This week I am on a family break. Our cottage looks out onto a long stretch of sand, nestled in a pretty bay. When I come to this place, I can literally feel my body take a breath of relief. It is as if coming here gives me permission to relax properly. It has so often been associated with rest and relaxation that I think my brain and body remember.
I have come here since I was small. However the first time I recall feeling I just needed to be here, I was writing my dissertation in my final year of my first psychology degree. At the time, it felt like a massive piece of work and I was under pressure. I recall wanting to escape, even if just for a short while. I wanted to hear the sea and walk with the feel of the cool sand underfoot. Perhaps this sounds cliché, but proximity to nature is something many people find benefits their psychological well-being.
A 2017 study, conducted by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, reviewed 35 International studies on the health effects of blue space. The researchers concluded that interaction with blue space (anywhere near the sea or coast, but also rivers, lakes and other bodies of water) can have a potentially positive effect on mental health, particularly in terms of stress reduction and perceived well-being. Though these research findings are some of the first of their kind, anecdotally, it seems more people are gravitating towards blue space and nature generally, in a bid to maintain good mental health. From wild swimming to surfing and stand up paddle boarding, many are getting involved. For others, it may be hiking, geochacing or simply a walk in the woods.
This week has given me a little more space than normal to sit still and reflect. What is it about a place that can have such a positive impact on our well-being? Proximity to natural beauty surely has to be part of it, if the study proves correct. But for me personally, I think it is a combination of both place and people. The people who you make and share memories of a place with are what ultimately makes it special. I have been here before with my parents, my grandparents, my brother and sister in-law, my friends, my husband and children. This week I have had the pleasure of introducing it to my partner and his children.
As I am writing this overlooking the beach, I wonder how many of you have your own special place? What benefit does the natural environment hold for you? Do you, like me, feel that the combination of people and place is the key to psychological wellbeing?
I have loved both this place and the people I have spent time with here fiercely. I hope to do so for many years to come.