North Carolina State Parks Waterways Cool And Refresh The Mind, Body and Soul
By Susan Allison-Dean, RN, MS, AHN-BC, CCAP is a Board Certified Advanced Holistic Nurse, CEO & Founder of The Nature Nurse™, PLLC. Follow @TheNatureNurse on Social Media
Have you ever noticed that some of your best ideas come while you are in the shower, that you sleep like a baby after a warm bath, or you’ve found yourself miles away from your beach chair in what seemed like an effortless stroll down the beach? These experiences are real and are now validated by science. The common link to these, and other wonders, is water.
Modern science, which now allows us to study the brain as never before, is exploring the ways our brain reacts to healthy water. The results are astonishing. The state of mind that water can ease us into even has a name, Blue Mind. Blue Mind is a term created by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist passionate about not only turtles but also water and its ability to impact our cognitive, emotional, psychological, social, physical, and spiritual health. Nichols defines Blue Mind as; “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.” His best-selling book goes by the same name.
Across the pond, European Union researchers have created the term Blue Health; studying the links between urban blue spaces, climate, and health.
Just what is the research finding, and how might the waterways of North Carolina’s State Parks help us get into a state of ‘Blue Mind’ and maximize our ‘Blue Health’? Let’s take a look.
Thanks to the emerging field of neuroscience we now know that being in, near, under or by the water can help boost our creativity, calm us, and decrease anxiety. Interacting with water has also been shown to leave us more compassionate towards others and generous.
If we dive deeper into the research on water and our holistic health, we will find that the color blue itself is associated with serenity and is often selected as a favorite regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. Just the sound of water, be it from crashing waves, a babbling stream, or the lapping of the water against a boat, can trigger us to relax. A nurse colleague of mine who cares for oncology patients uses the sound of the ocean to help patients find solace while in the hospital for chemotherapy. As she says, “When I play the ocean waves sounds, we both have a chance to escape and go to the beach for a while.”
Cancer patients are not the only ones using the powerful healing benefit of water. Veterans, autistic children, and a host of others are using this as an adjunct therapy with great results. Artists frequently choose to be near water to enhance their creativity. Athletes are engaging with it to maximize their performance.
Compared to green spaces, which we talked about in a previous blog, blue spaces have been found to better support positive relationships. People report feeling more connected. Spending time with others is a key motivation to visit coastal and inland waters. The Mappiness Study in which study participants self-reported their mood states on an app in order to find out when, where, and why we are feeling our happiest, found that people reported being happier in marine and coastal settings. Visits to inland water settings were found to create happiness levels similar to green settings. Another study found that people living in urban areas are retreating to nature that includes water because they find it the most restorative.
Whether we choose to vacation, explore or connect with nature filled with green, blue or both, may have something to do with our personality type. A study done in Boston found that people who are extroverted are more likely to vacation by the ocean while introverts prefer the mountains. Do these findings seem to apply to you?
Fun Fact: Extroverts are more likely to vacation by the ocean, while introverts are more likely to head to the mountains.
How can we better integrate this new awareness of water's ability to enhance our health and well-being during our visits to North Carolina State Parks? Let’s take a look at a few ideas.
Blue spaces have been found to support physical activity. Research shows that people walk further in blue spaces in part because water alters our perception of time. So take advantage of this easy opportunity to add more steps to your day.
Just sit by the water and allow your brain to relax. Research shows that engaging with water is more likely to put us in a state of wakeful rest than green spaces. As the saying goes, not all fishermen go to the water to fish. It is thought that the attention-holding properties of water may be what help our minds get into this state of relaxation.
Connect with the rhythm of the waves with your breath. Sit and watch the waves as they roll in, reach for the beach, pause, then slide back into the sea. Sync your breathing with this repetitive motion. Pick a wave close to the beach. Take a slow deep breath in as it begins curling and crashes up onto the beach. When it reaches closer to you, pause your breath. As it begins to recede back into the sea, let your breath out slowly, imagine it taking all the stress from your body with it.
Grab a floating tube, a canoe, or rent a boat and enjoy being on the water. Floatation therapy is growing in popularity. Perhaps you have noticed floatation therapy spas popping up in your community? Once again, studies show that being on the water significantly reduces anxiety and it doesn’t take a long time for this to happen. Even an hour on the water can shift our minds into a happier state.
Get in, and under the water. There is nothing more refreshing than dipping our feet in a cold stream, diving into a wave, or jumping into a cool lake on a hot summer day.
Our bodies are made of 60% water; our brain and heart are composed of 73% water. It’s no wonder we feel good being in it. It’s important if we are going into water that we know how to swim. Swimming is not only an excellent exercise, research conducted in Australia found that children under the age of four who swam at least once a week, were anywhere from six to fifteen months ahead of the average population when it came to cognitive skills, problem-solving in mathematics, counting, language, and following instructions.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that depending on the child, and the surrounding conditions such as the amount of water nearby, some children may be ready to learn to swim as early as one year old. Consult with your child’s primary care health provider to see when the best time would be for your child to learn how to swim and enroll them in swimming lessons given by a certified swimming instructor.
North Carolina State Parks offer a number of opportunities for all of us to connect with water so that we can feel happier, healthier, more creative, sleep better, reduce our anxiety, and feel more connected. Whether we want to sit and gaze at the awe of a rushing waterfall, sail across a lake under a clear blue sky, or stroll along the beach looking for shark teeth fossils, there is an opportunity for all of us to engage with this resource.
Exploring North Carolina State Parks can be exhilarating, but it can also be dangerous. Whether you are boating, paddling, surfing, swimming, or otherwise immersing yourself in the water, safety is just as important as having fun. Learn how you can be safe at https://www.ncdcr.gov/about/featured-programs/path/water-safety
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