As the new year approaches and looking ahead is the mindset, setting goals and changing the levels of stress we’ve all become accustomed to is a priority. That said, nothing keeps you quite as calm as being near water and science has backed that up. Research has shown that something known as the blue mind—the study of aquatic environments’ health benefits—is how we attain total serenity, and it can only be attained when we are near bodies of water.
What is the blue mind? The surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do.
Expert on the topic Dr. Wallace J. Nichols (aka Dr. J) talks about what blue mind really is and the importance of reclaiming serenity in our everyday lives. Beginning with a term that’s been around for decades—yet seems to be at the forefront of our cerebral cortex as of late—burnout is more common that you’d realize.
In Europe, the notion of burnout is so prevalent that a pan-European research initiative called BlueHealth was developed and funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programmes. The program focuses on how water-based environments in towns and cities impact our overall wellbeing. Experts from nine different institutions came together to implement the plan and apply it under grant agreement No 666773.
“By stimulating research and innovation, Horizon 2020 is producing world-class science that enables Europe’s public and private sectors to work together in delivering solutions to 21st century challenges,” states the BlueHealth website BlueHealth2020.edu. This plan aims to have a lasting impact and encourage a far more positive quality of life.
That is something experts like Nichols understands. He is among those who have dedicated their time and research to really exploring how we can better our lives by utilizing nature’s gift of water flow. Not only is it cost effective, but it’s almost always readily available in some form or fashion and can literally save us from burning out.
“Burnout (gray mind) is caused by a combination of many factors, including continuous input from media, work and social networks, and the pressure we put on ourselves to not use the ‘off button’ and take real, rejuvenating breaks,” says Nichols. “Being overworked, not taking vacations and not sleeping much are considered badges of honor. This has serious costs to our cognitive, emotional, psychological, social, physical, creative and spiritual health.”
From oceans to lakes, rivers and basins, there are so many ways to find your blue mind, but understanding the way it works is why Nichols is the go-to. “When we step up to water, the visual and auditory stimulus fades and is simplified. When we get in the water that is also true for somatic input.” The somatic nervous system (SNS or voluntary nervous system) is the part of the peripheral nervous system associated with the voluntary control of body movements via skeletal muscles.
“We get back a lot of bandwidth that was used to process all that information. Stress hormones decrease, breathing rates slow, our skin temperature cools, reducing inflammation—being on the water triggers a restful, blue mind state of mind. Actual water does these things naturally and virtual depictions of water stimulate a milder blue mind response too.”
If you’ve ever had an opportunity to step onto a sailboat, ship, or speedboat, heck even a surfboard, chances are you’ve felt that surge of peace take hold. And it turns out that one of the most readily available ways to attain the blue mind is boating. “The boat is the best technology to access the blue mind state. It’s the way people have accessed waters for millennia.”
Nichols is known by surfers, divers, and water lovers around the world for his innovative approach and his belief in the healing properties of the water, so it was a natural fit that he partnered with Discover Boating. Launching a public awareness campaign dedicated to increasing participation and creating interest in recreational boating, the incentive is getting people out on the water. Nichols explains, “Being on a boat helps us get outside of daily routines and reset, leaving anxiety and stress behind and achieving a different level of contentment, creativity and calm. Red mind (stress) isn’t going away, but we need to manage it so that we don’t end up in gray mind (burnout).”
He goes on to add that while boats used to be used for exploration, modern society sees getting on the water as a chance to escape the chaos of regular life. It’s also a great unifier, bringing families together for a fun day out. Nichols adds, “Getting on a boat is what brought our family together. Rejuvenation and sanity by escaping from the world and going onto the water. When someone is working a full-time job and is the primary caregiver and household manager, you can expect burnout no matter their gender. Being on a boat gets you out on the water and into a different frame of mind—hence the blue mind.”
Nichols takes his love of water seriously, and it’s been a natural part of he, his wife Dana and their kids lives’. Both of his children enjoy their water play from surfing to paddle or wake boarding, swimming, scuba diving, tubing, or just cruising. While Nichols isn’t a fan of giving out parenting advice (primarily because he doesn’t enjoy taking it) he says, “If you can raise your kids to like water, food, and music no matter where they go or what they do in life, they’re going to be happy kids. They can have any kind of job and live an incredibly happy, rich, fun life.”
Should you be in the market for a little boat time, the Discover Boating’s Go Boating Today program is an affordable boat rental and charter service located all around the nation, encouraging people to add diverse activities to their lives. If boating isn’t your thing, find a local swimming pool or head into the sauna. The element of being in or around water is enough to feed the soul.
So whether you’re tucking your toes in the sand while the sound of crashing waves lull your stress levels, are sailing in the marina, out fishing on fresh or walt water, or simply find solace by jumping into the deep end of the pool, take this year to center yourself and regain a sense of self by utilizing the power of H2O.
FINAL WORDS: “If you made a list of all the things that need fixing on earth and the human condition, blue mind helps with all of them. It’s not a silver bullet but that state of mind helps with almost anything. Creating a spiritual connection to nature while being on the water helps with that.”
Read more about Horizon 2020 and the projects it funds.
- Nearly 80% of Americans report feeling stressed in their day – as we are working longer hours, dealing with more stress and constantly connected to technology
- 52% of American employees are not using their full vacation time
Water Wellness Statistics
- 4 in 5 Americans say being around water relaxes them
- 72% of Americans feel healthier after spending time on the water
- Increases feel-good hormones (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin)
- Reduces stress hormone (cortisol) and “Red Mind”
- Increases brain and blood flow – the mere sight and sound of water induces this
- Resets our brains by allowing us to relax and unplug, restoring our minds and helping us reconnect
- Sparks creativity
Easy ways to get on the water this summer, courtesy of Discover Boating:
- Rent a boat. Rental options are available on most waterways and provide hourly, daily or weekly access to a variety of boat types. Rental outfitters give tutorials on operating a boat, share safety instructions and offer suggestions on destinations. Discover Boating’s Go Boating Today tool is an easy-to-use resource that helps people find rentals and charters right in their area.
- Join a boat club.Find a boat club near you to access a versatile fleet of boats. People pay a monthly fee, and most boat clubs take care of docking, cleaning and maintenance, with members responsible for fuel. Plus, most offer boat training courses as part of the membership.
- Take a class.Sign up for a boating lesson to hone your powerboating, sailing or watersports skills by mastering the basics while having fun along the way. On-water training courses, watersports camps, youth boating programs and more are offered across the U.S.
- Float your own boat.Chart your own course to boat ownership by visiting DiscoverBoating.com, where you’ll find a boat finder and loan calculator tool to help determine your budget and identify the types of boats that fit your lifestyle and interests. Once you’ve narrowed down your search, the site connects you with manufacturers whose boats best fit your needs and wants.
Visit DiscoverBoating.com to find information about local rentals, boat clubs, charters, boat buying guides and much more.
J. is currently Chief Evangelist for Water (CEH2O) at Bouy Labs, a Senior Fellow at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies’ Center for the Blue Economy, a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and co-founder of Ocean Revolution, an international network of young ocean advocates, SEE the WILD, a conservation travel network, Grupo Tortuguero, an international sea turtle conservation network, and Blue Mind a global “movement of movements” sharing the new story of water.