sand rocks and, and a view of Kirkpatrick and it was very wild. You know, it was quite remote. But that’s what I needed. And I grew up in a rural place in Wicklow, so it didn’t scare me being there. I remember I think it says in the book there was this nice man that I worked with. And he said Catherine you know What’s a young one like you doing off out there in the middle of nowhere would you ever go and live in the town?

Sabina Brennan 9:00

Catherine Kelly 9:08
And I said, No, I’m fine. That’s what.. I love it there. You know, and it’s where I rebalanced myself. I walked that beach every day, twice a day, three miles long. And yeah, it just calmed me and it healed me and Some days, I felt greatand some days I didn’t, and the winds and the sea and the water just is very healing If you let it in, I think, you know, grief is very much like a wound. And if we have a wound, what do we do we clean it with water. And we let the air at it And that’s very much for me, you know, analogy of what that was. But I wasn’t doing it consciously at the time, you know, because I was so in the throes of the aftermath, and trying to kind of keep myself straight, and I was starting a new job. So even people who worked with me wouldn’t even necessarily know this about me because I didn’t want to be Oh, poor Catherine with the sob story whose mother died. You know, I didn’t really talk about this, because I didn’t want that to be my sort of badge or my label

Sabina Brennan 10:49
who you became. Yeah, yeah.

Catherine Kelly 10:52
So it was quite a private thing. Yeah,

Sabina Brennan 10:54
I think it’s hard in the workplace. Because when you do say something like that, well, then you know, people catch you. It’s like that when you first go back to work. Now you did you obviously didn’t have that because you then went somewhere else. But it is

Catherine Kelly 11:06
no, I did go back to my job in England. Yeah. No, I had a few months. Oh, god in England as well.

Sabina Brennan 11:12
People saying stuff and.

Catherine Kelly 11:13
Anything? Oh, they’re not, no the English don’t say anything?

Sabina Brennan 11:17
Do they not?

Catherine Kelly 11:18
No, nothing. They just all get highly uncomfortable and avoid eye contact. Oh, yeah. And then because nobody knew my mom there. It was just sort of a story. You know what I mean?

Sabina Brennan 11:30
Yeah, they have kind of a different, whole different sort of funeral system as well, you know, inviting people, we go to show our respects and the more people who show up the better.

Catherine Kelly 11:40
And we talk about the person,

Sabina Brennan 11:43
and we laugh about them. And I suppose we wake them anyway.

Catherine Kelly 11:47
Yeah. You don’t realize how comforting that ritual is until you don’t have it

Sabina Brennan 11:51
Yeah, yeah. So you ended up spending about was a six years,

Catherine Kelly 11:55
six years? Yeah, six years and mayo, it

Sabina Brennan 11:58
it was no small amount. And then you felt the draw to go back to the UK?

Catherine Kelly 12:02
Well, again, this other job came up. I was doing this lovely degree in heritage studies. And then after six years, and I was involved in the lovely Arts Festival in Westport and I had lovely friends and colleagues and the landscape was lovely. But I sort of had a little niggle that I couldn’t do anything more there.

Sabina Brennan 12:22

Catherine Kelly 12:23
that little call where you think I don’t know what else I can do. And I kind of feel okay, now. Yeah. And I was really interested in wellbeing and that side of things, and there wasn’t not much sort of exposure to bigger things or opportunities there at that time in the late 90s. So yeah, this again, job-led, a job came up, lovely World Heritage Site, University of Greenwich, the old Royal Naval College on the Thames. And, again, in heritage management. So I went and I took it as a career break first of all, because I wasn’t sure if I’d regresses

Sabina Brennan 12:57
you were dipping your toe in the water metaphorically speaking.

Catherine Kelly 13:00
Exactly. And it was such a jump to go from the wilds of old head to London. But no, I did. I really enjoyed it.

And you were beside the water again.

I was on the river. Yeah, I remember. I remember a few weeks after I landed there, the garden opera theater, were playing this outdoor show. And if you’re in the university, you got free tickets, because it was on the campus. So I was sitting there having a glass of champagne, listening to Pucine or something. And this tall ship came up the Thames with masts that I thought, gosh, now, that’s different to where I just was five minutes ago. Not better or worse just really different you know.

Sabina Brennan 13:40
So what’s really interesting, you know, about the book is it’s a combination of your personal story, other people’s relationships with blue spaces, how they feel about them, and then science and wellness. So it’s really a nice all around, mix. And if you’ve any sort of affinity, like I am not a swimmer, I’m not a cold sea swimmer. And I do want to talk to you about that. But I love to walk the beach. So the beach saved me during the pandemic. When I go for my walk. I walk out the coast and back and I actually got a bit…. So for listeners Clontarf where I live has a prominade and you walk along it and you come to a beach and then you come to Bull Island.

Catherine Kelly 14:22
Bull Island is beautiful

Sabina Brennan 14:24
Yeah, there’s a bird sanctuary there. And it’s an eco biosphere down at the causeway. So it really is a nice place. And that’s really important for me, I like the wind in my face. And I should say to people listening. Catherine has described Westport as this beautiful, idyllic place. It absolutely is. But it wouldn’t be the place now where you’d get a lot of heat and sunshine throughout the year – like you really are on the edge of the island You’re on the Atlantic

Catherine Kelly 14:52
oh god Yeah. I often said that you should have a special tax allowance for living in the West Coast because you bear the brunt of the full Atlantic squals on behalf of the rest of the country.

Sabina Brennan 15:02
Yeah, you do.

Catherine Kelly 15:03
And it is the kind of place if you open your car door, it swings off its hinges, yeah, your hair goes left or right. Whatever way its blowing

Sabina Brennan 15:10
Yeah Tell me what, because I can feel really alive in the pissing rain and a shower. And once I’m wearing the right clothes, and I don’t have to worry about my hair. Like I love that. Do you know what I mean? It’s not that I’m precious. But I can’t, and you talk about it in the book, that sort of fear moment before you go in?

Catherine Kelly 15:29

Sabina Brennan 15:30
yeah, I really struggle to get over that I haven’t got that far. I stand and watch the people that go into swim, because I think it’s amazing. And it’s exhilarating. And I’d love to be able to do it. But yeah, I’m not there yet. Anyway,

Catherine Kelly 15:44
You be overthinking it,

Sabina Brennan 15:45
Maybe, I’m not good at that kind of cold.

