We are all drawn to the beach in one way or another; maybe it’s the sound of waves that makes you crave a beach vacation, maybe you enjoy lying on the sand while watching the water or maybe you love swimming because it reenergizes you and helps you relax. But whatever attracts you to it in the first place, simply being near the beach might give you a range of mental health benefits, which we’ll talk about in this article.
The Mental Health Benefits of Being Near the Beach
The summer will soon come to an end so if you still have a beach vacation planned, you should ensure that you make the best out of it. After all, it’s your chance to let your body and mind fully rest, away from all your responsibilities. First, let’s help you understand why being near the beach can improve your mental health:
1. It makes you feel nostalgic
Unless you live by the beach or spend every weekend by the sea, this kind of vacation is a rare treat that might remind you of summer which you probably associate with happiness and relaxation. Additionally, being at the beach might bring back the memories from your younger years when you visited it with your family and when it seemed like everything was a lot easier – in others words, make you feel nostalgic. But contrary to what you might think, nostalgia isn’t an unhealthy obsession with your past. In fact, studies show that is beneficial to your health as it can make you happier overall. For example, a recent study that looked at the impact the pandemic had on loneliness found that experiencing nostalgia was associated with feeling happy, while findings from other research suggest that it can even boost creativity and raise optimism, which translates into increased happiness and a sense of fulfilment.  
When you recall your past with fondness, that’s when nostalgia can trigger a feeling of happiness – after a happy moment has already passed, we’re more likely to appreciate it than while living it. Whether you used to go for a beach holiday every year or visit your family who lived by the beach, try to revisit those memories often. The more you do, the better you’ll feel when you finally get the chance to get away and relax by the sea.
2. It can help you destress
Do you ever stop what you’re doing to look at the sea and end up getting lost in the way waves hit the shore and then retreat, feeling more and more relaxed? There’s a reason why we choose to spend our summer vacation somewhere near the beach and why we pay for a hotel with an ocean view. While being surrounded by nature reduces stress in general, water seems to have the power to make us feel even calmer than green landscapes do, which can be explained by the ‘blue mind’ theory. According to the theory, whenever we are near the water, we fall into a meditative state that allows us to recharge our batteries but can also improve our creativity and make us feel more connected. The book ‘Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do’ explores this concept in depth. It was written by a biologist, Wallace J. Nichols who gathered various scientific evidence to show how being close to the water can improve one’s mental health. As he explained, one of the reasons why water can help us relax is because most of us live in an anxious and over-stimulated state every single day (the red mind), which is the opposite of the kind of feeling water can generate. While the concept is still quite new, there’s been a recent increase in therapies that utilize water’s benefits to treat patients who suffer from problems such as anxiety and PTSD, and so far, they seem to be successful.
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If you don’t enjoy spending too much time at the beach, the good news is that being near the lake or watching the rain has the same positive effect on your mental health. Additionally, the color blue is calming in itself – several studies have shown that it can increase relaxation after you experience something stressful, so paying a visit to a local swimming pool could benefit your well-being. 
3. It makes you feel happy
There’s a reason why many shop’s home section consists of posters that say, ‘Happiness is a day at the beach’ or something along these lines. Even if you aren’t a fan of hot weather, sunny days can make you feel more motivated and elevate your mood. This is because sunlight provides your body with a healthy dose of vitamin D, which is vital for our mental health. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to seasonal affective disorder, depression and schizophrenia, while sun exposure is associated with increased serotonin production in your body, a chemical responsible for regulating our mood.
Vitamin D might also play a role in sleep as its deficiency has been linked to poor sleep quality, short sleep duration and sleepiness, although the evidence that it might help you sleep better is still limited.  However, since the quality of sleep often depends on our mood and level of stress, and being near the beach makes us feel happy, it’s safe to assume that your beach holiday will help you sleep well.
Additionally, findings from studies that research the way our environment affects our mental health show that people who live by the beach are on average happier than those who don’t. For example, a recent study by the University of Exeter found that people who live less than a kilometer from the coast are 22% less likely to have symptoms of mental health disorder.  While the researchers are unsure why moving to a coastal area makes you happier, since the weather tends to be quite gloomy in the UK, we can deduce that the participants enjoy better mood thanks to the calming effects of water – yet another evidence that the ‘blue mind’ theory is accurate.
