“It’s always our self we find in the sea” – a reflection by Faizah Alam

“It’s always ourself we find in the sea.” These words by e.e. cummings are a beautiful prelude to this weeks’ Wellbeing Wednesdays’ piece by MUMUS C&W’s Faizah Alam. Happy reading!

Over the summer, I made the trip down to Dromana for a short and spontaneous road trip. Therein laid the foundations for my obsession with going to visit blue spaces (be it waterfalls, fountains, oceans or even reservoirs) on every free weekend I could spare. These were preciously guarded trips that I kept constant throughout the first semester this year.

The beach in particular, is one of my favourite places. I get to the beach and I’ve seen it a million times before. Yet some part of me is still imbued with wonder each time at the sheer vastness of what I’m seeing. Most of the time, I go to see a calm sea with waves lapping on shores to leave behind shells, seaweed and little eddies of water trapped in dips of sand. There are however other times when I go to rock formations or cliffs and the controlled violence of the waves hitting rocks is beautiful in its own terror.

I have even found myself voluntarily waking up at 5am to see the sun rise over the shores, and to see that cinematic sunset moment over the full scale around the ocean.

Blue spaces, and in particular, seeing the sea are things that have never failed to reduce my anxiety and stress and just let me be in the moment. With the ebbing flow of waves, it is easy to let go and just not think about the overwhelming responsibilities and tasks that I’ve procrastinated on completing for a while. A systematic review found that there is a positive association between blue spaces and mental health and well-being as well as physical activity. In my own experience, water has always been a way to use all of my senses – sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste – to reduce depression and anxiety. It’s a way to disengage from the constant panic of the world brought on by rushing people around us or even social media and our phones.

It is no wonder that we are drawn to blue spaces as simple as water features or man-made lakes. The small lake adjacent to the Med Building was a favourite lunchtime spot of mine when we were back on campus.

Studies have found that being exposed to oceans, lakes, fountains and other blue spaces may be associated with increased time with family and friends as well as increased social interaction in general. It has been positively linked to hallmarks of social interaction such as a sense of community, belonging and participation. All of these are protective factors and enhance wellbeing and mental health.

Research in this area is in its beginning stages, with the need for more longitudinal research and the distinction of confounding variables required. However, on an individual and personal level, I can’t refute the calming nature that going to these areas has on my wellbeing.

The simplicity in just being and not having or being expected to do anything is what has always drawn me to the ocean and to water in general. To me, it is the perfect description of the ever-changing nature of human emotions. It’s okay to be calm one day then upset and angry the next. It doesn’t make you any less beautiful, any less special and any less in any way.

There is something about the sea that turns us back in time, an implicit need to point it out and just to stop in our tracks with the perspective and wonder about our part in this world.

Studies quoted:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1438463917302699
  2. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/5/2486/htm

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