Have you jumped in the lake today? If not, I highly recommend it. There is a reason that locals refer to Lake Tahoe as the ‘Blue Pill.’ Legend has it, a dip in the lake will cure whatever ails you- like a magic panacea for the mind, body and soul. It really does feel amazing, though- so cleansing and refreshing and invigorating! It is nearly impossible to go swimming in the lake and not come out with a big smile on your face.
I think we all instinctively know that being around (or in) water is good for us. But, what is it about water that makes us feel so good? I did some research on this topic and here are some things I learned:
1. Views of blue water boost well being. Researchers have studied the impact of living near various bodies of water. They coined the term ‘blue space’ to describe the time people spend gazing at bodies of water. Studies determined that increased views of blue space are “significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress.” Other benefits of experiencing more blue space include improved mood, increased vitality and healthier sleep patterns. Blue spaces were even found to be more effective than green spaces (forests, rolling hills etc.) when it comes to overall stress reduction. Simply taking in views of Lake Tahoe, with its blue skies and even bluer water, is going to have a positive impact on your health.
2. Water is a powerful source of negative ions. Negative ions are oxygen molecules with an extra electron attached to them. They are most prevalent in fresh air and around natural water sources. High levels of negative ions in the atmosphere have been shown to increase our ability to absorb oxygen and boost our serotonin levels, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and increase energy. Lake Tahoe holds about 41 trillion gallons of water. Maybe the reason it feels so good to jump in the lake is all the negative ions you are breathing in. It's comforting to know that just being in close proximity to the lake is going to make you feel better. You don’t even have to jump in. (Although you’d feel a lot better if you did.)
3. Water puts you in a mindful state. Wallace J. Nichols, 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,” believes that everyone has a “blue mind” which he defines as “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment” that naturally arises whenever we are in, on, or near water. Gazing at water, observing all the subtle ways that it flows and ripples, allows your mind to take a break from the constant barrage of information that defines our modern world. In this state of “soft fascination,” as Nichols puts it, the mind finally has space to daydream and create. Studies have described the many health benefits of increased mindfulness, including lower stress levels, relief from mild anxiety, pain and depression, improved mental clarity and focus, and better sleep quality.
After reading this blog, I hereby challenge you to take the Blue Pill. Put down your device, switch off your screen and immediately go jump in the lake. It is scientifically proven to the best thing you can do for your well being. If you can’t quite fathom the effort it takes to go for a swim, then at least go there and breathe in some negative ions. Remember to gaze deeply into the blue space for an extended moment, taking time to observe the waves as they lap gently against the shore.
Then go jump in... seriously, what are you waiting for?
Here in Tahoe, the arrival of summer can feel like a mixed blessing. On the one hand, after enduring the most epic winter ever, we welcome the sunshine and warmth with open arms. On the other hand, the summer season brings with it a sudden increase in potentially stressful situations that can rob us of our inner harmony.
Let's face it, Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place. Seriously though, it looks like some kind of magical paradise out there right now. It's no wonder this area is so popular- everybody wants to go to paradise, right? And, as long as Tahoe stays beautiful, there will always be lots of people who visit every year. Rather than railing against the inevitable, let's learn to manage our personal stress levels more effectively. The following is a list of things you can do to keep from losing your cool during the busy summer months.
1. Be breath aware.
The next time you are stuck in heavy traffic or find yourself at the back of a ridiculously long line at Safeway, notice what the situation is doing to your breath. That anxious, desperate feeling you get like you are trapped inside some kind of hellish torture chamber is most likely because you are holding your breath. The core abdominal muscles tend to clamp down, the throat tightens up, and you are left taking short, shallow breaths into the upper chest. It's very difficult to conduct yourself rationally when this occurs. If you aren't getting enough oxygen, then it's not long before panic sets in and you begin to question whether or not you will be able to live through this horrific ordeal. Being aware of the times when your breath locks up and then learning to breathe easily is the key to releasing the unconscious grip of anxiety that threatens to ruin your present moment. Breathing consciously and fully, without any internal resistance, will always bring your being back into balance.
2. Be body aware.
Tuning into and releasing tension inside the body- before it has a chance to negatively affect your mood- is one of the best ways to regulate your stress levels. If you think about it, so-called ‘difficult’ situations are not stressful, in and of themselves. It is your emotional reaction to a given situation that determines if it is stressful for you or not. The next time things get stressful, pay attention to what is happening to your body. Besides a tight abdomen and chest, other signs that you are getting stressed include sweating, grinding your teeth, furrowing your brow and/or making fists.
Another way to control your stress levels is to regulate your internal body temperature. Anger is a 'hot' emotion- someone who is 'hot tempered,' for example, is thought to anger quickly. The same is true when describing a 'heated exchange' between two people. The next time you get angry on a hot day, check to see if you are actually, physically hot. Maybe your emotional state is a reflection of your body temperature. In which case, maybe you really do need to 'chill out' a bit before you react with anger.
3. Practice forgiveness.
A lot of people in town means there are a lot of cars on the road. I hate to break it to you, but people are going to cut you off. That's just the way it is- it's one of those things in life that you have no control over. The good news is, how you respond to such an affront on your dignity is totally up to you. The immediate temptation is to lash out with a series of furious curse words and elaborate hand gestures. However, unless you are in an emergency situation where every second counts, having to gently tap your brake pedal once in awhile is actually not that big of a deal.
The real problem is that we have such a high opinion of ourselves. It's like, how dare someone cause a minor inconvenience to someone as important as me? Don't they know who I am? Viewing the situation from a different angle, driving around during the summer in Tahoe is actually the perfect time to practice forgiveness. The next time someone cuts you off, forgo your bruised ego and move straight into forgiveness. Just try it and see what happens. Instead of shouting "f*ck you!" try saying "I forgive you! This isn't easy at first but, don't worry, you will have plenty more opportunities to practice forgiveness out on the road, I promise.
4. Stay Hydrated.
The link between dehydration and stress is well documented. While Tahoe can get pretty hot during the peak summer months, it is also exceptionally dry here. Human beings are about 70% water and therefore we need to keep drinking water during the day or we start getting stressed out. It’s a vicious cycle because dehydration causes stress and then stress causes more dehydration. Chronic dehydration is more prevalent than you think. A recent study estimated that 75% of Americans are functioning in a chronically dehydrated state. I say ‘functioning,’ but the truth is probably closer to ‘dysfunctioning.’ Not having enough water is similar to not having enough oxygen in that it is not long before you start feeling desperate and begin acting irrationally.
By practicing these four suggestions, you should be able to stay relaxed this summer, regardless of what situations you encounter. Remember, it’s not the circumstances you are witnessing as much as it is your reaction to them that is causing you stress. It’s up to you to keep calm and composed. And, of course, if all else fails, then you can always go jump in the lake and let the cool water wash your frustrations away.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.