How to Make the Best Out of Your Beach Vacation
Now you know that being near the beach can improve your mood and maybe even result in positive long-term effects. However, sitting on the sand while scrolling through your phone or worrying about the future can prevent you from enjoying all of its benefits. So here’s a quick guide on how to make the best out of your beach vacation:
1. Stay away from electronic devices
Being at the beach is a perfect excuse to unplug and disconnect from the online world. The Internet is an unnecessary distraction, plus it can prevent you from relaxing. Allowing yourself to check social media or even respond to a message keeps you in the red mind state, which is the exact opposite of what you want. Make sure you turn off your phone or at least keep it in your bag.
2. Be mindful
Sitting still isn’t something we get to do often so you might struggle not to feel restless. But before you head for a swim or get back to reading your book, try to ground yourself in the present by focusing on the water and what you’re experiencing in the current moment. This will help you feel more connected to both yourself and nature. You can also name one thing that you can see, touch, smell, taste and hear. For example; waves, sand under your skin, the smell of your sunscreen, the taste of ice cream and children’s laughter.
3. Allow yourself to relax
When we try to relax, our mind starts to wander and we tend to let ourselves ruminate or worry that we aren’t relaxed enough. But instead of pushing your thoughts away or immersing yourself in them entirely, try to simply observe them. Imagine that they’re drifting away and you have enough time to spot each of them but not enough time to engage with them. You can also focus on taking deep breaths at the same time.
4. Engage all your senses
Try to embrace the beach in every way possible. If you usually prefer to swim in the sea, make sure you take a few moments to stay still and simply watch the waves, and if you prefer to sunbathe, remember to immerse yourself in the water even if you don’t want to swim, then notice the way it smells and the sound it makes.
What if You Don’t Have a Chance to Visit the Beach Often or At All?
Unfortunately, the prices are rising and fewer people have the luxury to buy a house by the beach or spend summer vacation away from home. Still, now is the best time to start taking care of your mental health and the effects of being near the beach have been found to be powerful enough to significantly improve your well-being. Luckily, there are alternatives you can look into if visiting the beach isn’t an option. Here are a few examples that will help you get creative:
1. Consider a non-traditional therapy
If you suffer from a mental health issue that has been resistant to traditional methods of treatment, why not explore other options? You can look into therapies that combine the blue mind effect and other more traditional techniques, such as surf therapy, then ask your therapist if a referral is possible. You can also sign up for it yourself, although it tends to be quite expensive.
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2. Make showers more purposeful by trying ‘contrast showering’
Alternating hot and cold water while having a shower helps ease the stress; hot water promotes relaxation and cold water has a positive effect on your immune system. As anxiety is linked to increased inflammation, cold showers might help treat it. Additionally, the findings from a 2008’s study revealed that patients’ depressive symptoms improved after several weeks of taking cold showers so incorporating the contrast showering method in your routine should increase your wellbeing. 
After you’ve had some practice, you can try to be more mindful at the same time; focus on the way water feels against your skin and let yourself be present in the moment.
3. Try white noise
It’s not always possible to be physically close to the sea but did you know that the sound of waves is relaxing and can decrease stress even when you’re listening to a pre-recorded sound?  Alternatively, you can try listening to a recording of heavy rain to achieve the same calming effect.
4. Take vitamin D supplements
A study that looked at the impact of vitamin D on negative emotions found that it can be incredibly beneficial, especially if you suffer from depression.  Even though this isn’t enough to combat your beach craving, taking vitamin D supplements can mimic some of the benefits a day at the beach has on your mental health. But before you start taking them, make sure that you consult it with your doctor.
5. Introduce blue to your life
Are you thinking of buying a new bag or maybe redecorating your house? If you want to make sure the change is good for you, consider incorporating blue color into your life. For example, purchasing a blue mug that accompanies your morning routine can help you relax and face the day ahead with optimism. Even changing your desktop to blue wallpaper will make a difference.
6. Watch a summer-themed movie
Even though it’s not the same as going on a beach vacation or being near the beach, seeing the beach on the screen can trigger a sense of nostalgia just like being physically present would. If you want to improve your mental health, choose a movie that was filmed at the beach. For example, Mamma Mia, Just Go With It, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Aquamarine.
Learn more about contributor, Joanna Cakala