Ireland holds the key to positive mental health. This beautiful bejewelled isle is surrounded by sea. There’s the wild untamed sea and then there’s the not so wild deserted beaches. The benefits to positive mental health of living near or visiting the sea are becoming widely spoken about.

A research study undertaken in Ireland during 2018 found substantial benefits for the mental health of older residents who live close to the sea.

The research combined data from a survey carried out with people aged over 50, asked them to document their mental health history before then comparing the history to the location of their homes.  Anne Nolan, a researcher with the ESRI found that those living along the coast were shown to have a lower risk of depression, attributed to greater physical activity and social interaction, while those living with “extensive” sea views were deemed to be at the lowest risk

Lighthouse Psychology support that research. We would go further and say that the coast gives a massive boost to all, from infants to doting grannies. We think the benefits of living by or visiting the coast are there for the taking and there for all.

What is it about the sea?

We tend to associate the sea with feelings of calm and relaxation. Yet, the sea is often anything but calm, the velocity and force of the sea is often fierce.  It is thought that the rhymical sound of the sea promotes a feeling of wellbeing. Psychologists say it reminds us of the oceanic quality of the womb.

What we do know is that the spatial hugeness of the ocean puts matters in perspective.  Try going for a walk when the wild thrift is in bloom or the fulmars are nesting.  It is impossible to remain sad.  The sea and its environs engender an awareness of something bigger than the self.

Is it perhaps in those rhythmic sounds and sight of the sea – things are put in perspective? Is it that our troubles are small in the real scheme of things?

Perhaps it is a fleeting awareness that our troubles are actually very short lived, that we are here only briefly, while the magnificence of the sea and nature is infinite.  Simply, perhaps, the sea allows us to slow down, breathe deeply and realise our very small place in the scheme of things.

Its lovely to see that the residents in one small village in Co Waterford are well aware of these things. Bursting with initiative, the Dunmore East community comes together on a Monday evening holding a community walk. Maybe that’s the reason why the residents are always smiling.

Benefits of a coastal walk

  • Gentle low impact exercise that can be ramped up for the fitter. Improves cardiovascular health and endorphin production leading to better mood.

  • Walking reduces anxiety. The physical action of walking increases the production of neurotransmitters that reduce rumination.

  • Walking by the sea increases connection to our spirituality and sense of being. It doesn’t have to be religion; spirituality is as wide as the ocean itself.

  • It costs nothing. No gym memberships or expensive gear needed.

  • The relaxation the sea gives boosts productivity and creativity

  • It is impossible to remain sad. The sea and its environs engender an awareness of something bigger than the self.

Written by Caitriona Power guest writer for Lighthouse psychology providers of independent and specialist psychology services throughout Ireland.