Into The Blue: How Water Helps Our Mental Health
“Well? Who’s going to see it first?” Mum would say from the passenger seat of the car, whipping my brother and I into a frenzy. “Who’ll be the first to see the sea?”
This car game was serious business on our summer holiday jaunts. Eyes peeled, fingers pressed against the pane, we’d scan beyond the hills in search of that vast ocean blue. When the familiar whiff of salt began to hang heavy in the air, we knew we were close.
It wouldn’t be long until we heard the orchestra of gulls calling over the sloping dunes and one of us would see it; the ocean, sparkling like a billion silver sequins sewn into the horizon.
For as long as I can remember, the sea has been my medicine. A playground for my inner child. A safe haven. Better than any mindfulness app I’ve ever downloaded. A tonic for the soul. My oldest friend.
I feel the gravitational pull of the sea. I’ve experienced its healing powers, and I’m not the only one.
Since time immemorial, humanity has been irresistibly drawn to the water’s edge. We embarked on daring voyages across vast oceans, uncovering new realms and etching our indelible mark on history. We chased after rivers, eager to explore uncharted territories and broaden our horizons.
And even today, the allure of water continues to grace the glossy covers of travel magazines, capturing our attention and stirring our wanderlust. There’s something magical about being in the presence of water, that feeling of tranquillity and peace that washes over us, allowing us to escape the relentless hustle and bustle of our hyper-connected lives.
Wallace J. Nichols, a brilliant scientist, aptly refers to this as our “blue mind,” a cherished opportunity to disconnect from the overwhelming stimuli of modernity and embrace a rare moment of solitude.
We’ve long known, through countless studies, that nature’s soothing blues have a remarkable ability to restore our weary souls. Just think back to the Victorian era, when doctors would prescribe a healthy dose of “sea air” to cure a multitude of ailments, from respiratory troubles to mental health issues. It’s a testament to the undeniable allure and therapeutic power of the sea.
In more recent research, the UK-based Blue Gym project found that people living near coastal areas tend to experience better overall well-being and happiness. On top of that, studies have shown that exposure to photographs of green spaces has a huge effect on reducing stress levels. But, interestingly, when these images also include blue spaces, people exhibit a stronger preference for them, indicating a profound connection and attraction to the tranquillity of water environments.
In a separate study exploring the correlation between happiness and natural environments, a group of 20,000 smartphone users were periodically prompted to assess their well-being and surroundings. Surpassing all other locations, marine and coastal margins emerged as unequivocally the happiest settings, establishing a significant margin of difference.
Being in blue spaces, such as oceans, lakes, or rivers, offers numerous benefits for both mental and physical health. Here are just a few (and trust me, there are more!) ways that blue spaces can boost our well-being:
See ya later cortisol! Yep, being in blue spaces has been linked to a reduction in cortisol levels, blood pressure – promoting a sense of calm and tranquillity.
Being in or by the water can elevate mood and enhance feelings of happiness and well-being.
Blue spaces provide a soothing and restorative environment that helps rejuvenate the mind, improving focus, concentration, and cognitive function.
Engaging in water-based activities like swimming, surfing, paddleboarding or kayaking in blue spaces contributes to our overall fitness and cardiovascular health.
Vitamin Sea (well, D)
Sunlight in outdoor water environments facilitates the body’s natural production of vitamin D, which is crucial for bone health and supporting the immune system.
Sleep, glorious sleep
The salty sea air and rhythmic sounds of the water can make us feel generally more relaxed, leading to a more restful night’s sleep.
Four beautiful blue spaces to visit in the UK
Feeling the call of the blue? Here are some amazing blue spaces that are on my bucket list:
One of my favourite childhood holiday spots! This place is known as ‘Queen of the Lakes’ because of the way it’s cradled by the surrounding fells. And the walk here is beautiful – with easy paths through woodland and along the lake shore. Bliss.
The Seven Sisters are part of a gorgeous stretch of coastline between Seaford and Eastbourne. I’ve actually visited this spot a few times when living in Brighton and craving something a little different to Brighton’s beating promenade. It’s a lovely day trip and perfect on a sunny day.
Kynance Cove, The Lizard Peninsula
Cornwall has so many gorgeous blue spaces, it’s hard to pick a favourite. But this one is thought to be one of the best. It’s straight out of a fairytale, with mossy hills, turquoise waters and white sands. Anyone else already feeling relaxed?
Isle of Harris
This isn’t a scene that most folks imagine when they think of beaches in Scotland. It could easily be mistaken for the southern coast, or somewhere more tropical. As soon as you set foot on the Hebridean soil, you feel your shoulders drop and your mind shift down a gear as you tune in to inspiring landscapes.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that a whole world exists outside your office window. Making a habit of spending time in blue spaces – be it the sea, rivers or lakes – can do so much to boost your wellbeing.
Have you got a favourite blue space? We’d love to hear it! Pop over to our Instagram to join the conversation.