My family just returned from a lovely week-long vacation on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s always a wonderful time (and one perfectly suited to socially isolating) because we literally do nothing. We make no plans. We buy no tickets to any event or theme park. We sleep, read, and watch movies. Oh yes, we spend most of the morning and afternoon at the beach.
Because I was raised in Florida, and spent almost as much time in the water as out of it, I adore everything about the beach. As I’ve grown older and had to learn to deal with the stress that comes with a chronic illness like MS, I especially appreciate how relaxing a day by the water can be.
According to NBC News, there are several reasons why the ocean is so relaxing. First, the color blue is calming, and there is no shortage of blue on a coast. Whether it’s the water or the sky, there’s plenty of Zen to be had.
Second, the sound of waves rolling up on the sand actually “de-stimulates our brains.” The sound coupled with the soothing repetitive motion of the water activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our rest and digestive responses.
Third, the smell of the ocean is also beneficial. Coastal air is filled with negative ions, which have an extra electron. (It’s the reason the air smells so fresh and “charged” after a thunderstorm. Thanks, ozone!) Negative ions have been proven to reduce symptoms of depression in some patients, improve physical and cognitive performance, and promote antimicrobial activity.
Fourth, there’s a tactile benefit to the beach as well. As I sat in my favorite chair reading all day, I dug my toes in the sand. Whether it was warm or cool, it was always pleasant. Sand tray therapy has proven very beneficial for both children and adults, and I can totally see why! (Kinetic sand also has many proven benefits, especially in the treatment of anxiety.)
Scientists who study all these positive effects refer to water’s power to soothe as “blue mind,” and it stands in direct opposition to “red mind” (feeling angry, anxious, and stressed) and “gray mind” (being zoned out from staring at screens inside all day). But what if you can’t get to the beach? How can you get some of the same benefits at home?
According to Wallace J. Nichols, marine biologist and author of “Blue Mind,” taking a shower or bath is beneficial. Perhaps you could even apply a fresh coat of blue paint to a room where you do your relaxing. (My bedroom is a lovely shade of cornflower, and I adore being in that space.)
To harness the auditory benefits, a white noise machine that replicates ocean wave sounds could prove beneficial. There are also several machines on the market that add negative ions to the air, ranging from the affordable to the ridiculously expensive. And last but not least, you could keep a plastic container of sand handy for your piggies whenever you’re feeling stressed.
There’s nothing that can replace a relaxing day at the beach. (I’m already jonesing for it and planning our trip back next year.) However, as MS patients, we can take advantage of some of its benefits, many of which have been proven by science, to improve our overall health and wellness of mind.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.