Catherine Kelly 15:48
But you know, as you say, you’re not good with that kind of cold. But honestly, I wouldn’t do this if it didn’t make me feel amazing. I’m not that much of a sadist. So if it didn’t feel great, nobody would keep doing it

Sabina Brennan 16:02
but is it not that you feel great after it

Catherine Kelly 16:05
I can’t explain it, it’s really different from like, I walk by the sea a lot as well. And if I’m going for a walk by the sea, with my little dog Skip, hello Skip. And it’s really windy and really cold and a bit rainy, I can be quite miserable, because I think oh, god here is this, you know, freezing and all of that. So I’m really comparing my place in the walk to the weather. Whereas if I’m going into the sea, my mind is really focused on the fact that I am getting in the water. And it’s almost like you tune out everything else. So therefore, you’re not absorbing the kind of messages about the weather or the temperature, because your mind is really focused on getting into the water.

Sabina Brennan 16:48
And you do talk about that you talk about self talk. There’s lots of practical tips in the book. And there’s lots of things for people to try. But this is one of you sort of your suggestions to help overcome that fear that I was kind of talking about, you do talk quite a lot about mindfulness in this. And that’s really important. being present in the moment is brilliant for your brain. It’s brilliant for your mental health, like it really is brilliant for everything. And actually, that’s something that I often suggest to people if you’re struggling to do that, use self talk. And that’s what pilots do so that they don’t make a mistake They have to talk through so that their attention stays focused on what they’re doing there.

Catherine Kelly 17:28
That’s a good strategy.

Sabina Brennan 17:29
Yeah, Yeah, actually, this one here, I just pick it out. You know, you said you’re an introvert who speaks for a living into silence to rebalance. I totally identify with that. So I do a lot of talks, and I do podcasts, and I do TV and radio. That’s exhausting. You know, the rest of the time I need my ahhh

Catherine Kelly 17:47
Yeah, absolutely.

Sabina Brennan 17:49
I don’t want to talk and walking as part of that and going and looking to see or, for me, taking photographs

Catherine Kelly 17:54
the sea is really quiet. Water is quiet, you know, which is nice

Sabina Brennan 17:58
the sound, I like the sound of water as much as looking at it. I like to hear the sea.

Catherine Kelly 18:06
But that’s why it’s, I speak with this is with my sort of geography hat on as well about this idea of sensory landscapes and places and blue spaces very much this kind of sensory landscape where we listen to the sound of water. And it sounds different every day, you know, the sea itself sounds really different. Depending on what the tides are doing, and the wind,

Sabina Brennan 18:31
the blue spaces in this refers to water in any shape, make or form. And you have your rivers and waterfalls and sea and canals that we’ve mentioned. But you also extend it to and talk about fountains, water features, it extends to everything and I was thinking about that, You talk about the restorative nature and how it refreshes and I don’t do that sea swimming now if I’m when the gym is open. If I go to the gym, and I do a workout, I love to finish with a few lengths in the pool and into the jacuzzi. I like to finish that way. But if I need to refresh, even my brain, or restore, and I did it this afternoon, em, because like yourself, you’re very busy promoting your book. I’ve had the same sort of few weeks and I am tired now you know,

Catherine Kelly 19:18
yeah, it’s tiring.

Sabina Brennan 19:19
I was reading your book, which was a lovely thing to get to do today and for it to be sort of my work, you know, and but I said I really need to refresh before I come. So I went upstairs and I had to shower. Now you see this is where I say about my relationship with hot and cold. The water has to be really, really hot. I will do that thing that you talk about you do mention that even splashing cold water on your face is really good. I get that


done that that’s a great sort of waker-upper

Catherine Kelly 19:46

Sabina Brennan 19:47
getting the whole body and now is

Catherine Kelly 19:49
no well it just depends on what… it’s very personal. You know, this is why I don’t kind of like to make really sort of directive. You know, this is what you have to do, because we’re all different, I like a really hot bath, for example,

Sabina Brennan 20:04
right? Okay.

Catherine Kelly 20:04
And like that too. Nobody would be able to get into us, except me probably in the house. And I like an average shower. But I always turn the shower too cold for the last two minutes, but I wouldn’t get into it if it wasn’t hot to start with. So my cold water is very much to do with natural cold water. And people love Wim Hof, you know, the guy who has the ice method about, you know, freezing yourself and cold ice buckets and cold showers and so on to stimulate the body and mind. And it’s about tolerance and endurance and different things, it really does actually kick off various parts of the nervous system that help with mood. And if you’re having a sluggish, slow day, get into a cold shower, or turn your shower to cold for the last minute or two. And it really will improve things

Sabina Brennan 20:51
wake you up.

Catherine Kelly 20:53
Yeah, absolutely. WJ Nichols Wallace J. Nichols wrote a lovely book called Blue Mind a few years ago, and he talks about the state that water induces in our brain. So obviously, our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. And it’s the opposite of red mind, which is, of course, you know, our stress response. And yeah, it’s speaking about the way in which water can commerce. And you know, there’s a whole book of science in that, but he is quite light touch as well. And one of the things that I really like that he talks about is this notion of drift, which is this thing that happens to us when we’re in or near water, which is that our mind calms down in a really unforced way. So it’s almost like conscious daydreaming. If you’re walking along by the sea, as as you said, you often do. Or sometimes if you just sit, you know, on a bench and look at the water, you just kind of go off into a sort of a dreamlike state. And our breathing slows down and all the various stress hormones start to subside. So this kind of blue mind notion is been really researched based on what

Sabina Brennan 22:03
you just described, and I’ve spoken about it on the show before is we would call that the default mode network. So it’s where different networks in your brain actually become more active would you believe when you’re in that place. Different to when you’re actively engaged in an activity, but really, it’s a very creative space in really what it is, is your brain daydreaming is probably the closest way to describe it. But really, it’s just … Often you can get solutions to problems, you can come up with ideas in that space. So it’s really just letting your brain take all the information it has and just doodle in a way. it’s like you’re letting your brain doodle and from that sort of thing,

Catherine Kelly 22:41
Oh that’s nice

Sabina Brennan 22:42
without actually actively engaging in it. And I tend not to talk about the mind at all, as a concept, I much prefer to talk about the brain, you, you do mention the mind, a lot of people do, it’s very much in our language. And the only reason I don’t use it, as I sort of feed us a little bit of an unnecessary middleman, I just prefer to talk brain. And I suppose what a lot of people think about the mind is our thinking. It’s how we think about things, I tend to just talk about thinking because I just think it actually helps to empower people, because it’s a little bit more concrete than that concept of mind, you know, but all of it makes perfect sense. It’s just semantics. And and of course, you see the word mind is around long before sort of neuroscience technology where we could actually see that this is your brain functioning. And as you said, it’s your parasympathetic nervous system, all of those stemming in and from your brain. So you first found water at a time in your life that helps you grieve and helped you start to function again. And I suppose find joy in life. And then you came back to the UK you worked in the in the Thames, I was going to say near the time, and you met your partner and you had a baby, but then you really went through another really challenging period of time. You decided to study another degree.

