The kickoff to summer has arrived! And you’re likely taking in a little more nature.
Green space. Walking in the woods. Flora and fauna. We all know how these things can restore our souls.
Now scientists have given a name to the restorative health effects of being around blue space: water.
Water, water everywhere
Blue space refers to that incredible feeling of peace and calmness you experience while at the beach. This apparently has a positive effect on your brain that makes you feel at ease in a hypnotic sort of way.
Similar to the effects of meditation, blue space triggers a feeling of calmness that allows you to tune other things out — so you can focus on what’s most important.
Research on this topic, cited by author Alexandrea Becker, deals specifically with the ocean. I’ve learned, however, that similar calming effects can be derived from other bodies of water — lakes, rivers, creeks ... and even office fountains.
That’s because sound is an important element in this equation — whether it’s the ocean waves, a babbling brook or water dripping from cup to cup in a wall sculpture.
I just happen to be at a beach right now, so I’m finding this research fascinating.
The science behind it
Ever notice how you feel more relaxed around water? There’s a reason for that. Water is full of naturally occurring negative ions that help you feel more at ease.
For the science behind it, negative ions are oxygen atoms charged with an extra electron. They’re odorless, tasteless and invisible molecules you inhale in certain environments.
Once they reach your bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin — helping to reduce stress, lessen depression and boost energy. Put me in, Coach!
Negative ions occur most often in natural places around moving water. The feeling you get near a waterfall, at the beach or after a storm is your body being saturated in the benefits of negative ions.
Negative ions increase the flow of oxygen to the brain — for greater mental energy, explains Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D., director of the Center for Applied Cognitive Sciences and author of “The Owner’s Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications From Mind Brain Research.”
Blue space in your home
Good news! You already have a negative ion generator in your home — your shower. With its stream of hot water and steam, the shower is a good producer of negative ions. No wonder you feel better after a shower.
Scientists have concluded that being in blue space allows you to clear your head and approach projects in a more creative way, according to author Becker. That must be why my husband, John, always comes out of the shower with ideas and insights.
Stress reduction has been shown to be a byproduct of being at the beach. The hypnotic sound of the waves, in combination with the sights and smells, is like a reset button for your system.
Environmental psychologist Mathew White has studied census data to gauge how living near the water affects us. According to White, being closer to the sea “significantly improves people’s well being.”
In his book, “Blue Mind,” marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols describes “blue mind” as a mildly meditative state we experience when we are in, on or under the water. “It’s something I’ve been experiencing and observing my whole life,” he said in an interview with Eric Niiler in The Washington Post.
When we step away from our stressed lives and into nature, we get a shift. Physiologically, our brains and bodies change — leading to feelings of connectedness and a quality of thought that is more introspective and innovative.
More blue spaces
You don’t need to go to the ocean to get all these benefits. Wherever you are, there is likely to be a body of water. Experiment with a walk along the pond, river or lake — or try sitting on a bench at the water’s edge at lunchtime. You may even consider “unplugging” for a bit.
Get outside after a storm for a short stroll — and take some deep breaths. We all know how clean that air smells after the rain. Linger in your shower a little longer, being mindful of the water splashing over you.
Absorb these benefits — physically and mentally — whenever and wherever you can. It will do wonders to recharge your internal batteries.
And, while blue space can be found around any body of water — and blue mind can result from these experiences — let’s circle back to the specific ocean water example for a closing quote.
“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean. Therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail it or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.” — John F. Kennedy