The benefits for mental health of being in or near the sea are being talked about more and more. For Men’s Mental Health Month and International Men’s Day on 19th November, we’re sharing this article by our very own ray of sunshine, Youth Engagement Officer Jenn Sandiford, first published in Cornwall Wildlife Trust‘s Wild Cornwall magazine in 2019.
Does the ocean make you happy? Explore the concept of Blue Minds.
Wherever you are in Cornwall, people say you’re never more than twenty minutes from a beach ,so it’s no wonder that the ocean has such a massive influence over Cornwall, both its residents and visitors. I was born and bred in Manchester but fell in love with the ocean on a holiday to St Ives when I was eleven; it was to no surprise to my family when I made the move down to the sunny seaside, drawn by the allure of the sea and how it made me feel.
The idea of Blue Minds has been talked of by many but in June 2014, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols published a book looking at “surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under the water can make you happier, healthier, more connected and better at what you do”. Nichols talks about his love for the water and the calming influence it brings, how the ocean reduces stress and anxiety (which can lead to “Toxic Stress”), and takes you out of, what he refers to as “Red Mind”. This concept refers to the overload of information and interference most people experience today through busy life styles, city living, technology and social media. He considers “Red Mind” to be the “Fight or Flight” feeling and response everyone has experienced throughout their life. To the majority of people in Cornwall, this may all seem like common sense and is something that we perhaps take for granted. We have the most beautiful coastline but what amazes me more than anything, is the number of people who have never been to the beach, who live here in Cornwall, this untapped, untamed, free playground, there to be used, admired and explored.
The Your Shore Beach Rangers project has the greatest pleasure of working with a huge network of amazing volunteers as part of the Your Shore Network and beyond. The aims of our project are to engage with young people and communities, to inspire them to want to protect their environment through events, training and workshops, increasing those all-important employability skills some young people lack for their future careers.
Unconsciously, we’re also achieving something else, something so important and fundamental to wellbeing: we’re getting more people engaged with the ocean, beach, and coastline, not just as a resource that needs protecting but something that can improve state of mind. I find nothing more therapeutic than snorkelling over a kelp forest, watching the kelp sway back and forth with the movement of the ocean, like a living being peacefully breathing away.
I once delivered a well-being workshop on the beach with a group of young people, we spoke about stress. I asked them to join me, as we lay on our backs on the sand, eyes closed, listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore and sea birds singing around us. Most of the group had never taken the time to lie still and listen and some struggled to do so, but we did it and achieved a state of relaxation for the rest of the session.
The Your Shore Network is made up of groups of like-minded people, volunteering their time to look after their local patch. Many run or attend several events throughout the year, engage with the public, residents and holiday makers alike, giving them a guided tour of their playground. With the emergence of terms such as “Nature Deficit Disorder” and “Social Prescription”, it has become apparent that more and more people are becoming disconnected from nature which is impacting on people’s health and social. This highlights the massive importance on continuing the work we do to bridge that gap for people and nature, giving opportunities to engage with the ocean, in whatever capacity they feel most comfortable.
Offering events such as rockpooling, beach cleans, snorkelling, art workshops, gives a variety of ways for the public to interact with the marine environment. It also gives people some social interaction which again, is lacking in frightening levels in communities. Many of the volunteers across the network also provide workshops for schools, whether that is in or out of the classroom, showing huge commitment to educating young people about the coast.
Karl Fice-Thomson from Trenance Learning Academy recently delivered some inspiring Beach Rangers Academy training on using the beach as a classroom, not just to teach young people about the environment but to use this “community classroom” as a space for all learning so students are completely immersed in their natural environment, bringing them instantly closer to nature and the sea.
We work with several secondary schools, youth groups and colleges in the county, delivering training and getting them down to the beach, interacting with the coast, getting them outside whenever we can. I love nothing more than getting those young people on to the rocky shore or in to the sea, to see that expression at the end of the session (usually happiness and sleepiness), allowing them to experience the marine environment first hand, some for the first time in their young lives. Words which I think are best expressed in a poem by E.E. Cummings which was quoted by the author of Blue Mind, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols at his TedxSanDiego talk:
Maggie and Milly and Molly and May
Went down to the beach (to play one day)
And maggie discovered a shell that sang
So sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and
Milly befriended a stranded star
Whose rays five languid fingers were
And molly was chased by a horrible thing
Which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and
May came home with a smooth round stone
As small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
It’s always ourselves we find in the sea