Science Says: Being Near The Ocean Changes Your Brain, And You Won’t Believe How
When it comes to things that put many of us at ease naturally, there are few things that rank higher than the sound of waves crashing on a shoreline.
But it isn’t just the sea that relaxes us, and puts us at ease. Our bodies know, intuitively, how calming large bodies of water can be, whether that’s coastline, and the cascading waves, a tranquil lake shimmering in the mist, rosy at dawn or dusk, a simple pool at the base of a waterfall, or even a creek tumbling by: Water is a calming presence in our lives.
Intuitively, we know this to be true: It is good for us to be by water. And now, science is proving it, as studies show that water, and the ocean specifically, can inspire us creatively, reduce our anxiety, and even promote compassion in our thinking.
This comes to us via marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, courtesy his book, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.
As Nichols explains, “We have a ‘blue mind’ — and it’s perfectly tailored to make us happy in all sorts of ways that go way beyond relaxing in the surf, listening to the murmur of a stream, or floating quietly in a pool.”
For Nichols, a “Blue Mind” is a particular type of tranquil mind, or as he says, “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. It is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the color blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion.”
And that’s precisely what we know intuitively when we think about the calming effect of water. Water creates mindfulness, relaxation, and also focus, and simply being near water or gazing out on it can have tremendous effects.
Nichols talks this in his TEDx talks on the topic, noting that for humans water contains tremendous benefits, including emotional, social, and psychological rewards. As he says, “Nature is medicine – a walk on the beach; a surfing session; a stroll through the woods heals us. It fixes what broken inside of us. Nature can reduce our stress, it can make us more creative and bring us together.”
And that’s why we feel a sense of awe when approaching water, such as walking down the beach, or beside a tranquil mountain lake. His research supports this, too: “This sense of awe moves us from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ perspective. Awe and wonder, and passion takes over in water. There is a feeling of connection to others and something beyond the immediate.”
As such, it’s really no wonder that many people choose waterside locations as the venues for their most meaningful life events, such as weddings, family reunions, anniversaries, and more. Similarly, it makes sense that so many of us would dream of retiring to a location by the water.
Similarly, researchers at England’s University of Exeter discovered that when people live closer to the English coast, they’re both healthier and happier. They were able to prove this by using data from 48 million people and the 2001 census, which allowed them to compare how close they lived to the sea as well as how happy and healthy they were.
In fact, even just being able to see water can have tremendous mental health benefits.
That last finding comes from a cooperative study, courtesy at Canterbury University, Otago University, and Michigan State University. Their research looked at the relationship between exposure to blue and green spaces and mental health. By blue spaces, they meant specifically water visibility, and what they found won’t surprise you: Simply being able to see water both lowers our stress levels and can contribute to far better well-being, including our mental health.
If you’re like me, you’ve always sought out water. Now you know why!
*This content was inspired by an amazing article that can be found here.