“The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.” - Kate Chopin, “The Awakening”
Recently, I stocked the Keurig in the office fridge with coffee, decaf, and tea and filled the cupboards with healthy snacks for the many clients who will combine their psychotherapy and retreat work with beach time this summer.
Our clients happily drive through rush-hour traffic from New York, Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Washington to combine mental health work with the mental health fitness they feel from the time at the beach.
Ironically, our Stone Harbor retreats are more attended by city dwellers who travel hundreds of miles to get here, than by our local residents. Mental health fitness opportunities abound at the beach, and our clients want to reap the benefits.
• Cynthia is a 48-year-old executive who lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In summer, she takes the four-hour Manhattan bus ride to Stone Harbor where she bikes, overnights at her favorite bed-and-breakfast inn, and walks our beaches. She leaves feeling mentally uplifted.
• Four couples in a couples group live in Philadelphia, Long Island, Wilmington, and northern New Jersey. When summer comes, they travel gladly to the beach office, though the trip is longer for them.
• Women in our women’s group marshal their time and funds, but carve out time and money to do a retreat in the Stone Harbor office in summer each year.
As I considered how far our clients travel to get to the beach office each summer, I noted that three facets of beach life converge to create the high likelihood that we create mental health fitness by spending time on at the beach.
1. Exercise on the beach. Lively activity creates endorphins that feel good. It can even feel like we get addicted to a beach because, in fact, our bodies crave what happens at a beach.
Endorphins are chemicals produced in the brain that provide relief from stress, anxiety, and pain. As little as five minutes of the mild exercise involved in a beach walk or the physical rush of body surfing stimulate endorphin production.
Cynthia, our Manhattan executive, has created a beach outfit she saves for just this occasion each year. Heavy red-framed sunglasses and a large red bakelite bracelet signal her beach time. Back in New York, she puts on her red beach gear and remembers the beach feeling she loves.
2. Generating positive emotional moments. Feeling happy at the beach comes from doing things to enhance self-esteem. We get pleasure from daydreaming and strolling the boardwalk, which generates positive emotional moments that get stored in our happiness bank. We can withdraw our happiness funds long after we have left the beach.
Lila and Glenn, one of our couples, treasure walking the little non-commercial Avalon boardwalk after their group meeting. They process group time before returning to suburban Wilmington. The combo of the group and the beach moves their therapy faster than therapy time in the city squeezed into a tough schedule.
3. Creating moments of solitude and loose connection. Being on a beach can generate the solitude that many of us cherish. And, simultaneously, we also create loose connections with others who share our interest in beach activates.
We walk with walkers, or join the band of early shell collectors at the water line. We often chat casually with other dog walkers on the dog beach in Avalon.
Ellen, a member of our women's group whose career is a busy academic advisor at Temple University, finds that a quiet walk alone after therapy allows the work to sink in before she returns to the maelstrom of her career.
Vacationing alone, Ellen nods and smiles and feels a loose connection with other beach lovers. And, research on happiness informs us that even this loose connection with others can help us feel happier.
The lure of the sea is legendary. D.H. Lawrence captured it: “I wished… that the sea had no end, that one might float in this wavering, tremulous, yet long and surging pulsation while ever time lasted.”
Sensuality is everywhere: the feel of warm sand, the visual delight of nearly naked bodies, the predictable echo of the waves on the shore, the smoothness of a found shell, the surprising cold of a wave surprising our thigh.
At the beach and in the ocean, we invite our senses… touch, smell, sight… to invade our awareness and create an indelible memory of experience. And we invite ourselves to increase our mental health fitness. Lucky us.
To consider: How can I increase my mental health fitness this summer through proximity and time on a beach? How will I feel better if I do?
To explore: We have a new YouTube channel where I provide quick tips for mental health… do take a look and tell me how you like it.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com