Catherine Kelly 23:58
Yeah. As you do.

Sabina Brennan 23:59
You had several miscarriages.

Catherine Kelly 24:01
I did between my two boys.

Sabina Brennan 24:04
And then another pregnancy, reading it you go.

Catherine Kelly 24:06

Sabina Brennan 24:07
How did you get through this? How did you do all this?

Catherine Kelly 24:09
I know, you know, when you do stuff like that, and you look back on it, and you think what was going on there? Yeah, no, I had my first boy, Luca in London. And I was in my late 30s. When I had him. I’d been used to kind of having an you know, a full and interesting life with my friends. And I was in London and we would often go away on weekends to places around Europe and I had a really nice colleague friend, we’d go off to India and we started doing some research out there on well being and very nice Starting to write some really nice stuff that was just our own personal interest and turned into kind of a thing. And so I had, you know, a really nice sort of set of interests and friends and stuff, and I was really worried about turning into a vegetable on the sofa in maternity leave. That’s why I started doing another degree in stress management. I just did a couple of modules. And I just thought that would keep my brain functioning because I was really worried that, I’m not gonna have anyone to talk to and I’ll have a little baby. And I’ll be watching 800 episodes of grand designs, which I did. And Grand Design. I love it too, but I hated it after maternity leave, because I watched so much.

Sabina Brennan 25:21
Yeah. Yeah

Catherine Kelly 25:23
So yeah, I did the degree. I started off doing it. Part time, I was kind of accredited. I also have quite a bit of because, you know, I wasn’t going to have to study research methods if I was teaching it.

Sabina Brennan 25:34
Yeah, yeah,

Catherine Kelly 25:35
the rest of the time. So that kind of thing. And yeah, I had to do unfortunately, between the two boys, my first and second son, I just had three miscarriages in a year, which was really challenging. And of course, you know, I was at that age, then I thought it’s now or never, and I just didn’t want him to be an only child.

Sabina Brennan 25:54

Catherine Kelly 25:55
And it was really stressful. I remember. On the third one, I think I was in the, almost in the final year of the stress management degree, and I remember having to stand up and I’d only just come out from hospital maybe the day before. And stand up and give an assessed presentation.

Sabina Brennan 26:13
Oh, my God,

about integrative health systems are some flippin thing. And, you know, the way you just put on your game face and you do is because that’s what’s required.

Yeah, it’s horrific.

Catherine Kelly 26:26
And it’s such a personal thing. And you know, a lot of workplaces and universities are very patriarchal. And you know, you often more often than not, you’ll have a male boss or above him as a male boss. So it can be a very personal thing to talk about. And it’s very upsetting when you’re in it as well. So it’s kind of like that grief thing is to it can trigger you off into being really upset and, and what have you. So you tend not to say it? Again, it’s England. There’s another layer. But yeah, and I’m always been very open about miscarriage. I don’t understand why people don’t talk about it. Because it’s a hugely physical, quite a violent process to go through physically and mentally, and then just have to suck it up and say nothing, I think is not healthy. So yeah, I had to do that. And then just as I was pregnant, then with my second son, of course, I didn’t believe it was going to happen till I saw him because of what just happened. I was writing up my final dissertation for that degree about stress management. Oh, the irony of the universe playing tricks on me and we were trying to move out of London down to Brighton at that time.

Sabina Brennan 27:39
Oh, my God moving house as well.

Catherine Kelly 27:41
Oh, yes. The house sale fell through

Sabina Brennan 27:43
Oh, God do it all. Why don’t you

Catherine Kelly 27:45
three times?

Sabina Brennan 27:46
Oh, my god,

Catherine Kelly 27:49
Post 2008 crash where everybody’s mortgages kept getting refused. And it was the whole thing fell through a few times. And it was just like ohl

Sabina Brennan 27:56
where was water and blue spaces in this?

Catherine Kelly 28:00
Water was just the Thames at work at that point. Although several times during my work at Greenwich in London, I would just reach a point where I had to get up and go. I remember I think I wrote about the book

Sabina Brennan 28:12
you do, because that’s what I was going to just ask you about. Yeah,

Catherine Kelly 28:15
yeah. Yeah, there was one staff meeting I was in and it was just like, you know, one of those ones where everybody’s talking, nobody’s listening. And I was just having like, a rough time of it. And I was like, Oh, God, I have to get out of here. And I just, I stood up. I didn’t make a fuss or anything. I just stood up and I picked up my books. And I left the building. I only had my own bag. And I just went straight to the train station. And I got on the train to Brighton. And I stayed there for two days.

Sabina Brennan 28:45
Were you living in Brighton? At that point?

Catherine Kelly 28:48
No, I was living in London, just because it was the nearest sea that I could think of? And yeah, I checked into a hotel and I brought a toothbrush and a swimsuit. And I got in the sea. And I went to a drop-in meditation class and the yoga class and I slept and I was silent and quiet. Like I used to be in the west of Ireland,

Sabina Brennan 29:09

Catherine Kelly 29:10
Till I could just kind of …. and those were all the things I needed to be I needed to breathe. I needed to sleep, I needed to swim and I needed to see the sea.

Sabina Brennan 29:18
I have to say when I read that I just went fair fucks to you. I love it, I love it At that point did you have a baby?

Catherine Kelly 29:25
No, I didn’t have them at that time. No, I didn’t. That was so I was free to go off.

Sabina Brennan 29:30
Okay, the mum in me was saying okay what about the baby

no, no, god no

isn’t it terrible we can’t not

Catherine Kelly 29:35
but you know what though Sabina is? that triggers in me then a ritual and a habit that I have done for 13 years now. And I do it three times a year every four months religiously. And you talk about striving and surviving. And this is one of my total survival personal kind of preventative strategies is I go away on my own From lunchtime Saturday to lunchtime Sunday to a nice little hotel up the coast so not not Brighton, I go to Eastbourne. And I check into a little hotel, it doesn’t have to be expensive. And I leave at lunchtime on Saturday. So the morning all the groceries and all the bits and bobs are done, homework and what have you, and then I come back lunchtime Sunday. So I’m still there to kind of have a Sunday afternoon. But that 24 hours is like a week. In terms of what it does for you. Because I pick somewhere that that doesn’t take a long time to get to, not too expensive. And again, like that I bring my swimsuits, a candle, a book, sometimes I bring a little bottle of wine depending on what mood I’m in and my journal. And as soon as I get there, I check in and I go straight across the road, rain, shine, snow, whatever, into the sea. And then I lash back across the beach in their big white fluffy towels through the lobby and up the stairs, I don’t care. And I have several baths and I pick stones and pebbles and seaweed and shells and little tea lights and I adorn and the whole bath with the stuff that I’ve collected on the shore

Sabina Brennan 31:08
Oh lovely.

