The sea – it’s free therapy!


“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.”

– John F. Kennedy

There’s something about the ocean isn’t there?

Even when the weather is inclement I love to go watch and listen to the waves crashing about, the stones being thrown around, the sand being churned, the constant ebbing and flowing – sometimes the noisier the better!

What I particularly love about this time of year though is the light. The colours dance and change more often as the Summer eases its way back into our lives. (Although granted… maybe not today… but wasn’t that a cracker of a weekend??!)

But yes, the sea, it’s therapy.

Most of us think of the sea, rivers or lakes when we imagine holidays. We associate water with fun, refreshment, exploration, self soothing.  We went a little collectively mad missing the sea during our successive lockdowns – then collectively madder with joy when they were lifted. The beaches, here, and all over the world, were thronged within milliseconds or permissions being granted – weather be damned!!!

It was literally only natural.

We retreat to showers and baths when we’re stressed. Youtube is awash with mindfulness and relaxation clips with water sounds in the background. Our breathing changes when we hear normal waves, we slow down unconsciously and match the pace. No wonder we missed it so much. ..

And the physical and emotional effects of proximity to the ocean are profoundly positive. We tend to turn to water for serenity, for clarity, for all that is life affirming.

What Science says:

Science agrees. For example – environmental scientist Mat White has done several interesting studies and found that “proximity to the coast was positively associated with good health, with a small, but significant increase in the percentage of people reporting good health among populations residing closer to the sea”.

Another academic called Depledge presented people with landscape images that had increasing amounts of water in them. He found that “going from a pond right through to a coastline, with increasing amounts of water in the images, people showed a strong preference for more and more water in the images.

We have evidence that natural environments promote physical activity, reduces stress, restores cognitive ability and increases social interaction. Just think of the average day ‘out the strand’ – isn’t that what happens? We run, throw stones, play with dogs and children. We salute strangers, chat to them about each others’ pets, the weather…. Then we get back into the car and feel.. tingly, ‘glowy’ – better! All good.

Another thing that happens near water is exposure to negative ions – and these tiny things have enormously positive effects on our brains.

The more movement in the water, the more negative ions are present. And we think this explains why we find crashing waves and water-sports so utterly exhilarating! In fact, this idea taken so seriously as a theory that negative ion generators are being tested as treatment for depression in Columbia University.

And how happy do children look when splashing around in puddles, real or plastic?!

Even in  urban settings: “from fountains in squares to canals running through the city… again people hugely preferred the urban environments that had more water.” (Depledge again).

Future research at the ECEHH (European Centre for Environment and Human Health – bit of a mouthful) includes studies looking at the effect of video screens  showing aquatic environments in elderly care homes, and the benefits of views over sea or water from home or hospital windows. It sounds nice doesn’t it? Here’s a clip I took in Killarney – and even though it’s a lake, not the ocean, I still found it mesmerising to be there, watching.

And what’s your favourite colour? Let me guess… there’s a significant chance I’ll get it right…

Our affinity for water is even reflected in the near-universal attraction to the colour blue. We’re naturally drawn to aquatic hues and blue is overwhelmingly chosen as the favourite colour of people around the world. Also, marketing research consistently finds that we associate blues with qualities like calm, openness, depth and wisdom.

And it’s not just a visual feast:

“Let (sea)food be thy medicine” – Hippocrates

It seems to make evolutionary sense too – we need water to live obviously, but also we benefit hugely from the creatures that live in the water.

Neuroscientist Michael Crawford of the University of North London has proposed that our ancestors were devotees of the sea, and that “this devotion has paid off by allowing us to develop larger and more complex brains”.

Moving towards the sea gave us a marine diet that was packed with omega-3 fatty acids, essential fatty acids that promote brain cell growth. He theorises that this is why human brain growth began to increase exponentially once we left the woods and headed for the beach.

We have also learned that people who eat fish regularly, are less like to suffer from depression than those who don’t. Indeed fish is a symbol of happiness and good health across a broad spectrum of religions and cultures.

So I don’t know how you feel about eating fish – I’m not a huge fan myself actually. In fact am resisting the urge to insert a vomit emoji… But I am a huge fan of the sea, and am cognisant of its healing effect on me, and on many of the clients I work with. I am utterly grateful to live and work a mere five minutes from waves and fresh air and I find myself trotting down to the quay or the beach nearly every day to fill my lungs with the delicious saltiness of it all.

(That’s Garryvoe – gorgeous isn’t it?)

For those of use living near the coast (and that’s all of us in Ireland really!) it’s a resource worth using. Get out there, go for a walk. Breath in that air, feel the wind in your hair, the seaspray on your skin! And for those few moments or hours, immerse yourself in the experience (or even in the water!! #brrr)  – go with the rhythm of it – there is plenty of evidence to suggest you’ll feel better afterwards.

The sea is resilience at its beautiful best. Just as we are.

That’s a little clip of some sanderlings I had fun watching on Youghal beach last week – cuteness!

ps – If you ‘d like to actively do something to protect your local beach join a CleanCoast Group – I can tell you from experience the Feelgood Factor is huge!

*photo & vid credits: me, because that’s part of my self-prescribed therapy! Please don’t use them without my permission!

** 1st version originally posted in 2016 OMG #timeflies!

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