We've known for a long time that beaches symbolize relaxation and that time by the water - whether it's a wind-swept beach in Oregon or, quite the opposite, a crowded stretch in Cancun with a blistering sun - allows for a release of stress. It's something about the pounding surf, salty air and wide expanse of blue that pulls us into a tranquil state. Life's problems shrink into smaller view. If you're like me, you start to think about what's on the other side - and how we're all in this world together, our collective thoughts and feelings mere blips on the global radar.
The Institute for Hygiene and Public Health, based in Bonn, Germany, published a report in June that says a landscape containing water is rich with environmental-psychology benefits. The link between water -- which the researchers dub "blue space," a term I personally love -- and mental health is huge. So if you've ever thought that contemplations along the water are good for the soul, you are exactly right.
Recently I test-drove that theory when I spent a week on a beach north of Miami where my schedule (on vacation terms) revolved entirely around the Atlantic Ocean. First off, I chose a hotel on the beach. Figuring out transportation is one of my stresses. If I had to board a bus or climb into the driver's seat of a car to reach the beach, there was no way I could effectively relax once parked in my chaise lounge in the sand. And, instead of jogging the local streets for exercise or getting a workout by hitting up cultural attractions I swam in the ocean for several hours each afternoon. At night, the effects of windburn, sunburn and salt on my skin - not to mention witnessing the ocean's beauty - lulled me to sleep with minimal coaxing. It goes without saying that I did a lot of thinking, too, on the beach each day, whether I was swimming or napping, taking in the sensory devices of the water. While I didn't board the plane back home with any profound statements about life changes, such as uprooting my hometown or leaving my job, or finally putting an end to toxic friendships, I did leave Miami with a clear, uncluttered mind, which ultimately allows for the space to, later on, make decisions with a holistic view.
The long-term benefits of vacationing near the beach are huge. Now that I'm back in my office and drowning in email, with deadlines looming before me like an ocean tanker bobbing in choppy waters, I think about my view from the chaise lounge. Pictures I took help guide my thoughts back to that spot in case my mind is so distracted from the day's nitty-gritty details that I can't go there immediately.
Until you go on that beach vacation, think about clipping articles of stunning shorelines from travel magazines. Tack them above your desk, on the refrigerator, or tucked into the corner of your bathroom mirror. That little island or isolated beach - and its blue waters - can be your oasis, a dedicated image to symbolize unleashing stress. You may not get to the beach next week, or within the next year, but your mind can take you there - if you let it.