Why the Beach is So Relaxing

There’s something about spending time on the beach that helps melt stress and put you in a better mindset. It’s not in your head—some science explains the different reasons the shore helps you relax. Although researchers continue to explore these awesome side effects, take it as further proof that, yes, you really do need a beach vacation!

Listening to waves is soothing. “Calmer versions of ocean waves tend to have a frequency of around 12 cycles per minute, which is very similar to the breathing of a sleeping human being,” explains sound and communication expert Julian Treasure. So listening to the crashing may trigger feelings of rest or even drowsiness. 

Blue spaces improve mood. Spending time near the ocean or a river, brook, lake, pond, or any other body of water—also called a “blue space”—is good for your psyche, according to a review of 33 studies published in early 2020. And in a study published in Environmental Research in 2020, adults spent 20 minutes a day, four days a week, for three weeks walking in a blue or urban space or resting at a control location. Those at the blue space experienced improved mental health.

“There is some stress reduction and restoration taking place,” says lead study author Mark J Nieuwenhuijsen, PhD, research professor in environmental epidemiology at ISGlobal. “People feel more at ease. Also, they get physical activity, which may help to improve mood.” Visiting a blue space for two hours or longer helps with mental health problems, he adds, so the more time you can spend at the beach, the better.

Sand can be grounding. Grounding techniques help you be more present in the moment, which in turn reduces anxiety. “Grounding, or earthing, allows you to be in the here and now, which reduces your thoughts from being elsewhere,” explains Breann D’Alessandro, LCSW, co-founder of One Step at a Time Therapy Center in East Brunswick, New Jersey. At the beach, you can practice grounding by walking or sitting and simply feeling the sand on your feet—its temperature, if it’s wet or dry, how it slides between your toes, and any other qualities.

Your eyes can wander. “In contrast to a crowded visual city landscape, looking out to sea has no focal point—it’s an endless stretch the mind can explore very simply,” says cultural analyst Margaret J. King, PhD, director of the Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis. “It’s difficult to think of a place that offers a more relaxing aspect than a seaside venue.”

You can escape screens. You probably will have your phone with you at the beach. But try to unglue yourself. “Reduced screen time allows you to be present and mindful,” D’Alessandro says. This may even lead to some introspection as you check in with yourself rather than with your social media feed. Rather than comparing yourself to others, you can discover how you are truly doing.

Sunshine may have mental benefits. Keep wearing your sunscreen, but know that research suggests that exposure to sunlight triggers the production of serotonin. This hormone helps regulate mood, and more of it may lead to a more positive outlook.