The Blue Prescription: How water can lower your stress levels
Have you felt the calming effect of being near water? Well that’s not just a coincidence. Science has shown that being in close proximity to ‘blue space’ can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety, and increase cognitive function.
Water has always been a symbol of tranquility and clarity. But it’s more than just a symbol. Science is shedding light on the very real mental health benefits of being near “blue space”, such as oceans, lakes, rivers, and even fountains. There’s a strong scientific basis on the calming effect of water. By increasing your proximity to water you can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety, and increase professional success.
Open expanses of nature has a healing effect on our brains. Whether that’s a hot bath, sitting in front of a lake or swimming in the ocean - we all tend to feel calmer after spending time near water. But why?
Our brains are hardwired to react positively to water. It's believed to be linked to our evolution; water sources have historically been vital to human survival. Psychologist Wallace J. Nichols, in his book "Blue Mind," details how being close to water triggers a meditative state in our brain. This leads to higher levels of dopamine and serotonin, known as the ‘happiness hormones’. Even by immersing yourself in cold water in the shower in the morning has been shown to give a sustained boost your dopamine levels for up to 4 hours.
Studies show that natural water environments can decrease levels of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. This means that being near water can contribute significantly to reduced stress and anxiety levels. An extensive 2013 study involving 20,000 smartphone users revealed marine and coastal areas as the happiest locations, scoring six points higher in wellbeing than continuous urban environments. This indicates that even in our digital age, the human connection to water is vital.
Whether it’s the sea, rivers, or lakes, water seems to trigger an intrinsic happiness response, resonating deep within our human nature. Water has a unique calming effect. The soothing sounds, the gentle movement, and the reflective quality of water have been proven to induce positive moods and reduce stress more effectively than green spaces.
The physical sensation of water, whether it’s the feeling of rain on our skin or the sensation of moving through water when we swim, can have a soothing effect on the mind. It also prompts more physical activity such as swimming or surfing which is great for our brains. If you can, try and add a cold shower to your morning routine - it wakes you up and gives you a sustained boost your dopamine levels for up to 4 hours. Warm baths in the evening also prompts feeling of relaxation and calm in your mind and body.
The expansive view of a large body of water often makes us feel awe—a positive emotion that promotes mental wellbeing. It can also promote mental relaxation and attentiveness. Research, such as that published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, indicates that blue spaces can significantly improve mental well-being.
A 2010 study found that even images and sounds of water could have a restorative effect on mental health. So if you can’t easily access water, you can still pull a sense of calm by setting your phone background with expanses of water.
The sound of water is often used in meditation tracks for a reason. One study highlights that natural water sounds, such as those of rain, a flowing stream, or ocean waves, are linked to relaxation and improved mental health. They are often used in therapies to promote deep relaxation and meditation due to their ability to lower cortisol levels and enhance overall well-being. If you can’t easily access water, try using soundtracks like this one.
The healing benefits of water are no longer just poetic or philosophical; they are scientifically validated. Whether it's a quiet lake, a bustling coastal margin, or a strategically placed urban fountain, try and access water in any way you can. These discoveries present a tremendous opportunity to rethink how we interact with our environment, focusing on preserving and creating access to these vital blue spaces.
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