Catherine Kelly 31:10
And then that comes in with me. And I have a hot bath after being in the sea. And I could have two or three baths in 24 hours and another swim. And then I just you know I sleep I have time to myself. You don’t have to do anything. You just do whatever you feel like doing that night. But having had breakfast served up to me in a nice hotel with the Seaview. I then go into the little library and the hotel and I have the same journal for the last years and years. And I just do a little reflection on how the last three months or four months has gone. It’s kind of light touch, yeah, headings on family and work and life purpose and health. Whatever it is, you know that your stuff is. And I sort of say what’s been happening and a little nudge of what I want to do. And in those moments of pause, is where all my creative stuff has come. So I became quite disillusioned with academia, I have spurts of feeling highly disillusioned with it and then thinking it’s fine over time. So I decided to go part time. And in those moments of being away on my little mini retreats, I have always come away with a strategy of Okay, well, if I’m going to do something in wellbeing, what can I do? I’ve got my degree now and stress management, what am I going to do with that. And so that has led me to do different training courses in mindfulness. For example, I did other training to do with children. So from that I set up this program called Chill Squad, which is an education program. Wellbeing, mindfulness, resilience in schools, I’ve taught probably over 1000 children in the UK, just going into schools to sit with them and teach them to breathe and get through their emotions and be present. And yeah, it’s just to chill out.

Sabina Brennan 33:00
You’re living the life. I can’t remember here because I can’t find it here in the book. But I do remember because it jumped out at me because a lot of it speaks to, you know, a lot of the things I would suggest that people do to, kind of, keep their brain in good shape.

Catherine Kelly 33:10
Oh Okay. Oh, great.

Sabina Brennan 33:12
And so you’re obviously you know, you’re ticking your box of learning, your box of giving, because there’s great benefits from giving or if you want to call it kindness or you know, whatever. There’s great benefits in doing that being active.

Catherine Kelly 33:26
Yeah, the five ways to wellboing

Sabina Brennan 33:28
and being connected. So they’re all in there. And actually, in my own book, there’s a lot of those in there. You know, a lot of this is around, you know, balance in life. And one of the things I’m interested because I would always say you said you take your pause. I love that. One of the things I’m missing most during lockdown actually is I used to travel for work, I do consultancy work. And I would use those as my moments, if you know what I mean. So that’s actually what I’m missing most during lockdown is those little… I would go away maybe four times a month, if not more sometimes. I do kind of miss that.

Catherine Kelly 34:04
Yeah, and it gives body and brain a chance to, see I didn’t say mind there, a chance just to stop. You know what I mean? And have a break from multitasking because most women are supreme plate spinners. And, you know, when you go and all my friends say Oh, Catherine, you’re gone. They’re going. Oh, you’re so great. I must come with you sometime.

Sabina Brennan 34:25
And your going no I dont want you

Catherine Kelly 34:28
Because I don’t speak I don’t want to speak to anybody. I want to be completely silent it’s that introvert thing again?

Sabina Brennan 34:33

Catherine Kelly 34:34
And not to have to negotiate where we’re going for dinner or what we’re having or even if we’re having any dinner or I might have a bag of crisps, quite frankly.

Sabina Brennan 34:41
How old are your kids?

Catherine Kelly 34:42
They’re 13 and 10. Now

Okay, so you still are quite young. So that’s the one thing that I benefit from because mine are grown now. So I have a lot more of that in my life.

But take it because that is a total thing that I hear back from everybody but I couldn’t go they’re too small. I can’t. You know wha, if you go lunchtime Saturday to lunchtime Sunday, everyone will survive.

Sabina Brennan 35:05

Catherine Kelly 35:05
Even if you’re like that control freaky about making sure everybody’s you know, going to have something to eat or whatever, you can give them their breakfast you can just about make them their lunch and you can be back by lunchtime the next day. But it’s letting go of it

Sabina Brennan 35:19
And I would argue that actually everyone, but women in particular who are juggling jobs and children, but there should be an hour in every day, that’s just yours. That’s just yours to do something fun, fun, like not even to do something that you have to do

Catherine Kelly 35:33
That’s why I sea swim.

Sabina Brennan 35:35
Yeah, yeah,

Catherine Kelly 35:36
water is just joyful. And I think there’s mentioned that a bit in the book as well is it gives us an opportunity to play and laugh.

Sabina Brennan 35:45

So laughter is nature’s natural stress poster, you actually say in the book, you can’t laugh and be stressed at the same time. So play, and actually, this isin my 30-day plan. The second week in my book is about managing stress. And all I say to people is you have got to make time today to do something fun to smile and to laugh. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. And you have to build that as a ritual into your day. For you. You found it. It’s your swimming, it won’t be swimming for everybody. But you know, it has to be it’s not…. because often I think women think me time is time for me to fix up that thing in the bedroom or get a bit of my work done. No, that’s not your time. The time is for something that’s truly just fun. Yes.

Catherine Kelly 36:29
And a lot of people don’t know what that is. That’s another thing. Oh, you’re lucky Catherine, you’ve know what it is. And, and I just thought, well, the way you get to know what your thing is, is by being quiet and taking yourself away from your everyday even for 24 hours. And I recommend this in the book as well is if there’s something that you’ve always wanted to do, start by taking a course on it, yeah, find out make a list of five places where they might run an evening course or a one-off workshop, a weekend and sign up for it.

Sabina Brennan 37:01

Catherine Kelly 37:01
And do it before your next four month break. And then you look back. And that’s what I’ve done. And then suddenly, I’m you know, I say I’m running the Chill Squad program. And I also run Wild Blue School, which is an education, again, trips to the coast for school groups. And I talked to them about the coast as a natural environment or as a human environment. And we do breathing outdoors. And I can build in the curriculum and have them tell me adjectives about the sea to describe it and create stuff and do little drama things. And it’s lovely, and I love… both of those things make me feel like myself in a way that complements my academic self. And they’re really different.

Sabina Brennan 37:42

Catherine Kelly 37:42
because the joy and affection that little kids give you when you’re with them is just they’re very unfettered in their responses. And that’s lovely.

Sabina Brennan 37:55
Yeah, they’re very honest. And they’re very curious. And it’s lovely, you know, and they’ll ask you questions that will really make you think, and it’s really lovely. And I totally hear you, you know, I’ve moved more and more… I think for women that, you know, the academic environment is not necessarily the healthiest environment,

Catherine Kelly 38:13
Well it assumes striving, and striving can be stressful. I think everybody assumes that striving and going on a sort of a trajectory in a particular linear direction is what all humans want. And it isn’t, you know, because people have said to me, are you not a professor yet, I’d have no interest in being a professor, I don’t want to be on that treadmill. I want to be a part-time person who does my own stuff.

