Saltwater & Mental Health

I am underwater. The sea pushes above me, laps next to me, scatters as I move. Here, I am me.

Being within the crashing ocean is where I feel most safe. I feel free from the overwhelming constraints of life on land. My limbs are weightless, and the ocean cushions me. Underwater, sound is a light fuzz, and everything moves slowly, purposefully, with diligence. Humans are not very well designed for swimming, we are useless in terms of breathing and mobility in the water, but we do it anyway. And I love that. Something deep pulls us towards these waves that are far stronger, far more powerful, than our little selves.

I am lucky enough to live with the Tasman Sea on one coast, and the Pacific Ocean on the other. The western side of our islands are typically wild and brash; battering beyond what is humanly possible. The eastern side is quieter, more shy. It is within these vessels that I am free, that my anxiety is at bay, that I am no longer trapped.

Lakes, rivers, the ocean, they are all called blue spaces, bodies of water that research is discovering are good for our mental health. We have instinctively known this for centuries, as explorers were drawn to the sea by its promise of bountiful opportunities, and healers proclaimed the healing properties of saltwater. However, we are slowly now getting a scientific explanation for what our ancestors have known all along. Those that live near blue spaces, or spend more time in them, are generally more content and healthier.

It’s not surprising we feel a special connection to the sea. We share common ancestors with our water-dwelling friends, fish. Life as we know it began in the water, and through evolution, life moved terrestrially, into the land and trees. Although there are millions of years between us today, and the prehistoric fish that crawled from the sea onto the shores, I swear there are still parts of us that remember our roots; where we came from.

There is mystery surrounding why these blue spaces help us so much. Some researchers argue that since humans have become detached from nature only in relatively recent years (geologically of course), we still share a special bond with it. It has helped to create who we are. Therefore, returning to our natural state helps us immensely.

Another idea is the effect that the ocean has on our bodies physically. The sound of waves is great for making the brain more relaxed, and floating, rather than standing upright, helps to bring blood from our lower limbs and into the heart. This supplies the brain with more oxygen, helping to make us feel more alert.

What strikes me most about water, however, is the flow. It leaves and returns, it takes and it gives. This balance that is apparent throughout nature, is exemplified outstandingly in the ocean. I reckon we could all learn a thing or two from these extraordinary, blue spaces.

Information on the research between the links of blue spaces and mental health is from: