A dose of the ocean

The beach.

Can a trip to the seaside be good for our mental wellbeing?

Have you watched Greta Gerwig’s Little Women? There’s a scene in the movie with Jo and her sick sister, Beth, lounging by the seaside to cure her off her sickness. I’ve always wondered how that would help – why not medications? That’s certainly a go-to with GPs today but back in the 18th and 19th centuries, going to the beach was actually something doctors would prescribe to their patients. 

“Many contemporary doctors believed that bathing in cold sea waves was beneficial for conditions they called ‘melancholy’”, wrote Ana Swanson in The Washington Post.

I found this to be very amusing because as a woman of the 21st century, going to the beach is regarded as something we’d do for fun, when the sun is out or when we’re on a holiday. Never had it occurred to me that going to the beach would help cure my ailments, or regulate my emotions. 

However, as I reflect on the many, many times I’ve been to the seaside, I think those doctors were onto something. 

For one, I’ve always perceived the beach a blissful place. Back home in Malaysia, our beaches are a tropical paradise covered in lush greenery and fine sand, the water a blended shade of green and blue. So, it’s no surprise that whenever I’m stressed out or overwhelmed by my studies, I long for an escape to the seaside. Likewise, the beaches in Adelaide – especially during the colder months – has a warmth to it; a sense of cosiness that puts me at ease. 

I remember a trip I took a couple of years ago with a friend to Victor Harbour and Port Elliot. It was winter and we had just gotten over final exams – the coast of a quiet seaside town was exactly where we needed to be. We took a walk one evening along the beach. The sun was just setting, so the sky was a soft pinkish hue. The tides were low, so we got to peer into rockpools that harboured diverse sea life. Over the horizon, we can see the beautiful Granite Island. As if that wasn’t idyllic enough, we spotted baby bunnies hopping between native vegetations. 

I felt so happy and tranquil. I mean, it was impossible not to! So, I get how the ocean could cure one’s melancholy or at least, make you forget your troubles for a while.

Besides, as we commonly go to the beach when it’s sunny, we’re also getting unobstructed access to vitamin D – a vitamin that plays an important role in regulating our mood. Couple that with a picturesque view, some fun water activities and fresh coconut water, it’s no wonder I feel exhilarated every time I’m on a holiday by the sea. 

Being city slickers, my family and I would often run off to the seaside when my sister and I were on holiday. One of my favourites was when we stayed at an oceanside resort in Sabah – you could hear the waves crashing from our hotel room. My sisters and I had also gone island hopping on that trip where we ziplined from one island to another, taking in the view of mother nature from a different angle. It was an enjoyable holiday and being by the sea was just the cherry on top.

I love the ocean, I think I always will, but more importantly I love the radiance I feel whenever I’m near it. Perhaps I should start prescribing myself a trip to the beach more often, especially with exam stress bubbling. 

Tagged in What messes with your head, ocean, beach, destressing, mental health