Sabina Brennan 38:37
It’s a very narrow, it’s very rigid, you know, there really isn’t much room for, you know, it’s you go this step and this step, and you’re judged by x y z. So I can much happier writing and I’m sure after writing this book, and with what you’re doing, you may find yourself moving eventually almost away altogether, that you actually don’t need that academic part. But maybe you do.

Catherine Kelly 38:57
A little bit of it is nice, I think.

Sabina Brennan 38:58
Yeah, yeah.

Catherine Kelly 38:59
One reinforces the other probably.

Sabina Brennan 39:01
So the book is really nice, the way it’s set up and set out, you start off really with your own story. And then you share, you know, science behind what we know about water and wellbeing. And actually, there’s, something really interesting. I always say to people, you know, the power of pause, which is what you’ve just said, really, really important. But it’s really, really important to get out in nature and never more so than during the pandemic. And yes, being out in nature is restorative. You know, it really is brilliant for managing stress. And for all those things that you and I’ve just talked about now. And then you go into that detail again in the book. But you do mention somewhere in the book, that blue spaces, were winning over green spaces.

Catherine Kelly 39:43
That was a really big study by Natural England, like seven or eight years ago. That was a self-report but there is also really big quantitative studies going on at the University of Exeter, okay, where they have done really sort of statistical reports on what they called the ‘healthy coast effect’, okay. And they’ve done things like measured statistically. Things like what distance do you have to live from the sea in order to have a benefit? And how often and how regular and for how long? Yeah, do you need to be exposed to that environment for it to have a specific physiological and psychological effect? So they’re working with a big team of EU researchers on that.

Sabina Brennan 40:24
Very interesting. Yeah, yeah. I mean, so the sea is just behind us here. And I can’t imagine living in a four sided place. So I live in like a you know, one side always has to be the sea, that’s just the way it has to it has to be open. And I’ve often thought I’d love to afford a holiday home. And one of my little sort of hobbies, it’s like the grand design thing is looking on, looking on the sites.

Catherine Kelly 40:50
Yeah, oh don’t

Sabina Brennan 40:50
Oh, well. There’s a lovely place in Westport.

Oh, don’t I good Westport myself from over here

Would you? Yeah, so I do that. But I really would be putting in Oh, no, no, no, sure it’s nowhere near the sea. Where’s that on the map? Oh, god, no, that’s miles away from the sea. And it would have to either be the sea. And if it couldn’t be the sea, it would then absolutely have to be on the lake or river there would just have to be water, right, I’d except to stream at the end of the garden. Of course, all of this is just totally imaginary. Because I can’t afford any of it but…

but that doesn’t matter it’s the thought of itisn’t it.

Oh it’s lovely

Catherine Kelly 41:20
I’m the same. I know I was in Switzerland and Austria a few times with research work in the last couple of years. And as soon as I came, there’s a particular bend on the road when you’re driving down the a 23 from Gatwick to Brighton. And as you turn the corner, you see the sea in the distance, and it kind of sparkles up at you. And it’s just like, ahhh woo okay, and many’s the time I have just even if it’s dark, I’ve just had to go down and stand on the beach and look out at the horizon. And I think that’s the big thing in lockdown and COVID, as well, is we’ve had really strong physical claustrophobia, as well as this kind of existential claustrophobia. There’s no, not being able to get out and the sea and water gives you a sort of a natural sense of freedom, or something that can’t be controlled maybe, that I think we’re drawn to in quite an innate way. I did a little small survey during the first lockdown here where you couldn’t do you weren’t allowed into the sea. I just put it on a swimming forum that I’m on and I got 200 responses in about four hours from people talking about how much they missed getting inthe water

Sabina Brennan 41:31
So you weren’t actually allowed get into the water.

Catherine Kelly 42:39
No, we weren’t. They banned coastal swimming at the very first lockdown because it was a risk to the RNI, the lifeguards, life saving Coast Guard.

Sabina Brennan 42:49
Oh right Okay, cause I was trying to figure out what the logic was

Catherine Kelly 42:52
be and also that the NHS, the health services overrun and they didn’t want silly sorts of casualties of people just messing about. And also the fact if the Coast Guard had to come and rescue you at that time. They knew very little about transmission, and could you give somebody COVID if they had to be resuscitated, and all that sort of stuff

Sabina Brennan 43:13
Yes, absolutely. What I’ve been surprised about as I got further into the book, I had assumed you were this real swimmer’ swimmer, you know, really strong but like, you talk about other people saying, Oh, they want to swim out and swim around the bouy and you know, kind of come back and you say that strikes fear in you, you know, I love the sea and but there’s certain types of the sea that I’m terrified of like, I would not want to go on a cruise. I would never want to go on a cruise. You know, I don’t really like being.. you know. .. that deep, deep sea. That’s scary. You know? I mean, scary in that you should always respect the sea In that way. At one point you decided to go whitewater rafting?

Catherine Kelly 43:51
Oh, yeah, that was back, now, that was a few years after I moved to when I moved to Westport. I’d done a couple of years there. And I just was really exhausted. And I had to kind of…. the grief caught up on me. And I’d always had the whole sort of head down four-year degree in Trinity, three-year PhD, first academic job, a big sort of trauma. And I kept going and then I just hit a wall and said, right, I need to go traveling and I need to get away from here and I need to go and do some nice stuff that I’ve always wanted to do. So my lovely boss, Richard Thorne gave me a year off your break. And I booked in around the world tickets and …

Sabina Brennan 44:32
Wow, amazing.

Catherine Kelly 44:33
15 months best, honestly was great. I worked in New York for five months and made money to fund the rest of it. And at one point, towards the end of the trip, I went to South Africa and then I traveled up to Zimbabwe and Zambia. And I always wanted to go whitewater rafting. It was one of the things in my mind. I just thought it was gonna be really fun. You know bouncing around sort of inflatable boat. Great crack, you know splashy, happy days, you know what a jolly jape it would be. No I was knocked out of the boat The Zambezi is a serious grade five river, which is like one of the toughest

Sabina Brennan 45:14
yeah you kind of went for the whitewater rafting of whitewater rafting in a way

Catherine Kelly 45:19
well, you know it’s just one of these mythical things, you know, god yeah you have to do it, you know bucket list kind of thing and I was quite adventurous

Sabina Brennan 45:26
but you weren’t just knocked out at the boat. You were knocked out. You were concussed.

