Have you ever wondered why so many people will crowd onto highway 17, enduring a slow-moving crawl over the hill to Santa Cruz? It’s the ocean. Or more specifically, water. Since water symbolizes life, we are drawn to it. We want to vacation on, in, or near it. We want to live close to it. One of the many benefits of living in Silicon Valley is the proximity to the San Francisco Bay and the miles of beaches and stunning Pacific coastline. Not surprisingly, research has shown that our innate desire to be in and around water enhances our wellbeing and there is even a term for how it makes us feel: the Blue Mind effect.
The proximity to water in just about any form promotes relaxation, peacefulness, and restoration. So many of us plan vacations and get-aways around water: ocean cruises, beach vacations, camping near rivers, waterskiing or boating, staying at hotels with luxurious swimming pools or ocean views. Science has confirmed what we have merely considered an enjoyable pastime benefits us through enhanced mental health and wellbeing.
Marine biologist, ocean conservancy researcher, and author, Wallace J. Nichols, is an expert on water’s mental and emotionally healing powers, writing about it in his bestselling 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.
Nichols defines the term Blue Mind as the “mildly meditative state we enter when we are near, in, or surrounded by clean, healthy water.” This general sense of contentedness and tranquility that overtakes us is a natural antidote to the modern day “Red Mind,” the always-on, hectic, overstimulated state of overwhelm that is all too commonplace. He also refers to the “Gray Mind,” one caused by too much time indoors connected to devices, which results in lethargy and lack of motivation. Nichols explains that there is a time and place for both the Red and Gray Minds but both need to be counterbalanced.
Unlike the busy, erratic environment that we exist in daily – driving in traffic, crossing a busy street, sitting in on multiple Zoom meetings, digging through bursting email inboxes – water offers a serene, predictable background. It has a controlled, calming regularity that is soothing, allowing us to achieve the Blue Mind state.
Science show that being near water offers a number of benefits:
- Lowers stress levels
- Reduces anxiety
- Provides increased sense of wellbeing
- Elevates happiness and contentedness
- Lowers heart and breathing rates
- Enhances creativity
- Encourages better conversations and communication
- Offers an important backdrop for living (play, weddings, etc.)
Water lapping on shore, the sound of waves rolling in, sparkling blue expanses all trigger a “dreamy state of involuntary attention.” To make the most of the meditative Blue Mind, we need to step away from our devices, which keep us connected to life’s hectic Red Mind pace.
Since our vacations this year look different than in year’s past, many of us will not be relaxing on a tropic beach, lounging poolside at a favorite resort, or even having a family gathering on a nearby beach. But there are ways we can still acquire all of the positives water provides while staying close to or even at home.
SIP ways to get into the Blue Mind state of being:
- Take a drive along the coast. Nichols recommends the “Slow Coast,” the expanse of highway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay
- Take a walk along a beach or local pathway near a creek, like the Los Gatos Creek Trail
- Go fishing in a nearby lake, pond, or creek
- Visit (virtually) an aquarium, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, or the California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium
Or, create your own Blue Mind oasis at home:
- Get an aquarium for your home
- Place a fountain or water feature in your backyard
- Take a bath or go swimming if you have safe access to a pool
- Invest in a wave machine that creates soothing ocean sounds
- Watch a video that shows a beautiful, peaceful ocean, river, or other water scene
The next time you feel your creativity and energy waning and your stress increasing, get to the water. Put down your devices and engage your senses. Go sit next to the fountain in your garden, take a socially distanced walk on a beach, find a serene, shaded spot near a creek, or listen to soothing ocean sounds. Let the power of water boost your wellbeing.