The environment plays a significant role in an individual's emotional well being. A recent study1 from New Zealand and Michigan University concluded that 'residential exposure to blue space is associated with lower psychological distress'. There are a number of underlying factors that could explain the association between living by seaside and improvement of mental health conditions. Another piece of research from the University of Exeter showed similar results in the UK population, where a positive correlation is found between the proximity of residence to coast and ‘good health’.
The seaside provides the perfect combination of water and open space. In general, watching or being in water facilitates relaxation. Let us now think of few of our special senses:
Often the sound and vision of water from sea or ocean is observed to lift our mood. On a biological level, this audio-visual stimulus incites our parasympathetic nervous system which helps us becoming calm and relaxed. The touch of sand in our hands or feet provides an improved sense of well-being. This is also likely to be a conditioned effect in our thought process as we tend to associate beach with harmony, peace, relaxation etc. The smell of the breeze in seaside leads to a state of relaxation.
Living in wider open space often encourages us to engage in regular exercise whether it is gentle strolling along the seaside or running, jogging etc. along the beach. Exercise is already proven to increase the relevant neurotransmitters like serotonin and noradrenaline which are deficient in people who are suffering with Depression. Therefore it may not be a big surprise that people living closer to sea or ocean, tend to have a more healthy lifestyle.
Staring at the blue water and horizon can induce a semi-meditative state in our mind. A number of mindfulness exercises are based on the sea or a beach environment. Having seen the effectiveness of mindfulness in stress, anxiety and depression at my clinical practice, I believe that the residents by the side of sea, ocean or river will have ideal opportunities to practise mindfulness-based meditation exercise either by sitting on the beach, or even watching the waterfront from their homes. Mindfulness not only is an effective treatment modality for anxiety, depression and stress-related disorders, but it also promotes our overall emotional wellbeing.
Having a home by the sea side brings us closer to nature, unlike the city environment where bricks and mortars remain a constant repertoire.
As far as the evidence base is concerned, all we can conclude at this stage is that there remains a positive association between positive mental health and living closer to sea or ocean. Larger randomised controlled studies are needed to establish the cause and effect relationship between these two factors.
- Nutsford et al, Health & Place, May 2016, Vol 39, p: 70-78
Written by Dr Arghya Sarkhel - Consultant Psychiatrist, Living Mind
FRCPsych, DPM (Dublin), MSc in Neuroscience (London)