Catherine Kelly 45:29
Oh yeah, no, I was…. the Zambezi has waves in it interestingly that are part of the Mad rushing water and the boat was capsized which is not uncommon whitewater rafting but it this particular one was a very hectic one. And I was on a wooden board sitting on the back of the boat, which I then heard was used as a kind of a stretcher, for emergencies. And other people die on that river every year, which I didn’t know at the time either. But you know, my 20s and you think oh, yeah, we grand and your desire for thrill is higher than your sort of health and safety mode. And yeah, I was knocked out I was concussed and then I ended up trapped under the balls in the dark. And I had a lifejacket on. So I couldn’t kind of get out and under and I was holding on to the raft, which is pulling it down on me while moving at rapid speeds, up and down, wobbling, It was like being in a washing machine in the dark with four people pulling your legs under.

Sabina Brennan 46:26
Oh my god. Can you recall what went through your head at the time?

Catherine Kelly 46:31
Yeah, I mean, I was holding on…. I can,I i can to this moment. I can be back there in a second, like, vivid imprint on your brain, you know?

Yeah, it was really scary. But I couldn’t figure out how to get out. I was kind of concussed. So I wasn’t able to think properly. All I knew was to holding on seem to make sense. You know, it was quite instinctive. But by holding on, I was reducing the airspace between me and I couldn’t figure out how to get out and under and I didn’t know where I was. I was completely disorientated. Yeah. As I was going up and down in moving quickly through this dark roaring water. I was swallowing more and more water. And I couldn’t breathe. And I knew I was taking in so much water that there was nothing I could do, really. And I just had this yeah, real quiet resignation that been able to swim or being strong or fit or anything didn’t matter. Because this water was too much for me, and it was quite quiet. And as I said, I did think of God you paid $100 to kill yourself. That’s a good one. And then I just let go, and I came round. Yes. Yeah, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t breathe anymore. I was like, I was like, literally. ugg uggg ugg

Sabina Brennan 47:38
Oh, my God, it just I’m just seeing scenes from a movie. You know, where you see where you see that? Oh, my God, cuz I can’t breath even watching those.

Catherine Kelly 47:46
Yeah, holding, you under. It was like that sort of thing. And then I came round, you know, having been given mouth to mouth resuscitation. I was back in the raft. But I have no recollection of that point of going unconscious to… I was told afterwards, I floated down. The river evens again, once the big rapid calms for a little while. And the kayakers retrieved the raft because everybody else in it flew out. But they all flew out into the rivers. So the kayakers picked them up. But they didn’t know where I was, because I was under it. So I was eventually Yeah, put back into it. And given Yeah, resuss.

Sabina Brennan 48:25
And the thing is, you had to continue the journey.

Catherine Kelly 48:28
I did

Sabina Brennan 48:29
Because there was no other way. I cannot imagine that

Catherine Kelly 48:34
That was the worst part of the whole thing is I just said, can I walk the rest of the way? I was so like, traumatized. And they’re like, no, the river is only as wide as the gorge, there’s no way out you have to go in the boat to it. And there’s crocodiles and there’s, you know,

Sabina Brennan 48:47
Oh god

Catherine Kelly 48:48
veritcal walls either side. So I had another eight rapids to do. And I was white knuckles for the whole rest of it. You can imagine.

Sabina Brennan 48:55
Oh, my God. So that’s a trauma, you know, so

Catherine Kelly 48:58
massive. Yeah

Sabina Brennan 49:00
huge trauma. And I’m sure the fact that you can get right back there, there has to be some sort of post traumatic stress associated with but did you get back into water? Then I know the water is very different. But

Catherine Kelly 49:12
yeah, I think it was something to do with the fact that it was such a unique, specific thing that happened. I just thought Well, that was quite a random situation. Now I learned to surf about five years after it in Cornwall.

Sabina Brennan 49:26
And that doesn’t trigger fear?

Catherine Kelly 49:27
I’m quite controlled with how I surf. But I don’t go off out into the huge big breakers now my 12 year old son, Luca, he goes out surfing now and I can’t watch them because I get too afraid looking at him, but he’s completely fearless. My partner goes out with him and I actually met my partner surfing. And he’s Italian. We met the Canaries on a surfing trip. Weirdly.

Sabina Brennan 49:48

But I love the thrill of surfing. I love feeling like you’re flying on water. But I’ll choose a wave carefully. I won’t go really far out and I won’t choose the ones that will pound me and throw me around the place too much, and I know how to, you know, headcover if I think the board is gonna fly up and whack me,

you assess your risk. And you know,

Catherine Kelly 50:11
yeah, but stuff can still happen. Yeah, and I don’t. So it’s what I choose to do, really. And that you kind of know if you’re going to get wiped out on a surfboard, you can feel it coming. It’s not that much of a surprise.

Sabina Brennan 50:23
Okay. And so what do you do? Do you just kind of have to let go just go with the flow of it, or

Catherine Kelly 50:28
Yeah, hold your breath and go under and wait for the wave to pass? Well, you know, but it doesn’t happen often. But if I’m told to put my face in water like I try, you know, I’ve learned to swim in the rivers and what have you. I never had a swimming lesson in my life. A couple of years ago, some of my lovely Salty Seabirds swimming group in Brighton

Sabina Brennan 50:49
I’m glad you brought them up.

Catherine Kelly 50:50
Yeah oh they’re awesome women, they ran this kind of oh, anybody wants to improve their front crawl and I thought I would look it I’ve never had a swimming lesson maybe I’ll go and do that. And it was in an outdoor pool. The swim instructor said, Okay, I want you to put your face in the water and swim underwater all the way to the end. I stood up halfway through the pool, I wasn’t even out of my depth. So it wasn’t to do with the being deep. But it was being told to put your face under and I got up and I felt really like Oh god, I can’t do this I had a real mental block about and when the session was finished and stuff I got in the car, and I felt really tearful. I was like, Oh, what’s that about, you know,

Sabina Brennan 50:54
It’s your amygdala remembering that that was a very dangerous thing to do. Don’t do it. Again, the really interesting thing is, when your stress response kicks off in an acute stress situation, doing it’s job as it should, which you know, it did in that situation, under the boat, it did whatever it could do to save your life. Memory is actually enhanced for that moment.

Catherine Kelly 51:50

Sabina Brennan 51:51
And that’s why you said, I can still remember it, I can still see it, it’s enhanced. So as a life preservation method, so that you can remember never to kind of get in that that’s where you nearly lost your life….. Interestingly, and I’ll only say very briefly, if you’ve become chronically stressed, which is what you’re talking about that blue spaces are a great benefit for, in that they can really help with that. If you become chronically stressed, the reverse happens, and your ability to learn and remember becomes impaired, that the hippocampus neuroplasticity is suppressed. And it’s actually increased in the amygdal so you become more and more fearful.

Catherine Kelly 52:28
I had adrenaline coursing through my body for about 48 hours after that.

Sabina Brennan 52:33
I’m not surprised.

