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Harmful Stress & Blue Spaces

April 16, 2021  |  by Gareth Nicholson

Stress is something we all live with and experience daily, some stress (eustress) is good for us, it’s the type of stress that gives us our ‘get up and go’ factor, it’s the stress that we need to take on new challenges and step out of our comfort zone. If we just had to contend with this type of stress we would be thriving and we would be able to look at life’s unpredictability with vigour and a positive mindset. You can learn more about eustress in our online guide to Supporting your Mental Health.

Unfortunately, there is also harmful stress (Distress). This is the type of stress when things start to get ‘on top of us’ or we feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with tasks, multiple events and challenging times.

The two types of stress go hand in hand. It’s sometimes difficult to identify what type of stress we’re encouraging as a result of the unpredictable challenges we are faced with in life from hour-to-hour and day to day. It’s important to be able to stand back and look at how we’re dealing with things. If we find we are struggling or encouraging the wrong type of stress, we need to look at ways of taking back control and encourage the use of some coping tools and techniques.

One such coping tool/technique that can help us during unprecedented times is embracing the ‘Blue spaces’ around us.

We are fortunate to live on a beautiful and relatively safe and secure Island with open green spaces and beautiful views of the sea. In a recently publish article by Elle Hunt of The Guardian newspaper, it was stated that “Coastal environments have been shown to improve our health, body and mind”, and concluded that doctors could maybe start issuing nature-based prescriptions to help cope with the harmful stress we experience (Distress).

We have long-known that getting outside into the fresh air for exercise has a positive effect on our mental health and wellbeing, and we certainly don’t need a prescription from a GP to do so. But we do need to be able to identify when we are not coping well and to be able to take back control and start making small changes.

I love being around water and swimming, beachcombing, the smell of the sea, the sound of the waves and the sense of freedom that comes with it. I enjoy the escape to a place where my ancestors may have had a similar experience.

Throughout my life I have always been drawn to the water. Wherever I have travelled and lived, one thing stands out, I always found myself close to the sea. Maybe it was a subconscious decision or maybe something else, but I have always found an inner calm whenever I’m near water or ‘blue space’ is found.

Here on our beautiful island it is a similar story – I love splashing in the water with my kids and seeing them smile and laugh which makes me happy; whether going for a walk through rivers on an adventure, or simply walking on the beach to find our favourite pebbles or shells; perhaps looking for something that doesn’t belong on a beach and creating memories that may last a lifetime.

We are lucky to live in a place where we have such incredible blue spaces on our doorstep. I will leave you to make up your own mind on whether it should be GP driven but I can say that the theory and studies do certainly indicate the benefits to our wellbeing and managing harmful stress. Living on an island, I suspect deep down, we all know that already, but we just need reminding occasionally.

Here’s some ideas for making the most of our very own ‘Blue Space’

  1. Visit an old favourite – going to a place that triggers fun memories will boost your mood.
  2. Bilateral stimulation – just getting out of the house and going for a walk gives your mind time to process and forget all the troubles you may be experiencing.
  3. Serotonin, dopamine, and endorphin boost – swimming, walking or jogging in a blue space will give you a huge boost of the “good chemicals” that help lift our mood.
  4. Beachcomb – look for something special on the beach and you are never let down, many treasures are found, valuable or not, which connect you to nature.
  5. 3 pieces of plastic – pick up three pieces of rubbish and take them back to a bin, this is rewarding and will boost your sense of wellbeing as well as being great for the environment. Find out more about our Fill a Fish joint initiative with Beach Buddies and Suntera.
  6. Sea swim – a dip in the sea stimulates the parasympathetic system which is responsible for rest and repair. Another boost for serotonin and dopamine.
  7. Fishing – apart from the health benefits of eating fish, research shows that fishing can help combat depression and anxiety along with increasing patience and concentration.
  8. Less air pollution – the area around the sea is healthier for us as negative ions speed up your ability to absorb oxygen and balance serotonin levels.
  9. Sunlight – being by the sea boosts vitamin D, changes the body temperature and as a result helps you sleep better.
  10. It’s fun – no matter if it’s blowing a hoolie, raining sideways or glorious sunshine, being outdoors and by the sea is fun! We should all be allowed a little bit of time where we can be kids again and just have a giggle.

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