Why Water Makes Us Feel Calm

You can thank your brainwaves. 🌊

22/03/2016 9:01 PM AEDT | Updated 22/03/2016 9:01 PM AEDT
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Many of us know that being around water makes us calmer and more creative. Science knows it, too: A recent study even showed that people who live near the ocean report feeling less stress and better health than those who don't.  

But what is it about water that makes us feel this way?

To be honest, it's still a mystery, says Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter.

"There seems to be something very special about water," he told The Huffington Post. "But we don't know yet exactly [what it is]."

White and his colleagues have conducted extensive research on the link between water and our mental state. Along with marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, who explores the topic in his book Blue Mind, they're key players in creating a theory about why water possesses the calming qualities we've both seen in science and felt in our bodies.

Although we don't know exactly why water makes us feel as it does, there are some pretty powerful ideas that totally justify a beachside walk, a summer lake trip or even a float in water-filled sensory deprivation pods.

Prepare to dive in... and never get out. This, as far as we know it, is your brain on water. 

Water brings you to a calmer, more meditative state. 

It's all about catching a break from the screen-fueled, fast-paced rhythm of our modern lives, Nichols writes in Blue Mind. White's colleagues agree: While people do experience a range of emotions by the ocean, many cite the way water, weather and sound interact to produce an overwhelming sense of mental tranquility. 

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And it can even slow down your brainwaves.

People who float -- relaxing in pools of still, tranquil water -- often register a change from more active brainwaves to theta brainwaves. Beyond relaxation, these slower waves are credited with unleashing a flow of creative ideas. 

Water generates a sense of awe.

Standing beside a vast ocean or swimming in an epic lake brings inevitable awareness of this great, big world and your teensy, tiny place in it. Such awe-inspiring experiences make your brain happier, not to mention less stressed and more creative. 

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And it really brings creativity out to play.  

Did we mention creativity? More specifically, the meditative state induced by water also engages the brain's default mode network, essentially causing you to daydream in a way you wouldn't if you were more focused on a particular task. Activating your default mode network -- allowing your brain to wander, free of stimulation -- is known to produce some of the best problem-solving our minds can generate. And that is calming in itself.

Water can even deprive you of senses altogether... in a good way.

The goal of floating services is, in part, to provide skin-temperature water and tons of buoyancy to make participants "lose track of where [the water] ends and your body begins," as New York City-based Lift floating lounge describes it. Those who've tried it report feelings of weightless calm that they never want to end. 

So whether you choose to treat yourself to a high-tech float or simply unwind on the dock of the nearest bay, rest easy knowing that water's calming effects are at work on your mind, body and soul. 

We may never know why water calms us... but we WILL float on

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