Catherine Kelly 52:34
And I ran up the gorge which is about an hour and a half hike in about 20 minutes like a billy goat It was like somebody had jet-packed me My whole body.

Sabina Brennan 52:43
Well, that’s what the stress response does.

Catherine Kelly 52:45
Oh my god, but it was so physical to experiences.

Sabina Brennan 52:48
Oh, it it but it’s a physiological response.

Catherine Kelly 52:51
Yeah, and actually supresses your immune system. it suppresses digestion, it gives, sends everything to your muscles. so you can do that running away at speed. I would like you to tell me a little bit about your Salty Seabirds.

My Salty Seabirds are this amazing tribe of women. And Ruth Fitzmorris wrote a lovely book that affected me very much years ago, called I found my Tribe.

Sabina Brennan 53:15
I was going to ask you about that. Herhusband had motor neuron disease, which is really, really dreadful and young children and essentially, with motor neuron disease, you lose every faculty a little bit at a time. It is a death sentence. And it’s a very slow death sentence. It’s awful. But she found her tribe which was sea swimmers

Catherine Kelly 53:39
exactly. And my son was a member of the surf lifesaving club in Brighton. And through that I met a lovely woman called Kath. And they did a little kind of pilot group to invite 15 women to sit down and talk about access to the sea. Because they wanted to start up a group and they wanted to kind of do a little bit of research on what people’s fears and worries were or what stopped you from getting into the water. A lot of us had these kind of trauma experiences or something happened or fear of, you know, the water itself, the fear of the currents, the fear of waves, and then logistical things I could look after my children, I don’t have time, and what do I wear? And you know, what happens if I get knocked over? So I met this bunch of about 15 women on that day about four years ago, and a few of us kept on swimming after that day. And then that turned into 30. And we used to meet kind of just a Facebook group and ‘who’s free on Wednesdays?’ you know, ‘three o’clock and I’m going in at 10 o’clock on Friday mornings if anybody fancies’, so very self regulating. And it’s just turned into this lovely bunch of really positive, joyful women. And lots of people have stress and mental health issues. And you know, it’s a small m small h. But it’s a place where we can meet to get into the water. You don’t have to talk deeply or sorrowfully or anything about your problems or your issues. You can if you want to, but it’s just a thing of, we’re here to get in the sea. And we I said, this lovely Japanese phrase of living water, which is that the sea takes some of our emotions and our worries from us, and we pour ourselves into it. And I think it’s a lovely concept of that’s what we’re there for, is to let the sea kind of take what we need out of us. And we do it sort of together, but not in a real group or a gang or anything. It’s a very soft gathering of a community of people who are interested in just being in the water for a little bit. You just go to…

Sabina Brennan 55:53
have a bit of fun.

Catherine Kelly 55:54
Yeah, well, this group is, because there’s loads of groups that are, you know, swimming clubs and stuff and outdoor swimming clubs, and they’re all about you know, how fast did you swim between the two piers. And how many kilometers did you do? And have you got a watch that records everything? Now, that is not what Salty Seabirds are, their byline is ‘salted well being’. And it’s dippers and bobbers. And if you want to go out, you can and you don’t…. I swim parallel to the shore, groin to groin within my depth, because that’s my comfort zone. But the water works in the very same way. The water doesn’t know how many meters out you are, how long you’ve been in there for

Sabina Brennan 56:29
and how long would you stay in the water?

Catherine Kelly 56:31
And in the winter, this time of the year when it’s really cold, single fingers, probably 10 minutes or less.

Okay?And do you have one of those big, dry robe coats,

I have a dry robe, which my lovely friends bought for me for a present. And sometimes I wear it sometimes I don’t, you know, sometimes people feel like they need the gear to feel safe to do something. And if you can see through this, or to feel like they fit in and think well just you know, whatever it takes to get you in the water is okay. You know, just because you have an expensive dry robe and you know you can afford, it doesn’t mean that you’re not under stress or under pressure.

Sabina Brennan 57:07
Do you wear like wetsuits in the winter? Or do you just go in and your swim suit?

Catherine Kelly 57:11
I don’t, no, I can’t bear wetsuits, I can’t breathe.

Sabina Brennan 57:15
Yes. Okay, so

Catherine Kelly 57:16
and it’s such a faff as well, you know, but if you want to swim in a wetsuit for anyone listening, go for it, by all means, do whatever it takes to get yourself into the water, it doesn’t matter what you wear, to be honest, I swim in a swimsuit. And in the winter, I have neoprene gloves and boots. to stop your hands and feet falling off. Brighton is a pebble beach, so it cuts the feet off you if you don’t have them on your feet You know our lovely You know, our lovely Seabirds group are very much about just come as you are. And you know… How do you get a beach body ready? take your body to the beach. That’s it. Really,

Sabina Brennan 57:53
I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up seeing on Instagram, you know, so and so so and so all these famous people, you know, ‘shows off her eight pack’, ‘at 41 shows off her six pack’, ‘at 56 shows….’ and I’m kind of going go actually I’d really like to see them showing off their normal body. That would mean so much more to me. I’m all for fitness and health and well being. And it is important to actually look after, you know, being overweight. is not good for your brain health. It really isn’t. It puts stress on your cardiovascular system and other parts of your body that your brain depends on. But also I just feel we’ve enough pressures on this. And it was women’s magazines sharing it

Catherine Kelly 58:34
Stop I know, well do you know what’s lovely about the sea though or about water. Once you get into it, literally get into it as a habit or literally get into it is you connect to yourself. So I think one of the things and I certainly do is when I know I should be kind of doing more with nutrition or exercise I kind of dissociate from my body. Because I’m very much brain, mind, thinking, talking, you know, is my modus operandus. So I kind of often don’t pay much attention to what’s going on from the neck down. But when you are in cold water, you connect with your body, again, because it is, especially cold water, because you’re so freezing. So you connect to yourself and you connect to your body and you connect to the water itself. And that very surreptitiously trickles into your consciousness of…. this feels good and look what my body is able to do. And it’s a sense of achievement of look, I went in that cold water and I swam and I faced my fears and I did something and therefore maybe I’ll be able to handle whatever is going on today or this week, you know, because I could do that I can do something else. And it’s about what our bodies can do and therefore what that symbolizes to ourselves as people what we can do so it’s not about your eight pack or how you look in a swimsuit or whatever like nobody cares. Our Salty Seabirds, if anybody comments on anyone they’d like get shut down fairly rapidly.

