There is no denying the feel-good factor of water. The first ripples of summer, holidays, the wild frothy ocean, and wild swimming in lakes and rivers. Even hot showers on cold days and vice versa. It’s a surge of adrenaline, balm for the soul, and the feeling of absolute calm and freedom.
This lust to be near or under water goes deeper than just holiday craving. In 2013, marine biologist Dr Wallace J Nichols, author of the bestselling book, Blue Mind, took a deep dive into our emotional, physical and psychological connections to water: how it makes you happier and more connected, drawing on neuroscience and human behaviour to explore why it has such a positive effect on our wellbeing.
Blue Mind theory is a legitimate and now trendy branch of the mindfulness landscape. A host of studies by neuroscientists have shown that water reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone), slows our breathing and heart rate, and allows us to gently move into a mildly meditative mood. As a result, we are calmer, more creative and in a much more connected state of mind. Perhaps this is why wild swimming in the UK has grown exponentially over the past few years, as stated in research by Sport England.
According to Dr Nichols, our moods should flit between ‘blue’ and ‘red’ mind: ‘When we are anxious, there’s uncertainty. We’re overstimulated, there’s a lot of technology, and lots of screens, but it serves as our fight or flight and can be useful when harnessed for good,’ he says.
However, it can go too far and turn into ‘grey’ mind, which means burnout, breakdown, disconnection and even mild depression.
‘The goal is to move between red, which is our action mode, and blue, which is calm and restorative, and avoid the grey,’ he adds. As we practise blue mind, we’re leaving the sources of red behind – the mental, visual and auditory stimuli that distract us.'
With Blue Mind theory statistics mounting, more and more people are turning to water for its healing benefits and restorative power to combat physical and mental ailments, such as PTSD and addiction. In 2014, a study by the American Journal Of Occupational Therapy on the effect of surf therapy with 11 veterans, showed reduced symptoms of PTSD and depression.
‘Surfing and other water sports provide alternative rewards by satisfying the brain’s desire for stimulation, novelty, and a neurochemical “rush”, while also getting addicts out of their typical environments,’ explains Dr Nichols.
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