By Jody Trager, PhD, Program Director at Promises Malibu Vista I’m lucky to live on the West Coast because every day I can drive to the ocean and watch the waves roll in before beginning my busy day. Studies show it’s healthy to be near the coast. It’s soothing and inspiring and I find it helps clear my mind and starts my day on a positive note. I think this is true of any body of water — rivers, lakes, streams and waterfalls — and that’s why I recommend it so highly for clients suffering from stress and depression. Research shows that walking in nature and breathing fresh air can offer mental clarity and emotional healing and that being in or around bodies of water can improve mood. Even a swimming pool can help. This is why nature therapy, exercise therapy and utilizing the natural environment of Promises Malibu Vista are such an important part of recovery for women. It is important that clients discover their personal “happy place” in nature and which activity or experience makes them feel better, so we offer many options to try. They are also encouraged to enjoy that experience as frequently as possible.
How Nature Heals
Nature is known to improve mental well-being, soothe stress and calm the nerves. When people feel out of sorts, confused and emotionally low, time spent in nature can contribute to overall well-being and emotional health in some of the following ways:
- Restores a sense of balance. Many people long for time in nature because they find it psychologically restorative.
- Increases vitality. Being outdoors in nature can help people feel more alive and that can impact their overall perception of well-being.
- Improves cognitive function. While the commotion inherent in urban sprawl can make the head spin, time in natural environments helps people think clearer.
- Helps with sleep issues. A walk in nature over lunch has been found to improve sleep and overnight healing providing by a more restful night.
- Inspires physical activity. Some people find a walk on the beach makes them yearn for more activity. This is especially true for people who live near the sea or are on vacation.
- Spiritually fortifying. While many people tend to think of spirituality as something within the walls of a house of worship, the freedom of the outdoors can lead to spiritual well-being.
- Reduces pain. Even a stroll on a virtual beach was found to be effective in reducing recollected pain and pain experienced in the moment by dental patients.
Five Ways to Enjoy Healing Waters
People can partake in water environments in many healthy ways, including:
- Gazing at a water landscape. I am big fan of just sitting and staring out at the ocean, or any nearby body of water. The visual experience can have a visceral effect. Even a lovely pool, with a view of nature, can bring moments of peace. Just as beautiful art can inspire, looking at natural beauty is found to be healing. In some studies, daily exposure to natural landscapes like the ocean is considered therapeutic in their ability to promote physical, mental and social health.
- Listening to the sounds of nature. Waterfalls, rivers flowing and ocean waves hitting the shore can all have a calming, hypnotic effect. Nature has its own melodies, with sounds that enter through the ears and reach the brain, as well as those that vibrate through the body. And it can have an impact even when people are unable to see all the nature around them. For example, the sound of the ocean or a river can have an impact without you being at the riverbank, just as people can enjoy the sounds of birds in flight without seeing them. Studies show natural sounds are more pleasant and can aid pain relief and anxiety.
- Swimming wherever you can. Immersion in water can be cleansing and healing. While people may carry heavy burdens and have physical problems, the water makes them feel weightless and free. People may think of swimming as a summer activity, but one study found that those who also swim in the wintertime reported an improvement in mood. Another study found swimming reduced stress in college students. Even rodents showed less stress after swimming.
- Exercising in water. Many people who find it difficult to exercise on the ground find success in water aerobics or water treadmills. In a study of women diagnosed with fibromyalgia, exercise in warm water led to improvement in physical well-being and a significant change in mood. Aerobic exercise had also been found to reduce the symptoms and severity of PTSD.
- Going for a sail. Not everyone is going to be able or willing to get on a boat, but those who find sailing pleasing and fun report that moving through the water by the power of the sails can be a freeing experience and being on the water makes them feel less weighed down with the burdens they carry on their shoulders on land. One study found that sailing therapy had a rehabilitative impact on people with mental health issues.
Being deprived or isolated from natural environments can add to nature-deficit disorder. Anything people can do in their daily lives to spend more time around water and any natural environment will help reduce stress and may improve well-being in many ways.