Water for Your Thoughts?
“When we are with the water it washes our troubles away”- E.E. Cumings
Finding new ways to cope with life’s stressors can be an incredibly helpful practice for everyone but especially for those struggling with their mental health. Coping skill suggestions are shared with clients but they are often not tailored to the client. Sometimes, when you hear use your “breathing techniques” for the one-hundredth time you might feel like you need something a little different. In order to be helpful to my clients, I let my curiosity guide me to an innovative coping skill. Luckily, we live in Tampa Bay, which is surrounded by water, and who would have thought that water could be used to calm the mind. Randomly one day, I was feeling overwhelmed with life and my relationships, so I decided to take a walk on Bayshore Boulevard. Little did I know that it was the best self-care plan that I could have stumbled upon. After seeing, hearing, and feeling the water I immediately felt small, my issues felt small. I could physically feel a blanket of calm being placed over my body. My thoughts were quiet and I felt hopeful. Immediately I knew there was something special about going to the water. Every time life became stressful I found myself taking a 30-minute walk on Bayshore, and to this day it has a lasting impact on me. The reason I am passionate about finding coping skills that meet your personal needs is because one size doesn’t fit all, and we can be discouraged to utilize coping skills when they don’t work. Therefore, if you aren’t using positive coping skills, you are not coping nor are you giving yourself the opportunity to be happy.
My research has led me to The Blue Mind, a theory developed by Wallace J. Nichols. The Blue Mind is a science that shows how being near, in, on, or underwater can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do (Nichols, W. J., 2014). Nichols claims that being near water causes emotional, psychological, and social benefits to humans. Nichols states, that since our bodies have such a strong biological connection with water, “… the mere sight and sound of water can induce a flood of neurochemicals that promote wellness, increase blood flow to the brain and heart and induce relaxation”. Think about it, when we are seeking calmness, others may suggest listening to the white noise of waves crashing or taking a shower. This is because it gives us a sense of wellness, peace, or simply just a break.
Additionally, Nichols writes about other states of the mind that humans experience. He describes the Red Mind, which is when we are anxious, stressed or consumed in our technology. The Grey Mind is described as spending too much time indoors looking at screens. This state has increased humans’ lethargy, lack of motivation, and dissatisfaction with life. The Grey Mind is especially important today due to COVID-19 and the lifestyle change the world has undergone. Also, the Red Mind has an impact today because we are constantly on our phones. We wake up to the start of our day on our phones and we end the day on our phones. Ultimately, over time humans have been disconnecting from their environment which is affecting our mental health. Scientists in the United Kingdom became interested in this topic and conducted some research studies. According to Livni (2018), scientists previously only focused on nature as a whole and not specifically water. In order to differentiate the two, Michael Depledge of the University of Exeter medical school in the UK and environmental psychologist Mat White conducted a wellbeing study involving photos with greenery and water (Livni, 2018). This study showed that the participants who looked at a green environment reported a positive feeling, although, when water was added to the environment, they reported the best positive response. Depledge and White, even looked at urban areas with water and it received a more positive response than just the green environment (Livni, 2018). This reiterates that we have a connection with water and it makes us feel something (Nichols, W. J., 2014).
There are many benefits to the Blue Mind, it makes us happier, healthier, calmer and more creative (Livni, 2018). How do we know all of this? Neuroscience has provided the best tools to examine the brain like EEG’s, MRI’s and fMRI’s (Nichols, W. J., 2014). What these tests have shown is a reduction in the body’s harmful chemicals, cortisol and cytokines. Therefore, this coping skill can be incredibly helpful for those with anxiety, depression, or chronic stress. Our happiness is important and it should be a priority. Happiness increases productivity at work, greater self-control and ability to cope, generosity, cooperativity and empathy. It boosts our immune system, endocrine and cardiovascular system, lowers cortisol and heart rate, decreases inflammation, slows disease progression and increases longevity (Nichols, W. J., 2014). The Blue Mind is a free way to help yourself achieve happiness, decrease those harmful chemicals or at the very least give your mind a break from this chaotic world. Find your water, find your happiness.
“The Blue Mind isn’t just about smiling when you’re near the water; it’s about smiling everywhere”. -Nichols, W. J.
Livni, E. (2018, August 08). Blue Mind science proves the health benefits of being by water. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://qz.com/1347904/blue-mind-science-proves-the-health-benefits-of-being-by-water/amp/
Nichols, W. J. (2014). 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. Little, Brown.
Nichols, W. J. [TEDxTalks]. (2013, January 24). Exploring Our Blue Mind: Dr. Wallace J. Nichols at TEDxSanDiego 2012. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/7n95yIBq6jo
Nichols, W. J. [TEDxTalks]. (2015, October 26). Blue Mind in the Desert, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, TEDxFountainHills. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/3V7g4kaMwhU.
Contributed by: Elise Gaudette, M.S.