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What is the Blue Mind and how it helps heal addiction
How being near water helps us change our perception of joy.
I can say with complete confidence that the best part of my day is waking up, looking out my window at the trees, listening to the waves crashing against the shoreline, and listening to the gulls discuss the day’s events. Every morning is full of promise and whatever was stressing me yesterday falls easily to the wayside while I breathe in and just revel in this overwhelming sense of well-being and calm. I have always been drawn to water and have sought out accommodations that let me live close to the water. Why? I just “feel” better. This morning while enjoying my morning’s sound sensations and coffee I began to wonder if there was any actual scientific evidence to support my belief that being near water is good for me, I quickly discovered that I was not the only person who found solstice in the sound of waves lapping the shoreline.
Susana Mourato at the London School of Economics and George Mackerron at the University of Sussex, UK, published an innovative study. They recruited more than 20,000 people across the UK to use a smartphone app that sent them a questionnaire about how they were feeling at random times. The participants had to submit their answers then and there. Mourato and Mackerron collected more than a million responses and, by looking at phone location data, found that people were substantially happier when they were in nature of any kind compared with an urban environment, even after controlling for things like the day of the week or the weather. But marine and coastal areas were the happiest locations “by some distance”, the researchers wrote. Anyone who has ever spent a day at the beach, an afternoon on the deck or fishing in a stream can attest to the calming presence something as simple as the sound of running water can help to lower stress levels and increase our feelings of joy. Practitioners of art therapy report that proximity to water seems to boost creativity. The overall sense of calm has proven to enhance the quality of conversations and provides a backdrop to important parts of living — like play, romance, and grieving.
All of this depends on these waters being safe, clean, and healthy, of course.
And since I work for Searidge Drug Rehab, Addiction and Treatment Foundation, located in the beautiful Annapolis Royal region of Nova Scotia, a province known for its exceptional beaches and green spaces, my next question was naturally.
“Can being close to water help people recover from addiction? ”
Apparently, it can! Research has shown that being near, in, on, or under water can reduce sensations of anxiety, lower heart and breathing rates, contribute to an overall sense of well-being, can even improve your exercise routine, and is currently being studied to treat and manage PTSD, addiction, anxiety disorders, and even autism.
Research done at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom gathered information from 48 million people – a huge data set for a study on mental health to discover just how proximity to water can help with mental health and recovery. The research showed that people who live within one kilometer (just over half a mile) from a large body of water were more likely to report that they were happier and in good health than those who lived over a kilometer away from the coast.
Another study – a joint effort by researchers from the University of Michigan in the U.S. and the University of Otago in New Zealand – analyzed information from the New Zealand Health Survey, which included questions designed to gauge the prevalence of anxiety and mood disorders on a population level. This study looked at two things: whether a view of the ocean was associated with improved mental health, or whether a view of green space was associated with improved mental health, as compared to a view of neither the ocean nor green space.
What did they find?
A view of the ocean – which they call blue space – was associated with higher levels of overall mental health and well-being than a view of green space or a view of an urban area. Luckily for the residents of Searidge our facility sports stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.
So obviously the next question is WHY?
Researcher and author Wallace J. Nichols makes the case for the healing power of water in his book Blue Mind, Nichols found that on many levels, from the colours to the smell to the patterns of the waves water had definite healing properties. “In the motion of the water,” he writes, “we see patterns that never exactly repeat themselves, yet have a restful similarity to them.” Humans are hardwired to find the colour blue calming, and associate it with feelings of joy and wellness.
Nichols went further to state that he believes the “high” reported by those suffering from addiction and other at-risk behaviours could be replaced with more natural dopamine “high” from outdoor experiences. Water sports can satisfy the brain’s desire for stimulation, novelty, and a neuro-chemical “rush,” while also getting clients out of their typical environment (a critical aspect of most recovery programs). At Searidge we offer our residents activities in natural surroundings, including Kayaking! Nichols recounts how a kayak expedition provides triple therapy:
- Physical, by engaging the body
- Occupational, by teaching new skills
- Mental, by providing relaxation, renewal, and wonder
The kinds of interactions we experience on the water can also lead to a deeper client-therapist bond. Michael Gass, a leading researcher on adventure therapy, supports the belief that “change occurs when people are outside their comfort zone,” and that “the experience [and not the therapist] becomes the medium for orchestrating change.”
According to a paper in The Practical Scholar: Journal of Counselling and Professional Psychology, “novel or challenging experiences in treatment set the stage for a significant level of trust to develop throughout the therapeutic process.” We relate to one another differently on the water than we do in a therapy session, and that can be freeing when people otherwise have difficulty expressing themselves. Frequently, everyone lets their guard down and interacts in a spontaneous and genuine way – with the clinician and with each other.
We find that being on the water gets clients out of their heads and engages their senses through the smell of the air, the touch of the breeze, and the sound of the waves.
In fact, science supports the physiological response to spending time in nature, and specifically, on the water:
- The sound of waves alters brain wave patterns, producing a state of relaxation.
- Negatively charged ions in the sea air combat free radicals, improving alertness and concentration.
- Spending time in nature (as opposed to an urban environment) decreases obsessive and negative thoughts.
- Creative problem-solving can be dramatically improved by disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.
- Being in or near the water can help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Researchers are beginning to study adventure therapy as it specifically pertains to people in treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. A 2012 study of adult women in substance abuse recovery showed that completing a challenge course “resulted in significant improvements in abstinence and self-efficacy, measured from intake to discharge.” When you stretch beyond your presumed limits, you discover strengths you didn’t realize you had.
Dan S., a lawyer, professor, and former client, made this observation: “You actually forget that you are being ‘treated’ until you recognize just how much more at ease you are. Perhaps most importantly, you learn skills you can take with you beyond treatment, all while enjoying a great day on the water. For spiritual and psychological therapy to be such a fun experience is really remarkable.”
At Searidge Drug Addiction Rehab and Treatment our first line of action is always psychotherapy, round out all therapies with complimentary and positive therapies, and our location allows us to leverage the benefits of green and blue space therapies. If you or a loved one is seeking treatment to recover from the negative effects of addiction in life then a call to Searidge should be in your future, take those first steps towards a truly whole and healthy life. Call 1-888-777-9953 today