Research Reveals That Spending Time Near Water Improves Our Mental Health

Humanity has always flocked to water, from the early days of our history, when rivers composed our highways and sustained our strongholds, to the present day, when our most desired vacation destinations and real estate lie along the water. In between, water has served a multitude of roles in human existence, from a component of mere survival to a source of enlightenment and spiritual wholeness.

Recently, scientists have set out to prove just how vital our link to this natural resource really is.

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One of those scientists is Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist and author of the New York Times bestseller, "Blue Mind." That term, blue mind, which was coined by Nichols, himself, describes the gently "meditative state" that we tend to fall into around water. That feeling has spurred Nichols research from the start.

“When we talk about the value of water, be it in a river or in the ocean, the discussion usually revolves around the ‘blue economy’: jobs, fish, seafood, oxygen, and new pharmaceuticals,” Nichols told OOOM Magazine. “What tends to be left out of the discussion are the cognitive, emotional, psychological, and social advantages of water.”

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And those benefits, it turns out, are plentiful and receiving more scientific research and validation, all the time. A 2010 study, the results of which were published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, analyzed its participants’ responses to both artificial and “green” spaces that contained water and found that the mere presence of water in a scene was correlated with more positive experiences and “higher perceived restorativeness than those without water.”

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Another study, conducted in the city of Wellington, New Zealand, analyzed the effects of living near the water on residents’ mental health. They concluded that the impact was positive, even when controlling other factors that might lead to an overall improvement in wellbeings, such as wealth, age, and gender. Their more surprising conclusion, perhaps, was that the presence of green spaces seemed to have no significant impact. The presence of water, alone, was enough to improve mental health scores.

“Research has shown that being near, in, on or under water can provide a long list of benefits for our mind and body,” Nichols said to USA Today, “including lowering stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts.”

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As such, Nichols sees the “blue mind” as an antidote to “red mind,” another term he’s coined to describe the general state of anxiety created by increased urbanization and humanity’s constant contact with and growing dependence on technology. He’s backed in that belief by reports like the one the American Psychological Association released in 2017, which looked at the impact of modern technology on stress.

That report noted that 90% of young adults, as well as just under half of all adults, are now “constant checkers,” meaning that they are continually engaged with screens and social media. The APA found that this exact habit has negative impacts on mental health and can vastly increase stress levels, regardless of whether the technology we engage with works as intended or not. 

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We can counteract these “red mind” stressors by spending time in or near water. In fact, Nichols claims, water can help ward off the anxiety and depression that we experience due to recent changes in technology and our increased exposure to it. Overall, therapists are increasingly utilizing water to treat and manage a variety of mental health issues, including PTSD, addiction, anxiety disorders, autism, and many other conditions.

“We’ve found that being near water boosts creativity, can enhance the quality of conversations and provides a backdrop to important parts of living — like play, romance and grieving,” Nichols told USA Today. “All of this depends on these waters being safe, clean and healthy, of course.”

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We need not be near a body of water to enjoy those healing effects, though, as simply listening to the sounds of water, or “pink noise,” has been shown to improve sleep and boost memory. And we can always simply take a shower, which Nichols has referred to as a “proxy for the ocean.” 

“You step in the shower, and you remove a lot of the visual stimulation of your day,” Nichols told The Huffington Post. “Auditorially, it’s the same thing—it’s a steady stream of ‘blue noise.’ You’re not hearing voices or processing ideas. You step into the shower and it’s like a mini-vacation.” 

Researchers continue to gather evidence in support of the essential role that water plays in our overall happiness and wellbeing and how it can be utilized to improve our mental health and maximize our quality of living.

Watch Wallace J. Nichols' TED Talk in the video below:

If you've felt the positive impact of water in your own life, let us know by commenting, below!

Our content is created to the best of our knowledge, yet it is of general nature and cannot in any way substitute an individual consultation with your doctor. Your health is important to us!