by Coral Payne, MA, RCC – Registered Clinical Counsellor –
I recently took the ferry to the mainland to attend a celebration of life. It was one of those February days – the sun was bright but there was still a winter chill in the air. I found a nice little protected spot on one of the upper outer decks, and stayed there enjoying the fresh air and views of the ocean.
At first I was thinking about my friend, who at 95 had managed to stay active in both body and mind, only recently gave up her golf club membership, and lived independently up until the very end. As I was thinking about her, I found myself being lulled into a sense of calm as I gazed at the sun glistening on the surface of the water, listened to the sound of the ferry ploughing its way through the chop, and enjoyed the patterns that the wind made on the surface of the water.
Even though I was starting to get cold, I was reluctant to go inside. I was experiencing firsthand what has come to be known as “blue health” or “blue care” – the direct benefits for mental health of being on or near the ocean.
We have known for some time that contact with nature is good for us. Physicians and mental health workers have been advocating what we call “green prescriptions” – encouraging patients and clients to spend more time in natural spaces. New studies are showing that being on or around the ocean may have more benefits for mental health than spending time in the woods!
Researchers have found that increased views of “blue space” are significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress, and that a significant number of coastal-dwellers who enjoy sea views have lower rates of depression than the rest of the population. You don’t have to live by the sea to reap the benefits of the ocean. Just spending time near the ocean can slow the heart rate, reduce stress hormones, and boost mental health. It is also believed that the soft visual stimuli of water as it moves, and as sunlight is reflected on the surface of the water, holds our attention without any conscious effort, making room for reflection and cognitive recovery.
This is great news for those of us who have the good fortune to live near the ocean (which is most of us on the Saanich Peninsula). It is easy for us to incorporate the benefits of improved mental health by spending more time on or around the ocean.
Take your coffee to the beach. Sit in the sunshine, close your eyes, and listen to the waves gently lap the shore. Get up close and personal with the ocean – rent a kayak and explore a small piece of our beautiful coast. Board one of the Gulf Island ferries and sit on an outside deck in the sunshine, and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells. Get all of your senses involved in the experience. Pack a picnic dinner and find a nice piece of shoreline to enjoy the sunset, and notice how calm and grounded you feel on your journey home.
Next time you are feeling anxious or stressed, think about taking a “blue break” – spend some time at the seaside.