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For many people, listening to the sound of ocean waves or gazing at the vast expanse of water is considered among the most enjoyable activities, while several others swear by the joys of a beach vacation. People dream of spending the rest of their lives in a beach house after retirement. The tranquility of the ocean, the rhythm of the waves against the shore, the water touching the feet with tiny bits of wet sand, the breeze vividly touching the skin, is more than a breath of fresh air. It engulfs people with a sense of calmness, one that provides a serenity to the mind’s otherwise racing thoughts. Several pieces of research have highlighted the effect of ocean views on one’s mental health.
Researchers from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and the Michigan State University suggests that watching the ocean may be more than pleasurable pursuits – they have found a link between visibility of water and lower psychological distress. Results of the study were published in the journal Health & Place in May 2016. For the purposes of the study, the researchers assessed the visibility of blue space (vast expanses of water and beaches) and green space (parks and forests) for 450 adults living in Wellington, New Zealand. Wellington is an urbanized capital city and surrounded by the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. To assess anxiety and mood disorders, the researchers compared data from Wellington’s landscape with statistics collected from the New Zealand Health Survey.
After adjusting for factors such as participants’ income levels, age and gender, the researchers found a significant link between the visibility of blue spaces and lower levels of psychological distress. The same results were not observed in the case of visibility of green spaces. Amber L. Pearson, co-author of the study, explains that the blue spaces were all natural, whereas the green spaces included not only natural areas such as forests but also constructed areas such as sports fields and playgrounds.
Proximity to large water bodies leads to several mental health benefits
Scientific research has provided evidence that seas and oceans boost mental health which includes the following benefits:
- Reduction of stress due to the presence of minerals in sea air.
- Improvement in the ability to stay alert and focus more due to negatively charged ions present in sea air combating free radicals.
- Drop in levels of depression as salinity of water maintains adequate levels of tryptamine, serotonin and melatonin in the brain and boosts overall well-being.
- Relaxation caused by changes in the brain’s wave patterns after hearing the sound of waves.
Emotional health is significantly impacted by the water temperature. In spring and autumn, the cool water is soothing for the nerves, whereas in summer, warmer temperature aids in relaxing the muscles.
These findings can be directly linked to the state of mental well-being in various U.S. states. The annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for 2016 ranked Hawaii as the happiest and healthiest state in the U.S. for a record sixth time since 2008, when well-being statistics were monitored for the first time.
Effect of other blue spaces, excluding oceans, needs further research
The authors of the study acknowledge the need to do further research on the mental health impact of water bodies other than oceans. Future studies may evaluate if the same results are observed in the case of non-oceanic fresh water bodies such as the Great Lakes in North America. The authors mention that mental health benefits may be derived not just from the visibility of blue water but also from other features such as the sound of waves or the saline smell of sea air, in which case the type of water body becomes very relevant.
According to Pearson, the likelihood of improvement in mental health disorders may increase if highly built-up areas are planned after carefully considering features such as ocean views from multistory buildings. If future studies establish that blue spaces lead to better mental well-being, communities may consider higher investments in affordable accommodation near water bodies.
Recovering from mental illness is possible
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified mental health disorders as the leading cause of disability globally. Struggling with such a condition can be challenging for most individuals. If you or someone you know is battling mental health disorders, you can seek help from the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline for information on holistic mental health services in the United States. You can call our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online to know about the best mental health rehabilitation centers near you.