Why Being Near Water Is Scientifically Proven to Help You Relax
“I’m not in the right frame of mind” is an expression that might be more literal than you’ve considered. Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, marine biologist and 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 ($17), talked with us about different mental modes that can affect how happy and healthy you feel. “We’re surrounded by so many influential stressors today, like money, work, urbanization, and a constant tie to technology,” Nichols says. “These stressors contribute to ‘Red Mind,’ a state that can make you feel an edgy high that’s characterized by anxiety, stress, and fear.”
Have you experienced this kind of harried state? If so, you’ll be relieved to know that the opposite mental state also exists, and getting into it is achievable. “‘Blue Mind’ is a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness associated with water,” Nichols explains. “One of the most important things is how easy it is to experience Blue Mind; being near or on the water can help you escape Red Mind and the distracted, anxious mode you might live in.”
4 Science-Backed Benefits of Blue Mind
1. A Positive, Natural Brain Response: “Water is considered the elixir of life — it covers more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, makes up nearly 70 percent of our bodies, and constitutes over 70 percent of our heart and brains,” Nichols says. “We all spent our first nine months of life underwater, and this biological connection has been shown to trigger an immediate response in our brains when we’re near water.”
2. Increased Blood Flow: Science has helped connect the dots to the full range of emotional and physical benefits that come with being on, in, or near water. According to Nichols, “The sight and sound of water can induce a flood of neurochemicals that promote wellness, increase blood flow to the brain and heart, and promote relaxation.”
3. Cognitive Enhancement: “We’re finding that a safe, lifelong relationship to water, facilitated through activities like boating and water sports, brings cognitive, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual health benefits,” Nichols explains. As a bonus, beach days and water sports are a great way to spend time with friends while enjoying some exercise.
4. Rest and Relaxation: It’s well-documented that Americans don’t take enough vacation. More than ever, people need to rest and restore their minds. “Being on the water has been shown to offer relaxation, restoration, and happiness, along with the added benefits of exercise, social time, and a connection with nature,” Nichols states.
He’s also quick to praise the power of actually being #onaboat, explaining, “Not only does boating get us out of a typical routine, but it allows the brain to reset, think beyond our current circumstances, and connect to something bigger than ourselves.” Even more, Nichols says that being on the water can promote physiological and psychological changes, facilitating awe and wonder, creativity and play, happiness, and relaxation.
3 Easy Ways to Achieve Blue Mind
1. Listen. “If you aren’t in an area where there is access to water, you can still experience elements of Blue Mind by listening to the sound of flowing water,” Nichols says. Can’t access an ocean, lake, river, swimming pool, or the soothing sound of a fountain? Tap into a relaxing app, such as Rain Rain Sleep Sounds (free on iOS, then $3.99/month), to enjoy the effect regardless.
2. Hit the beach. “Simply spending time near the water, during a beach vacation or lake trip, for example, is good for your overall well-being,” Nichols says. “Science says so: Discover Boating conducted a survey with Wakefield Research and found that four in five Americans say being around water relaxes them, plus 72 percent feel healthier after spending time on the water.”
3. Dive in. Being in the water is a surefire way to reap the calming effects of Blue Mind. Treat yourself to a dip, spend the day doing a water sport like kayaking or paddle boarding with friends, or enjoy a lazy afternoon floating down a river. “The benefits of being near water are immediate and long-lasting,” says Nichols. And not to worry if you don’t have time to take a week-long seaside vacation; even a quick dip helps. “There’s no set amount of time you need to spend in it to get the benefit,” he says.
Does water help you relax? Tell us about the effect it has on you on Twitter @BritandCo.
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(Photos via Getty)