VICTORIA -- A nurse and respiratory therapist at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital (NRGH) have turned to the Pacific Ocean to wash away the stress of their jobs during this pandemic.

Since September, Lizzy Hannah and Gina Villares-Talbot have been soaking themselves in the chilly waters of Departure Bay in Nanaimo, and they say it has done wonders for their mental health.

“Being in the cold water, you are so present. All you can think about is the cold, your body and thoughts are quiet,” said Hannah, an ICU nurse at NRGH.

“You can't think of the stress that’s coming tomorrow. You have to focus on the now,” added Villares-Talbot, a respiratory therapist at NRGH.

Both started using the cold water therapy when other coping mechanisms in dealing with the stress of their health-care jobs during the pandemic failed. Typically, they go before or after their 12-hour shifts.

“If I go in the morning before a day shift, I am super energized,” said Villares-Talbot.

“Going after work, it’s a great way to wash off the day, literally,” said Hannah.

The duo started by taking an ocean dip weekly, but are now doing it daily. They have gone 110 days in a row now.

Family, friends and co-workers have been inspired by their journey and are now joining them every Sunday at 9 a.m., from a COVID-friendly distance. They say the affect of the frigid water (7 C average in the winter) has been life changing.

“It keeps me productive and happy, I haven’t been this happy in a long time,” said a co-worker.

The Sunday group now calls themselves the Departure Bay Dippers and are challenging others to try it and to keep the conversation going about mental health.

Cold water swimming has been shown to burn calories, increase circulation, boost immune systems, produce a natural high, decrease stress and lead to a better sex life.