Seastorms, hurricanes, seasonal flooding. No matter. In the U.S., more than 94 million people live near the coast (Atlantic, Pacific, or Gulf of Mexico coastlines), which translates to almost 30 percent of the population. If you include cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Salt Lake City, that number grows by millions more.
It’s true that many coastal cities evolved along with industries. Waterways are extremely practical for shipping goods and people. But, perhaps, transportation isn’t the only reason why humans love to live near or visit locations on the water. Some of the most popular vacation destinations worldwide are located on the water. Hotels, resorts, villas—they all charge premium pricing for the best ocean or lake views, and whole tourist industries are focused on cruising, water sports, and beach life.
Of course, there’s a long history of water-based therapies that stretches back to the ancient world. Hippocrates, known in the West as the Father of Medicine, prescribed spring water bathing to treat a myriad of ills. Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians relied heavily on the therapeutic benefits of sea water, fresh water, and heated water. In the East, the Chinese and Japanese also constructed elaborate bathing houses and rituals to enjoy the healing and hygiene benefits of water.
People have long found that water helps to soothe away aches and ease joint pain associated with conditions like arthritis. But water doesn’t simply enhance physical comfort. It also enhances mental health too. Simply walking along a beach can help alleviate some symptoms of the blues, at least for a period of time. People who are suffering from depression or anxiety may find, like humans have for centuries, that spending time at the coast helps them to feel refreshed and relaxed.
Can the Beach Help Alleviate Depression? What’s the Medical Evidence?
When someone is feeling blue or highly stressed, spending a day at the beach can boost one’s mood. In fact, there have been studies that demonstrate the mental health benefit of being near water. According to The Washington Post, researchers at Michigan State University conducted a study involving people who lived near blue spaces (i.e. the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea) and people who lived near green spaces (forests or parks). Those who lived near the sea reported less mental stress.
Another study out of the UK reported similar findings. According to that research, people who lived closer to the sea were 22 percent less likely to experience a mental health disorder than those who lived 50 kilometers or more from the sea. An interesting component of this study also showed that the benefit extended even to people living in households with reduced income.
The American Journal Association for the Advancement of Science stated that staring at blue spaces such as the ocean or a large lake can actually change the frequency of brain waves, inducing a mild meditative state. The benefit to mood goes beyond the blue space visuals too. The sound of waves on the shore can ‘de-stimulate’ the brain to enhance our feeling of calm.
What Benefits Does Being Near Water Have?
People who live near the water are often active. That means that they have the added benefit of exercise, which can greatly diminish symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins that target sore muscles to induce healing. These endorphins also flood the brain where they have the effect of boosting mood. Consequently, enjoying a walk on the beach enhances mood in multiple ways that are physical and psychological in nature.
Walking is just one way to exercise near the beach. Many people ramp up their positive beach experience by practicing yoga, jogging, or swimming. Others combine their need for activity with social experiences like kayaking with a friend or playing beach volleyball. This activity promotes both physical and mental health. If the sun is shining–even better. Sunshine can also boost mood and fulfill our needs for vitamin D.
Ways to Reduce Stress near the Ocean
If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed, spending time near the ocean can be physically and psychologically therapeutic. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a condition like depression, it can take weeks before you experience relief from therapy or medications. Spending time by the ocean can help alleviate some symptoms as you begin your treatment process. Additionally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, heading to the beach can help you relax, so that you’re in a better place mentally to deal with your problems.
While lounging on the coast in a beach chair may be all you need to feel an improvement in mood, there are many other ways to enhance your beach experience to elevate your mental health. Bring along some reading material to enjoy at the beach. Reading can be a getaway from whatever stress the brain may be focused on. Choose material that is absorbing but also positive.
Consider working in some water sports or other activities as part of a beach day. Sailing, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, scuba, jet skiing–these activities can promote mindfulness. When you’re active, you’re less likely to ruminate about problems, which can feed anxiety or depression. The benefit of the exercise further enhances mood. Even if the beach can’t cure depression, it can temporarily alleviate symptoms, allowing you to get some much-needed relief.
Retreat to the Sea
If you’re experiencing mild depression or have endured a stressful week, think about spending a weekend at the beach. You can book a hotel stay, camp, or book an air bnb. Try to find a spot where you’ll have space to walk as well as relax. While crowded beach areas may feature loads of amenities like jet ski rentals, they may prevent you from relaxing with your book or resting in your lounge chair.
If you’ve been struggling with depression for more than a couple weeks, it’s important to get an evaluation. Consider visiting a coastal mental health treatment center like FHE Health. We treat a wide range of mental health conditions including depression. Patients in our treatment programs often take advantage of FHE’s proximity to the sea, combining their formal therapy with some beachside relaxation.
Often, people who suffer from mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can benefit from both formal and informal methods. For instance, a formal, therapist-led session in cognitive behavioral therapy can help people transform their thought patterns. Practicing yoga on the coast or simply trying to meditate can also improve one’s symptoms. In time, sometimes a short period of time, these various practices can facilitate healing and help individuals more effectively manage their mental health over the long term.