By Pippa Best
Pippa Best is the founder of Sea Soul Blessings. By creating simple transformative tools that combine mindfulness, self compassion and nature – and investing directly in environmental projects – Sea Soul Blessings supports sea-lovers to change our own lives, and the world around us, for the better. In this piece she explains why she believes that H2O is the ultimate mood booster.
Why does a bath before bedtime calm the kids down? Why is my answer to every meltdown, ‘have they drunk enough water?’ Why, in the face of yelling kids and household chaos, do I want to escape to a spa or the beach? It’s all due to the incredible power of H2O. I’m a living example of the many benefits of being in and around water. This will be my third year swimming in the sea all year round. It’s an activity that has transformed my physical and mental health for the better – but you don’t have to live by the sea to experience water’s incredible benefits for yourself.
Fifteen years ago, I lived and worked in London. Somewhere on the tube between Walthamstow Central and Oxford Circus, I lost the connection I’d always had to the sea as a child. It wasn’t until I moved to Penzance with my surfing Cornish husband and had children of my own that I rediscovered the sea’s ability to soothe and support me.
In his bestselling book, Blue Mind, Wallace J Nichols explains that spending time in nature, especially in and around water, can calm us when we’re anxious and overwhelmed, boost our focus and sense of wellbeing, lower stress and anxiety, stimulate creativity, build resilience, help us to sleep, and even reduce pain. It’s an irresistible combination of life improvements – and one that I think can support us to better manage the challenges of parenting small children.
Nichols writes, ‘Study after study, as well as personal experience, shows that the overstressed, over-stimulated, urbanized mind can find greater relief in the more subtle perceptions of a park, a forest, a beach, or a riverbank than it can from almost any human-produced environment.’
I’m sure you already know that there are few parenting strategies more effective on a bad day than getting everyone outside. But did you know that heading towards water significantly increases your chances of changing the mood for the better?
In Blue Mind, Nichols talks about a phone app, Mappiness, created by researchers George MacKerron and Susana Mourato in 2011 to assess the impact of location on our subjective level of wellbeing. This study, along with others, proved that being in nature makes us happier – and we’re happiest of all in marine or coastal regions. The sea adds an extra 5.2% to our level of happiness – a disparity which is apparently equivalent to ‘the difference between attending an exhibition and doing housework.’
I know what I’d rather be doing…
Several American studies have demonstrated that when we view nature, the areas of the brain associated with empathy and wellness become more active. Adding water to those nature scenes creates additional positive mental effects. Firstly, some neurosurgeons believe that the colour blue arouses our brain in a similar way to dopamine, prompting feelings of euphoria and joy. Secondly, because water is immersive, both familiar and ever-changing, it encourages us to stay fully in the present – we can be mindful, without activating our stressful ‘fight or flight’ response.
French philosopher Gaston Bachelard described this state: ‘In the motion of the water, we see patterns that never exactly repeat themselves yet have a restful similarity to them. Our eyes are drawn to the combination of novelty and repetition, the necessary criteria for the restfulness of ‘involuntary attention”.’ Perhaps this explains why our children so often shift in mood when they’re in the water.
While water’s greatest effects are felt in nature, Nichols says that viewing images of water, or simply listening to its sound, can also have a positive impact on the brain, reducing pain levels – ‘even something as modest as a fishbowl or a tiny fountain on your desk can be enough to markedly reduce your body’s reaction to stress.’
My time in and around water has soothed my own physical and mental stress. While my experiences are of course subjective, the cold seems to soothe the pain of my arthritis, much as an ice pack would. I’ve also felt the mental benefits; just walking or sitting beside the water has helped me to release frustration and start my day afresh. My time in and around the sea has become my moving meditation. It clears my mind and offers me a precious moment to pause and connect to something greater than myself.
This reawakened passion for water led me to create Sea Soul Blessings: simple mindfulness tools that evoke the sea and awaken our ‘blue mind.’ I make time to draw one of these cards each day: just like sea swimming, it encourages me to pause and reflect, to practice self compassion, and refreshes me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I use them with my children for the same reasons, bringing the power of water to them wherever we may be.
If you find yourself aching for time by the sea, pause and spend a moment taking your focus there – is there a particular place by the water that has a special meaning for you? Try picturing the scene, the sounds, the smells and sensations, and allow your body to gently soften into that memory: the sea is always accessible to us in our imagination.
The simple daily practice of visualising water, meditating to the sound of the waves, or using cards like Sea Soul Blessings can gently redirect your brain towards greater calm, compassion and focus. And whether it’s a shower or a bath; a trip to the pool or a trip to the beach; puddle-jumping in the park or feeding ducks on the river; even just drinking a cool glass of water, opportunities to connect to the incredible power of water are everywhere. And in many cases, they’re free.
Our lives began in the womb, soothed and supported by amniotic fluid. As adults, more than half of the human body is water, (our brains even more so at 75 – 80%). As Nichols says: ‘We are water.’ We need water to survive. But spending time in and around that beautiful blue, and deeply appreciating all that water in nature offers us, can help us thrive, transforming both how we feel, and how we parent.