There’s nothing quite like sitting near the ocean - or any body of water, really. Have you ever noticed how you feel instantly more relaxed and less anxious whenever you’re near natural bodies of water?
The calming effect of water is true for pretty much every human. We’re now learning that it’s much more powerful than we ever could’ve imagined.
More studies are being conducted on the effect that the bodies of water are able to have on the human mind and body, and the findings are incredible. More and more people are becoming aware of and using this phenomenon to heal themselves from stress, anxiety, addiction and more.
The Blue Mind Theory
The fascinating effects of water on human emotions and psyche is being studied and has been named the Blue Mind Theory. “Blue mind” is characterized as a mild state of meditation that evokes a sense of calm, peacefulness, happiness and contentment.
It’s your brain’s subconscious, positive reaction to being on, in or near water. You instantly feel a higher sense of wellbeing, slower breathing and lower heart rate.
Alternatively, there’s also the “red mind” state, which is a state of over-stimulation, anxiety and stress. Red mind is a product of everyday modern life - constantly being connected, pressured and angry.
Although red mind might seem like it should be avoided at all costs, it can have it’s benefits when used constructively to balance and reduce life’s stressors. As with most things in life, it’s all about balance.
What is Blue Mind?
According to Dr. Michael Merzenich, a neuroscientist at the University of California, the brain is constantly working to record events and objects around you, and trying to interpret their meaning.
Unlike a hectic city street, where your brain is working overtime to keep up with your surroundings, a body of water offers a high level of predictability. This predictability allows your brain to take a break and feel safe. Even images and art simply depicting water can make you feel more safe and relaxed.
Since the sights and sounds of a body of water are somewhat consistent for the most part, whenever the slightest thing happens - like a bird passing by or a big wave crashing - you experience a sense of pleasant surprise and a small hit of dopamine. It’s provides the perfect balance of stability and change, which allows you to enter a state of involuntary attention, or the brain’s default setting.
Even if you aren’t able to get to a pool, pond, river or ocean, there a number of ways to take advantage of the calming power of water. You can get yourself in a state of blue mind pretty much anywhere. Here are some simple ways that you can interact with water on a daily basis and enjoy the benefits:
Go For A Swim
You don’t have to travel all the way to the nearest beach to achieve blue mind. If you can make it to a nearby lake or pool and jump in, you’re good to go.
Swimming can trigger similar feelings to the ones you experience when doing things like hatha yoga. The deep breathing, gentle movement and stretching all combine to put you in that mild meditative state.
Additionally, aerobic exercises like swimming trigger your brain to release your body’s natural pain relieving compounds (endocannabinoids and endorphins), which allows you to release stress and tension in your body and mind.
Have a Bath
Therapeutic water immersion has been around since the early civilizations. Relaxing in a tub water can instantly reduce stress and anxiety, and relieve muscle strain. Immersing yourself in water levels out your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, which control your “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” modes. This way, you’re able to adjust to and handle daily stressors much more efficiently.
If you aren’t able to lay down in the tub for awhile, even just a quick 10-minute shower can have a significant effect on your stress and anxiety levels.
Get a Fish Tank or Visit The Aquarium
For everyday zen, consider adding an aquarium or fish tank to your home. Researches at the University of Pennsylvania found that aquariums were an effective way to reduce anxiety in oral surgery patients, which is why it’s so common to see aquariums and fish tanks in dentist’s offices. Gazing into an aquarium creates a feeling of serenity.
Another study found that observing an aquarium for at least 10 minutes can significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate. This is especially true when observing aquariums with plenty of biodiversity and color.
Have A Glass Of Water
Even slight dehydration can have negative effects on your body’s ability to function properly. Your body is comprised of up to 78 percent water and your brain is even more. Your levels of anxiety, fatigue, reaction time and overall ability to focus can be greatly compromised if you’re not hydrating yourself.
Proper and adequate consumption of water is our most important interaction and relationship with water. If you aren’t taking care of this, you won’t be able to fully enjoy the psychological benefits of water and blue mind.
How The Ocean Provides Relaxation
Although the blue mind theory applies to any and all bodies of water, there’s nothing that compares to the level of blue mind that the ocean can put you in. There’s a reason why beaches are a favorite spot for vacations.
People love to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and head for the ocean to relax and recharge. Being next to the ocean gives you a sense of calm and peacefulness that you can’t get anywhere else.
How is the ocean able to relax you and put you in the state of blue mind like nothing else can? It’s easy to understand if you break it down.
