This week marks Mental Health Awareness week in the UK (13th-19th May). Although the focus of this years campaign is body image it’s also important to be aware of our overall mental health. With that said, what role can the ocean play in improving your mental health?
From a purely personal perspective, spending time by the ocean provided an outlet for me to relieve the stresses of life; losing myself for hours in the beauty before me. Overwhelming angst overrides every other feeling in my body whenever I’ve spent a long time separated from our beloved boundless blue. It’s an incomparable feeling walking barefoot along the shoreline with sand filling the gaps between your toes whilst gazing at the white horses as they gallop along the coast.
Not only does it feel like the ocean promotes creative thinking, reduces anxiety and inspires compassionate thinking, but there is now also science to prove it. Listening to tranquil waves make their way towards the beach while taking in the smell and sight of a beach can alleviate feelings of depression, thanks to it triggering the release of stress-reducing hormones like dopamine. Being beside the sea is truly a multisensory experience.
Having skin contact with water also provides a tremendous sense of contentment due to the naturally occurring chemical composition of water. The negative ions make us instantly feel relaxed once we encounter water – whether that’s jumping straight in or just dipping our toes. Studies have also shown that floating in salt-water reduces stress hormone levels, decreases blood pressure, promotes better sleep and enables better levels of creativity because of its high magnesium content.
It isn’t just the direct health benefits that you can gain from being in close proximity of the ocean that are beneficial. A 2016 study in the journal Health & Place highlighted that by being able to view ‘blue space’ - that includes water bodies like the ocean, lakes and rivers - better mental health wellbeing and reduced stress levels were experienced by participants in Wellington, New Zealand.
But why do we experience all of these therapeutic feelings whilst in the presence of the ocean? Humans are intrinsically connected with the sea and are hardwired to react positively to water. Scientists have coined this phenomenon as a “blue mind”.
If you’re interested in finding out more about our calming relationship with water then I highly recommend Wallace J. Nichols’ book Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do. In fact, it would be the perfect summer reading accompaniment to your next trip to the beach!
With glorious rays of sunshine starting to spread across Britain the first glimmers of summer are making their appearance, so surely it’s the ideal time to make a trip down to the coastline and reap the health benefits our oceans provide?
How To Make The Most Of Your Trip To The Seaside
There are so many awesome activities that can help you get the most out of the coast this summer and the following ideas are nowhere near exhaustive, but they do serve as a place to start if you’re lost with what to do to enjoy our coastline this summer…
Why not get involved in wild swimming? Granted the waters around the UK are pretty chill, but that’s all part of the fun. Countryfile have a useful introductory guide for people thinking about diving into the world of wild swimming that’s well worth checking out.
Other wonderful ways to spend your time at the beach include hiking, rockpooling and taking part in citizen science – The Great Eggcase Hunt, anyone?
But in all honesty, just taking a leisurely stroll along the coastline or even just slumping down on the beach with a good book and occasionally dipping your toes in the cold water (if you’re brave enough) will provide you with a wealth of health benefits and most importantly, mindfulness. Don’t just take my word for it though, read this account from Anna on the Mind website of how the ocean helps her wellbeing.
Bare in mind that you won’t be able to maximise the benefits - health included - that the ocean provides us with if the marine environment is polluted, so make sure you leave only footprints behind after your trip to the coast. Why not take part in a #2MinuteBeachClean whilst you’re there too as a little thank you?