Bring the Health Benefits of the Ocean into Your Office

Where were you when you fell in love with water?

Everyone has their own story of when and where they fell in love with water. And you probably remember who you were with, the weather, and maybe even what you were wearing. Being in, on, under, or near water comes with big benefits, says Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, research associate at the California Academy of Sciences and founder/codirector of Ocean Revolution, SEEtheWILD, and LiVBLUE.

Author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, Nichols believes proximity to it can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety, and increase professional success. And, if you stop to think about your relationship with water, you may start to see why. Even if your office isn’t near the water, there are ways you can get the calming effect of the big open blue—without a trip to the ocean.

Take a blue break

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a former Microsoft Research fellow, told Nichols that on an average day, you’ll send and receive more than 100 emails, “check your phone thirty-four times, visit Facebook five times, spend at least half an hour liking things and messaging friends,” among other activities that tie us to devices. Focused time in nature can give our brains a much-needed calming break from all the multitasking.

Scientists and psychologists “have continued to do research on the restorative effects of exposure to natural environments,” and their work has shown that people perform at a higher level after walking through natural areas. And if you take a look at artists who have found “an entry point into creativity”—from Thoreau at Walden Pond to Monet in Giverny—it’s often near water.

Can’t get away from your desk? Drink more water. “Consuming enough water is a requirement of healthy brain function,” writes Nichols. “Even mild dehydration can affect the brain structures responsible for attention, psychomotor and regulatory functions, as well as thought, memory, and perception.” In fact, it’s shown to decrease concentration and increase fatigue and anxiety.

Prescribe yourself more blue in your free time

“What if your doctor handed you a prescription for stress or ill health that read ‘Take two waves, a beach walk, and some flowing river, and call me in the morning?'” Nichols writes. It’s not far-fetched. In fact, Nichols’ colleague was told to surf more by her doctor to ease allergies, while another doctor recommended she surf more for stress management. Various activities involving water have shown to decrease levels of salivary cortisol, an indicator of stress.

But easing stress doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get a rush from surfing. As Nichols explains, for some it means going fishing, staring at an aquarium, or taking a long shower or bath after work. Find what works for you to feel relaxed, refreshed, and renewed—but don’t overthink it. Sometimes you just need to go for a swim or jump in a lake, no questions asked. And as Nichols says, even that water overhead can be appreciated as well. Umbrella optional.

This post is part of our ongoing coverage of Microsoft Research and its Visiting Speaker Series. Microsoft Research supports its mission to educate and foster innovation and growth through inviting authors and speakers that inspire big ideas, spark new ways of doing things, or help people see things from a new perspective.