Sabina Brennan 1:00:05
Yeah, yeah, no, you can see that you can see that with the swimmers. I think what I may do, is because I did look at it last year, and I actually said to my husband, I’d love to be able to do that. And he said, Oh, no, you’re mad. You’re mad. But actually, maybe, but I’d have I would have to wait till the summertime wait till

Catherine Kelly 1:00:20
the summer and then just kind of accidentally don’t stop. That’s what I did. Yes, I just kept going to October. And I didn’t tell myself I was doing this because then that’s kind of pressure. Yeah. It’s just like, Oh, no, let’s keep going. And if you find a few people who you get on with and who encouraged you, because that’s what’s prevents you from stopping? Yeah, is if somebody says, Come on, we’re going in at eight o’clock tomorrow morning

Sabina Brennan 1:00:44
You talk about that in your Salty Sea birds, you know, with any form of exercise, doing it in a group has additional benefits. You’ve got your social connection, you’ve got opportunities to smile and laugh with people. But you’re also more likely to do it again, because somebody knows you won’t do it. You know,

Catherine Kelly 1:01:00
I haven’t seen you for a while.

Sabina Brennan 1:01:02
Yeah, whatever. So know that that definitely happens.

Catherine Kelly 1:01:05
In one of the chapters of the book I speak, I’m a mindfulness practitioner, as well. And it’s the one thing that really clicks with me in a very practical sense of something that you can do as a way to kind of reframe your navigation through your own life, I think. And Jon Kabat Zinn, in his great book, Full Catastrophe Living speaks about the different principles of mindfulness. So in the book, I’ve taken some of those and just applied them to blue spaces. So I think one of the most powerful ones for me is the principle of non-judging. And I think we live an awful lot of our lives constantly with this mental ticker tape of this is good, this is bad. I like that. I don’t like that. Why is it raining? I wanted it to be sunny. Why is it? Why it’s this person like this? You know, this guy’s an idiot. You know, we’re constantly very busy with our judging voice, our reactions to every situation, everything, everyone maybe. And to get quiet with non judging means that a trick that I use is to describe something rather than to judge it. So if you have a boss, maybe that you don’t like, you might just say eejit speaking, breathe in, breathe out.

Sabina Brennan 1:02:17
Well, eejit is a little bit of judgment.

Catherine Kelly 1:02:20
Our person speaking he can say, Hey, no, you’re right. Yeah, speaking, breathe in, breathe out, or there is rain rather than Oh, for God’s sake, you know, whatever.

Sabina Brennan 1:02:33
So no value judgment.

Catherine Kelly 1:02:37
It’s just is what it is

Sabina Brennan 1:02:38
One of those principles you also have is acceptance.

Catherine Kelly 1:02:40

Sabina Brennan 1:02:40
And I think that’s really important in terms, I’m all for making change happen, and all those sorts of things. But there’s a lot of things in life that we really do need to accept where they’re beyond our control, and like the weather, or whatever, and acceptance of those is very freeing, and is closely linked with the judging.

Catherine Kelly 1:02:59
Yeah, it’s like a whole thing of, I didn’t get what I wanted, and I got what I didn’t want. So now I’m going to be upset about it for my entire life, or keep going back over things. And I think that’s where mindfulness is really powerful is to notice our thoughts jumping backwards to the past, and you know, what we could have done, should have done what we would have liked to happens, you know, and that sort of thing, and then jumping forwards to future. Worries about what’s going to happen next. I don’t know, rather than just being in the present moment

Sabina Brennan 1:03:29
in the moment. And that’s why present mindedness is an antidoe

Catherine Kelly 1:03:32

Sabina Brennan 1:03:32
you know, it keeps depression and anxiety at bay because you know that’s what both of those are looking either too far back or too far forward.

Catherine Kelly 1:03:39
Absolutely. You know, if we apply nonjudging, to blue spaces, we can talk about not judging the sea for what we want to be doing. If it should be warmer, to be calmer, I didn’t want waves, I wanted calm or I did want waves and there’s none there Or judging myself in terms of my body oh I need to be thinner, I need to have the right gear to get in here, you know, all the kind of judging or I’m judging my ability, that person is able to swim further than me or they’re not afraid or they’re this or that, you know, just be with ourselves, in our bodies and in the blue space and allow us and allow ourselves to get what we need from us. And I think that’s really important. And as you say acceptances is one and non-striving as again, a first cousin of non-judging, which is you know, you don’t have to have the right stuff or be able to swim out to the bouys or around the headlands and back. Just be peaceful with what you need. The other day I had a really heavy week of brain work and marking and frustration and there was homeschooling and I was all over the place. And I didn’t have much time and I just threw on my stuff and I ran down to the end of the road and I got into the seat and I just dumped my head under for five dips, just and it literally gave me brain freeze. And it just cleared my head. And I didn’t even have time to swim really. But I just knew I needed to do that to clear my head and I didn’t have time to. I didn’t want to do a breathing meditation. I wasn’t in the mood. I just wanted the sea to kinda

Sabina Brennan 1:05:19
needed that sharp kinda, yeah, yeah, yeah,

Catherine Kelly 1:05:21
The jolt me that

Sabina Brennan 1:05:23
Yeah, no, no, that’s great. It kind of really is change, I think it’s important to say, I mean, really, what it is, is it’s balance. You know, you can’t spend every moment of every day present in the moment because you do need to plan and you do need to learn from mistaes

Catherine Kelly 1:05:36

Sabina Brennan 1:05:37
And similarly, you know, when you speak about us living a lot of our lives on autopilot, we do need to live some of our lives on autopilot to give our brain you know, because our brain it takes less resources to do those habitual things, but it is really about finding balance, we tend to kind of switch over too much into autopilot. So given that you have survived quite a number of challenging things throughout your life, I mean, obviously, we’re talking about blue spaces and your book. So there’s a sense of what your answerwill be but what would you say really has been the key to your surviving and thriving in life.

Catherine Kelly 1:06:10
I mean, there’s never one key but I think, if I was to give advice to people is just to get outside, get out in nature. For me, it’s blue space. For others. It may be different forms of nature, but for me, it’s get outside breathe. And, you know, David Attenborough gave a lovely piece of advice. I read an interview by him recently, and he was asked for a tip and I’m slightly stealing it here, but he just said spend half an hour a day outside in nature. And it could be your garden. For me, it’s by the sea. It could be by a lake or pond or fountain, but spend half an hour a day in nature. quietly, just breathing and see what happens and see what you can notice. So don’t have your phone on. Don’t judge and watch and, you know, assess everything just breathe. See what you can notice. See what you can hear what you can actually see. And if you’re going to get into water, really feel the feelings of being in your body in water with your breath.

Sabina Brennan 1:07:16
Katherine’s book ‘Blue Spaces How and Why Water Makes You Feel Better will be published next week on April 29 2021. It is a really informative, interesting and insightful read. Grab yourself a copy wherever you buy books. My name is Sabina Brennan, and you have been listening to Super Brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. Please follow me on Instagram, YouTube or Twitter. You’ll find the links to all my social media on my website