When in or right next to the ocean, the are that you’re breathing is called “sea spray”. Not only is it much fresher than the heavily polluted air that you’re breathing in crowded cities, it’s actually rich in a negatively charged hydrogen ion particles. These types of particles neutralize harmful free radicals in the air and absorb oxygen.
So when you breath in this air, your serotonin levels balance out leaving you feeling much calmer and relaxed.
When you’re in a relaxed state you begin to breathe deeper and through your diaphragm, which will then put your body in a parasympathetic state. This will make you feel even calmer and allows the functions of your body relax as well.
Have you ever noticed that every sound machine has an ocean setting? The rhythmic sound of waves crashing against the shore is soothing for both your body and mind. The repetitive pattern is able to put you into that meditative state that can slow down racing thoughts and ease worries.
In 1997, there was a study conducted on cancer patients to see the effects of recorded water sounds on their chronic pain. Just 15 minutes of creeks, oceans and waterfalls shown to reduce the levels of stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine by 20 to 30 percent.
The ocean is vast and peaceful. Looking out at the open water allows your brain and eyes to take a break from the excessive stimulation of your everyday life. These days, we’re constantly looking at bright screens and navigating through busy streets, and it can be very overwhelming to our senses.
So when you finally get to look at something as peaceful and consistent as the ocean, you’re immediately sent into a state of relaxation. Not to mention, the vast and unending view allows you to forget your worries and gain some perspective on how small we really are.
In moderation and with the proper protective precautions, sunlight can have many amazing benefits, and you will get a lot of it when you spend time at the ocean. Soaking up the rays of the sun trigger your body to release endorphins, which help to improve your mood and sense of wellbeing. Sun exposure is also an excellent source of Vitamin D, which is essential for a healthy immune system and strong bones.
Water sports like surfing, sailing or paddle boarding are healthy ways to obtain a natural dopamine high. You get to enjoy the natural calming characteristics of the ocean while also enjoying the endorphins, stimulation and novelty that come with water sports. It’s so fun and restorative engage in a gentle activities, remain calm and experience a change in scenery.
Although it might sound a little “out there” there are many scientifically studied and proven health benefits to be gained by exposing yourself to the power of water and entering a state of blue mind. It goes way beyond just simply relaxing and soothing the mind, although there is a ripple effect that can be set off from just that.
Reduced Symptoms of PTSD
Activities related to water can help decrease the perception of stress in people with PTSD which helps to relieve anxiety, depression and panic attacks. The predictable nature of water allows a hyper-aware, traumatized mind to slow down and feel safe. It can also significantly improve sleep quality which can sometimes be an issue associated with PTSD.
Blue mind has the power to aid in the chemical and mental withdraws associated with addiction. Things like surf therapy are becoming popular techniques in aiding addicts with their recovery process.
Water activities and sports are an effective and healthy way to simulate a high using the body’s natural chemicals like endorphins and dopamine.
You’re able to experience that chemical rush while enjoying the relaxing, non-threatening atmosphere. There’s a reason why people who surf often are generally more relaxed and easy going - they know how to ride the waves and go with the flow of life.
Lower Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is your body’s stress response hormone. It’s necessary for protection and certain bodily functions, but excess cortisol in the body can be very damaging. It can ultimately lead to high blood pressure, insulin resistance, obesity, impaired cognitive performance and more.
Using water as a means of stress relief can greatly reduce high levels of cortisol in your body to help you remain relaxed, calm. Even though you don’t mentally feel the stress, that doesn’t mean that your body isn’t having a stress response to the constant stimuli and pressure of daily activities.
Natural Pain Relief
Immersing yourself in water makes you feel light and buoyant. This takes pressure off of your bones and muscles, while allowing you to still be active and move oxygen rich blood to any injured or tense areas in your body.
If you aren’t able to physically get in the water, just being near it and taking in the sights and sounds trigger your body to release it’s own pain reducing chemicals that soothe you and raise your pain threshold. Mediation and rhythmic breathing similar to the waves of the ocean the feelings associated with blue mind have been used as a tool for pain management for thousands of years.
It’s easy to brush off blue mind as being an effective treatment for anything, but it’s scientifically backed and the benefits are significant. It’s a simple and natural way to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and pain. It can even help boost creativity and help with symptoms associated with PTSD, addiction and other conditions.
Blue mind is something that all people can experience and benefit from on a daily basis. The human body has a natural attraction and positive reaction to bodies of water. Being in, on or near any body of water can affect all of our senses and have many calming benefits to our minds and bodies.
In today’s world we’re more stressed, pressured and overworked than ever. You might not even realize how much your need to disconnect and recenter, but once you do you’ll find that you have more focus, creativity and emotional resilience.