H2O – Balm for the soul

Just being around water can be a balm for the soul. Constance, my hometown, is located at the coast of a lake, and whenever I felt stressed, I used to sit next to the water. While watching soft waves rolling onto the shore, listening to the rhythmic gurgling of water, and observing the reflecting sun on the lake’s surface, I always calmed down. Only after moving away from home did I notice how much being around water impacts my mood and mental wellbeing. I was already starting to think I might have a problem with water addiction when I found out that I am an ordinary girl and that the influence of water on our mental health has been scientifically proven. 

In urban planning and design, it has been known for quite some time that “blue spaces” – areas dominated by surface waters – significantly improve overall health and drastically increase the quality of living. 

As a part of the “Blue Health Project,” the University of Exeter has been studying the impact of living close to big water bodies on our mental condition, and the results are shocking. According to their research, people living less than a kilometer away from coasts are 22% less likely to experience the symptoms of mental disorders than those living 50+km away. 

“Proximity to water – especially the sea – is associated with many positive measures of physical and mental wellbeing from higher levels of vitamin D to better social relations,” states Elle Hunt, Guardian journalist, in her article “Blue spaces: why time spent near water is the secret of happiness.”But what is so special about water that it has immense power over us?

The blue color associated with water plays a crucial role in its psychological effect of it. Ravi Mehta and Juliet Zhu from the University of British Columbia published an article in the Science magazine about the impact of colors on our cognitive ability. Following their studies, blue enhances creativity and helps with problem-solving competencies. They also add that blue made the participants feel more secure and confident in their abilities and helped keep a cool head. 

Not only does the color of water bodies contributes to the impact of water on our mind, but also the sound of water has an immense potential to be used to our advantage. Whenever I hear burbling water, the rhythmic lapping of waves, or even just soft rain, I am out like a light. For me, there is nothing more relaxing. “These slow, whooshing noises are the sounds of non-threats, which is why they work to calm people,” says Orfeu Buxton, an associate professor of biobehavioural health at Pennsylvania State University. “It’s like they’re saying, “don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry.” The sound of gurgling water is often used as a “white noise,” a noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities, and can help us sleep by drowning out other sounds disturbing our sleep. Many modern sleeping devices already use the power of water to enable us to sleep better and deeper. 

The biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols has looked further into the positive impacts water can have on us and how we can use them. In his book “Blue Mind,” he states that water can not only have a calming and distressing effect on us but also enhances our creative thinking and our motivation to exercise. 

The background of this is the so-called “Blue mind theory.”According to it, there are three states of mind – red, blue, and grey mind. The red mind describes a state of anxiety and overstimulation and can trigger a fight or flight response, while the blue mind is dominated by calmness and inner peace. The blue mind is the state we want to achieve to recharge and balance out the red mind, which – in Nichol’s opinion – is the most common state in our modern world. A red mind and blue mind combined and balanced out finally lead to a good and happy life. But there is also the grey mind, which is characterized by detachment, dissatisfaction, and lethargy – something Nichols wants to avoid at all costs.

In order to profit from the advantages of water, it is essential to be around it as often as possible. One can use every kind of water available as long as it is clean and safe. On the one hand, there are natural water sources such as lakes, rivers, and the sea (“wild waters”). On the other, the artificial ones like fountains (“urban water”), a bathtub (“domestic water”), or even water in the form of art, poetry, and television (“virtual water”). So, if you should feel stressed again, try to find a source of water close to you and feel its calming and distressing effect.

So, if you feel a little down, unmotivated, stressed or upset, remember the Slovakian proverb “Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine,” and try to implement water into your daily life. Take a bubble bath, visit a river, lake, or even the sea, watch a fountain or listen to the sound of waves – who knows, maybe just adding a bit of water could turn your day for the better.

Angelina Berndt

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