4 Ways Taking A Beach Vacation Can Improve Your Mental Health

May 3, 2017

You might want to start looking for a cheap plane ticket…

I’ve always been a beach person. The problem is, I was born in the mountains, completely landlocked. I didn’t see the ocean until I was 14 years old, and then only for a moment, when I begged my parents to take a detour on a road trip so I could dip my toes in quickly.

Now, I can go for a leisurely morning run and end up staring at the ocean in less than an hour. And whether I’m bundled up against the icy wind, standing on the desolate boardwalk in the off season, or baking on the sand in the warmer months,  it always makes me happy.

I never understood why people wanted to go hiking or camping in the woods; so-called ‘green space’ never did much for me. But give me an ocean view, and I’m content to sit all day and watch the waves wash in and out. And it turns out, this might not just be a quirk of my personality. Researchers have found that what they’ve dubbed ‘blue space’ – the visibility of water – does a lot more for people than green space does.

1. It will calm you down

Coney Island in December

Michigan State University professor Amber Pearson co-authored a 2016 study that aimed to find out how green space and blue space affect people differently, psychologically speaking. What she found wasn’t the least bit surprising to me, a die-hard ocean lover. “Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress,” said Pearson. “However, we did not find that with green space.”

The green space in the study included forests, parks, and playgrounds. “Perhaps if we only looked at native forests we might find something different,” conceded Pearson. Maybe. But for now, science says if you want to chill out, you should do it by the ocean.

2. It will spark your creativity

Sunrise in Delaware

If you’ve ever tried to create something when you’re stressed out, you know it’s often just not possible. Whether you’re writing, painting, composing, or just daydreaming, being able to put yourself into a calm state of mind is essential in order to do creative work – even if life is stressful all around you. You’ve got to wrap yourself in a bubble to access your creativity.

Marine biologist Wallace Nichols, author of 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, says that when you’re near the water, you shift into ‘blue mind,’ which is sort of like being in a bubble. When we’re in blue mind, says Nichols, our brains work differently, because they aren’t allowing as much information in. “When you have that simplified, quieter ‘blue’ space, your brain is better at a different set of processes.”

3. It reduces stress

From the balcony – Isla Verde, Puerto Rico

Do you ever wake up the middle of the night, heart and mind both racing, worrying about everything, yet nothing in particular? If you suffer from anxiety like I do, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And getting away to the ocean for a while might be just what you need. Nichols says that “a ‘blue mind’ [is] 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.”

Being surrounded by, and attuned to, the sights, smells, and sounds of the ocean put us in “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment,” according to Nichols. Yes, please.

4. It may ease depression

Sunrise in Montauk

If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, you might want to start saving up for a beach house. Researchers at Michigan State University study found that even when they factored in their subjects’ financial status, age, gender, and other demographic factors, having a view of the ocean was associated with improved mental health.

Sure, you’ll be at greater risk of tidal waves and hurricanes, but you’ll be calm, stress free, at your creative peak, and less depressed and anxious. “Our brains are hardwired to react positively to water…being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what’s broken,” says marine biologist Nichols.

I’ll weather a hurricane or two for that.

Images via the author.

Comment: When’s the last time you stared out at the ocean?

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