Beaches, lakes and rivers are blue mind triggers
As the new year approaches and looking ahead is the mindset, setting goals and changing the levels of stress we’ve all become accustomed to is a priority. That said, nothing keeps you quite as calm as being near water, and science has backed that up. Research has shown that something known as the blue mind—the study of aquatic environments’ health benefits—is how we attain total serenity, and it can only be attained when we are near bodies of water.
What is the 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.
Expert on the topic Dr. Wallace J. Nichols (aka Dr. J) talks about what blue mind really is and the importance of reclaiming serenity in our everyday lives. Beginning with a term that’s been around for decades—yet seems to be at the forefront of our cerebral cortex as of late—burnout is more common that you’d realize.
In Europe, the notion of burnout is so prevalent that a pan-European research initiative called BlueHealth was developed and funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme. The program focuses on how water-based environments in towns and cities impact our overall well-being. Experts from nine different institutions came together to implement the plan and apply it under grant agreement No 666773.
“By stimulating research and innovation, Horizon 2020 is producing world-class science that enables Europe’s public and private sectors to work together in delivering solutions to 21st-century challenges,” states the BlueHealth website BlueHealth2020.edu. This plan aims to have a lasting impact and encourage a far more positive quality of life.
That is something experts like Nichols understand. He is among those who have dedicated their time and research to really exploring how we can better our lives by utilizing nature’s gift of water flow. Not only is it cost-effective, but it’s almost always readily available in some form or fashion and can literally save us from burning out.
“Burnout (gray mind) is caused by a combination of many factors, including continuous input from media, work and social networks, and the pressure we put on ourselves to not use the ‘off button’ and take real, rejuvenating breaks,” says Nichols. “Being overworked, not taking vacations and not sleeping much are considered badges of honor. This has serious costs to our cognitive, emotional, psychological, social, physical, creative and spiritual health.”
From oceans to lakes, rivers and basins, there are so many ways to find your blue mind, but understanding the way it works is why Nichols is the go-to. “When we step up to water, the visual and auditory stimulus fades and is simplified. When we get in the water that is also true for somatic input.” The somatic nervous system (SNS or voluntary nervous system) is the part of the peripheral nervous system associated with the voluntary control of body movements via skeletal muscles.
“We get back a lot of bandwidth that was used to process all that information. Stress hormones decrease, breathing rates slow, our skin temperature cools, reducing inflammation—being on the water triggers a restful, blue mind state of mind.
Actual water does these things naturally and virtual depictions of water stimulate a milder blue mind response too.”
If you’ve ever had an opportunity to step onto a sailboat, ship, or speedboat, heck even a surfboard, chances are you’ve felt that surge of peace take hold. And it turns out that one of the most readily available ways to attain the blue mind is boating. “The boat is the best technology to access the blue mind state. It’s the way people have accessed waters for millennia.”
Nichols is known by surfers, divers, and water lovers around the world for his innovative approach and his belief in the healing properties of the water, so it was a natural fit that he partnered with Discover Boating. Launching a public awareness campaign dedicated to increasing participation and creating interest in recreational boating, the incentive is getting people out on the water. Nichols explains, “Being on a boat helps us get outside of daily routines and reset, leaving anxiety and stress behind and achieving a different level of contentment, creativity and calm. Red mind (stress) isn’t going away, but we need to manage it so that we don’t end up in gray mind (burnout).”