My Blue Therapy: Positive Effects of Blue Space on Mental Health

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I don’t remember the first time I saw the ocean, paddled my feet in its frothing foam. I don’t remember the first time it sang its sweet lullaby of crashing waves to me. Years later, despite being a “land-dwelling” human, I am still insatiably drawn to the ocean, as so many of us are. Its tides, movements, and sheer size simultaneously stimulate my imagination and sooth my nervous system. 

Even now, living in a city, I can hear the sea calling to me from beyond stone walls and paved ground. The crashing of waves is so different to the buzzing of traffic. Once you’ve experienced a life by the water it is almost impossible to leave it. (Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience.)

“The seaonce it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

Blue spaces: A new approach to wellbeing

I used to think it was just me who felt that going to the ocean always improved my mood. I could listen to the waves and watch their movement, and feel like my stress was quite literally being washed away. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, I am not alone in the feeling. As time goes on, there is more and more research proving that spending time in blue spaces has strong positive effects on mental health.

A study conducted by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found that frequent walks in blue spaces – “areas that prominently feature water, such as beaches, lakes, rivers, or mountains” – can have a positive effect on boosting people’s moods and well-being. After a 20 minute walk in a blue space, participants’ moods and well-being improved immediately, and was far more significant than going for a walk in an urban environment or simply resting.

“According to the United Nations, 55% of the global population now lives in cities,” explained Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal and coordinator of the study. “It is crucial to identify and enhance elements that improve our health—such as blue spaces—so that we can create healthier, more sustainable and more liveable cities.”

With an increasing number of people living in urban areas, and mental health worsening by 8.1% since the 2020, blue spaces are important now more than ever. They give us the opportunity to mentally reset, physically relax, and emotionally recharge. 

The Blue Health movement begins

As more research makes the ‘blue space’ case, programs that focus on water-related activities for wellbeing are increasingly popping up – particularly here in the UK. Charities such as The Wave Project improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people through surfing. It’s taken off like a rocket, offering six-week courses supported almost entirely by volunteers. It’s so popular it’s hard to even get on the volunteer list (yes, I’ve been trying to get involved myself!). 

England’s first inland wave pool, The Wave, published the Blue Health Report in 2020. It draws on some of the world’s major research on the positive power of blue spaces – and argues why it’s so vital that everyone has access to them. 

And, of course we can’t forget one of my all-time favorite books: Blue Mind by Dr Wallace J Nichols. Before the science of water and wellbeing was even on the horizon, Dr Nichols knew this was a resource that everyone everywhere should be tapping into. The book takes a deep dive (excuse the pun) into our relationship with water, and the science to back it up. I’m lucky enough to say that in my day job, I wrote this article on Blue Mind after getting in touch with Dr Nichols

Into the Wild Blue

I don’t remember the first time I saw the ocean, but I will always remember the way it feels to be in its presence. It’s not something you can ever forget. Once you feel the pull, you will always be drawn back, just as I am. Into the wild blue.

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