Taking part in outdoor sport and recreation can improve mental as well as physical wellbeing, whether it involves relaxing on a tranquil stretch of water or high-adrenaline racing that helps you to switch off from the stresses of everyday life.  

Describing herself as “an emotional sponge”. Lydia believes that no matter how cold you may get on a Winter sail, nothing warms the soul and puts the ease as much as sailing. She has since become part of a community and gained a sense of belonging, daring others to ‘try it’ and give sailing a go. Lydia tells us all about her journey…    

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name’s Lydia, I’m from Belfast and I’m a final year law student at Queen’s University Belfast. I have two mad labradoodles, Tadhg and Rollie Joe, and a family who I love dearly. I love all outdoor activities, bar camping due to a mortal fear of insects crawling over me while sleeping. I row at Belfast Boat Club and I highly enjoy a post-sailing trip to the Guillemot in Bangor (@theguillemotcafe) for a cheeky vegan sausage roll.  

2. How did you get involved in sailing?

I got involved in sailing through my dad. When he was a boy, his dad handmade him a boat called Sea Hawk which he sailed down in Killyleagh. Due to a busy work schedule, he stopped sailing for decades, however, in 2006 we got a cruising yacht and I’ve been sailing ever since. Last year, I also joined Queen’s Sailing Club where we sail Firefly dinghies at Ballyholme Yacht Club.


 3. How has sailing positively impacted your mental health?

I’ve always been an anxious person, which isn’t surprising since I’m very sensitive and the definition of an emotional sponge. However, after leaving school my anxiety became a problem effecting my day-to-day life. I had to make the decision to leave my dream university and dream course to come home and reset. At the time, the pressure of fitting a mould, pretending everything was fine and “sucking it up” was too much. I couldn’t lie to myself like that.  Skip forward a year to my second year at Queen’s and I’ve joined the Queen’s Sailing Club. I remember being so nervous to join up by myself but it was the best decision I could’ve made. Escaping the city and being thrown into a boat with likeminded people did, and continues to do, so much for my mental health.  First and most importantly, sailing gave me a sense of community and belonging. A group of people all sharing in the freedom that sailing allows is amazing.  Secondly, it changed the direction of my focus from inward to outward. Both mind and body are engaged in sailing which can be a welcome distraction, helping to get out of your head. As part of this, you learn to embrace all kinds of weather that’s thrown at you, from sunshine to torrential rain (and sometimes even snow).  However, trust me when I say, nothing warms the soul and puts the mind at ease more than a bracing winter’s sail followed by a warm shower and cup of tea. Try it, I dare you.  Finally, countless studies show that the more time spent in nature, the greater our mental health is. I’ve seen dolphins and porpoises, gannets and seals, and breathtaking sunset views over the water. The sea is so therapeutic, and the sound of a boat gliding through the water... now that’s bliss.  

4.  What specific skills have you developed because of sailing?

Sailing has definitely improved my problem solving skills. You have to be on the ball for potential mishaps, and when they occur you have to be quick to respond. Strangely, sailing has also improved my creativity - trying new things to get better results has helped me with my studies and in finding unique ways to answer legal problems.

5. Why would you recommend sailing to others to benefit their mental health? Sailing gets you outside and into the open air, bringing you movement and freedom. And so, if you’re feeling stuck or have felt out of sorts or you would just like to challenge yourself with something new, I’d highly recommend getting in touch with your local sailing club and give sailing a go. 

The Sport Northern Ireland Sport Wellbeing Hub is a valuable online resource. The hub provides the right help right now, providing instant access to a range of information, guidance and screening that is tailored specifically to help care for your individual wellbeing needs. RYA Northern Ireland are keen on promoting mental health wellbeing within our sport. 

For more information - http://www.sportni.net/wellbeing/