Blue Mind - water and mental health
Continuing our series focusing on the healing power of nature, today our attention turns to water. As mentioned in our last blog on sound therapy, the human body is around 60% water, so it should come as no great surprise to read that simply being near an expanse of water has been shown to have a profound effect on our health and wellbeing. Marine biologist, best-selling author and ‘protector of the seas’ Dr Wallace J Nichols calls this magical occurence ‘Blue Mind’ – a revolutionary discovery in an emerging field known as Neuroconservation.
The name ‘Blue Mind’ quite beautifully describes the mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment we experience as a result of being by a body of water. And although a wonderful form of connection to nature in its own right, this, in a world where so many of us experience daily exhaustion, screen fatigue, anxiety, stress and general depletion, offers access to a wellness boost like none other. One that taps into our ancient neural pathways and simply eliminates feelings of stress and anxiety which can cause or exacerbate many diseases, disorders and unhealthy conditions.
Incredibly, what we now know about Blue Mind comes from much more than anecdotal experience. Thanks to the amazing research led by Nichols, a range of methods have been used to measure electrical activity (EEG) and oxygen flow (fMRI) to the brain as subjects engage with water. The astounding results have made it clear that human beings have a natural predisposition to be soothed by bodies of water, offering what Dr Nicholls tells us are profound implications for how we take care of ourselves and our blue planet in this ‘golden age of exploration of both our brains and our wild waters’.
As well as learning about the positives Blue Mind has to offer, these studies have also shed light on something called ‘Red Mind’, described by Nichols as an ‘edgy high, characterized by stress, anxiety, fear, and maybe even a little bit of anger and despair’. This, unfortunately, appears to be our default in modern day life, triggering a near-constant fight or flight response at inappropriate moments. Red Mind is believed to be a reaction to an extreme bombardment of constant information and a way of living that is not conducive to our biological needs. Just think about your smart phone, as one example. Facebook, Twitter, news feeds, emails, texts and calls all there in the palm of our hands. Useful at times, yes. But a serious detriment to our health? Almost certainly.
So, what can we do to rewire our brains? To switch out of Red Mind and utilise the benefits of Blue Mind.
A walk by the sea (or better yet, a swim in it!) is of course perhaps the most powerful way to rekindle our connection with water. The charge in the air, the sound of the waves and the immense sense of awe we can’t help but feel as we gaze out across the expanse all make for a powerful re-set and recharge. But if you’re not near the coast, there are lots of other options too.
A lake, a trickling stream, even heading out for a walk in the rain all work wonders too. And, believe it or not, there are ways you can reap the benefits without even having to leave your home.
Nichols says “Anything inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the colour blue, to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion takes advantage of neurological connections formed over millennia.’
His research suggests that just being by water, even soaking in a bath at home has the potential to alleviate cognitive conditions as effectively as anti-depressants and many physical ailments too.
To truly tap into our Blue Mind, we must close down the screens and re-prioritise our relationship with water. We can walk along its shores, climb onto a boat or board or strip down and submerge. Assuming we feel comfortable and safe, our minds and bodies can be restored, allowing our brain to move into a different mode where creativity, insight and connections with others are enhanced. Where we’re open to the experiences of awe and wonder which can boost empathy and compassion. Our breathing and heart rate tends to slow down. We let our minds wander and dream. We remember that waterside is a place for play, romance, a sense of freedom, contemplation, grieving and remembering. A place where we feel completely alive, yet wholly at peace.
Tap into Blue Mind at Home
You don’t have to be by the sea to find your Blue Mind. In fact, you don’t even have to leave your house, if you don’t want to! Here are Dr Nichols’ tips for bringing Blue Mind into your home:
- Make time for a long luxurious bath each week with the door locked, lights out, bath salts and candles.
- Add a small fountain indoor or outside and take time out of your busy life to sit, listen and contemplate.
- Turn off the TV or radio news and instead, listen to calming water sounds. This is also a wonderful way to help you drift off into a peaceful sleep.
- Hang water-themed artwork on the walls of your home as a permanent reminder of the beauty and calm of our blue planet.