Ever notice how much better you feel after stepping into nature for a while? Whether it’s a multi-day backcountry camping trip or a quick 10-minute break in your backyard garden, immersing yourself in the natural world proves to be one of the best ways to melt away stress.
Countless studies have shown that spending time in nature has mental health benefits, but have you ever considered taking your nature escape to the water’s edge? “Blue mind theory” is something you may want to take advantage of — especially if you live near a body of water.
What Is Blue Mind Theory?
Blue mind theory refers to the meditative effect that people tend to experience when they’re near, in, or under water. The concept was popularized by marine biologist and bestselling author Dr. Wallace J. Nichols.
When you have a “blue mind,” you’re calm, relaxed, and in the present moment. You’re aware of the connection between you, the planet, and all living things.
Blue mind is the opposite of “red mind,” which Nichols describes as a state of toxic stress — and also the base state of modern society. Most people are over-connected and over-stimulated on a daily basis, contributing to negativity, fear, and anxiety rather than relieving it.
“Some neurosurgeons actually wear blue filtered glasses while they’re operating on brains to remove the red signal,” Nichols says in one of his TEDx Talks. “It helps to calm them. It helps them do their job better when they’re seeing blue, instead of red.”
Research Shows the Powerful Effect Water Has on the Mind
There’s a fair bit of evidence showing that water does in fact have positive effects on mental health, and Nichols’ theory is backed by these claims. There are also physical benefits, given that being near water typically correlates with increased physical activity.
A study on British residents found that those who lived closer to the coast had greater self-reported mental health. In a similar study conducted on urban Canadians, living near the water was associated with a reduced risk of mortality.
Living near water is one thing, but not everyone has that luxury. Still, there are benefits to at least seeking out experiences near water as often as possible. Researchers found that staring at an empty tank of water was enough to help lower people’s heart rates and blood pressure levels, although results were even greater once the tank was stocked with aquatic plants and fish.
How to Implement Blue Mind Theory in Your Own Life
Nichols mentions the ocean a lot in his book and in his presentations, but you can get similar mental health benefits from smaller bodies of water like lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Here are some practical ideas for spending more time near the water:
- Plan your next vacation near or on the water
- Rent or visit a friend’s/family member’s cottage on the water
- Visit the beach to swim, surf, practice yoga, or play beach volleyball
- Try snorkeling or scuba diving lessons
- Go boating or sailing
- Take a cruise
- Rent a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard
- Go fishing
- Walk along a local path that runs beside the water
- Play fetch with your dog in the water
- Volunteer to help clean up shorelines in your local area
What to Do When You Can’t Be Near Water
Living in the city, experiencing cold winters, and other circumstances can make it difficult to get out and be near the water, but you can still reap the benefits at home by getting a little creative. Try some of the following ideas when you can’t get out to the nearest physical body of water:
- Watch relaxing coastal videos for free on YouTube
- Find coastal landscape or water-inspired artwork to put in convenient places in your home
- Take a warm bath and close your eyes while listening to coastal sound effects (like waves crashing on the shore)
- Consider starting a small aquarium of aquatic plants and fish
Blue Mind, Better Health
Next time you’re near the water, make sure you really stop to take it all in. Take a few deep breaths as you enjoy all the sights, smells, and sounds that the environment has to offer. You’ll be glad you did!
What’s your favourite place to visit near the water? Leave a comment below to let us know!