Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Why a break by the sea could be just what your mind needs

Last month we packed up the car and (like the rest of the UK) headed to Cornwall, trading drizzly grey skies for...well, drizzly grey skies. Luckily St Ives is a beauty, even beneath a thick canopy of cloud.

As soon as we left behind rumbling motorway traffic for winding streets and pockets of blue between houses, I felt myself relax, like I'd been holding my breath until this point. It was only in this moment that I realised just how much I was craving some downtime. Which was weird. Hadn't the last 12 months of working from home with an empty social calendar been a break? Well, physically, yes. But this wasn't a cause for tired muscles and aching limbs. This was my mind needing some time out. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I could win first prize in any contest when it comes to worrying and overthinking - it's one of the few things I'll admit that I'm good at. Throw in a worldwide pandemic, and my mind hasn't exactly been at its quietest this past year. Turns out, a week by the sea was just what I needed.

I will front this by saying that I've been to Cornwall once before - two years ago - and that trip also came at the perfect time. After finishing uni and spending my days hunched over CV templates and job applications, I wasn't in the best headspace, but a few days away was the breath of fresh (sea) air that I needed.

So, there's a chance that I was already biased when it came to this year's trip. I'm pretty sure there's a theory somewhere about us being more likely to have a good experience in a location where we've had a good experience before, because our brain conjures up positive thoughts automatically when we think of it. I could be making that up, but it seems logical. I think it's more than that, though. I think after 18 months of being boxed up with my laptop and comfort food, I just needed a change of scenery that was more than an hour away.

What I love about Cornwall is that it's too good to shout for your attention. Instead, it sits quietly, with its rugged coastline, colourful storefronts and quaint caf├ęs, waiting for you to notice it. And if you do, then you're the lucky one. Cornwall knows exactly what it brings to the table.

Both times, I found my visit to be like one long (but much-needed) meditation, from the rolling green hills plucked straight from a postcard, to the ever-present murmur of crashing waves. And if my description alone wasn't enough to prove it, then there have actually been dedicated studies, such as the BlueHealth study, exploring how environments such as lakes, rivers and beaches improve our mental and physical health. Whilst there is some science behind it (the high magnesium content in seawater increasing relaxation), it's also as simple as seaside settings stimulating all five of our senses, and, in turn, creating an instant sense of calm. If Moana's see the line where the sky meets the sea lyric is anything to go by, then I think the scientists might be right.

12-hour car ride home aside (thanks for driving Dad), it was just the break I needed, filled with family time, just the right amount of activity (in the form of scenic walks), a healthy dose of relaxation, and lots of great food (a must). 

I can't say if it was Cornwall specifically that gave my mind the break it had been craving - although I don't see how anyone could be stressed in a place where you're surrounded by the sound of the sea and you're never more than 15 minutes away from a Cornish pasty - or if it was simply getting away from home and work for a while that worked its magic. The lesson I'm taking away from it is to make more of an effort to actually listen to my mind. Stepping away from overflowing inboxes and jam-packed diaries and never-ending to-do lists, even just for a moment, is exactly the kind of thing that our mind will thank us for.

The salt air might have done wonders for my cluttered thoughts, but I'm not saying that we can all drop everything and flock to the seaside every time we feel overwhelmed (if only). But just giving ourselves a breather when we need it is so important, whether that's listening to a mindful podcast, throwing on an ASMR playlist, or simply sitting in silence. 

And of course, if you can't get away, then you can always take a walk to the places you can get to, and explore the nature around you. If there's one thing that this trip taught me, it's that sometimes the most wonderful things are right on your doorstep.


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