After silently suffering from anxiety and depression all my life, I hit a wall. I was in uni and had moved across the world from Sweden. I locked myself in my dorm for four days without food and sleep and felt nothing in the world was worth getting up for.
I had seen doctors in Australia on multiple occasions and was told therapy would be a good idea then given a high dosage of antidepressants. I knew there were no drugs that could pull me out of the dark, though. What I needed was support and proactive solutions — stuffing myself with pills wasn’t the answer.
I’d always been particularly drawn to the sea. It’s an unpredictable place that is capable of going from calm to wild in an instant, just like my mental state. When I first came to Australia I would spend hours on the beach watching the surf, the people carving through the waves, and the calm joyful smiles on surfers’ faces. So I booked my first surf lesson with Kelly at Manly Surf School and never looked back.
Kelly, I want to thank you for saving my life.
From helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to improving the quality of life for children with special needs, surf therapy is becoming more popular around the world. From my own experience, these are five ways surfing can improve your mental health when struggling with depression.
1. The Stoke Is a Real Thing
That feeling of a natural high after catching a wave comes from elevated levels of dopamine and adrenaline. Adrenaline raises our heart rate and makes our bodies produce “positive stress.” This positive stress will condition us to deal with everyday life stress.
The chemical neurotransmitter, dopamine, is triggered when we do something we love. It’s that natural high that keeps you going back in the water.
2. You’re Connecting With Nature
It’s no secret that being outdoors improves your mental state. Breathing fresh air and soaking up Vitamin D will do wonders for your mental state. Research conducted by BMC Psychiatry suggest that exposure to sea air can decrease depression due to the negative ions in the sea air.
3. It’s a Proper Disconnect
In a society that leads us to become more and more connected, it’s hard to find a break. We are expected to be reachable 24/7. There is no technology in the lineup, though. It’s the only time I feel like I can truly disconnect from the world and simply be in my body and head and truly feel alive.
4. It Requires Focus
Surfing draws you into the moment. If you lose focus at any given moment you’ll wipe out. It’s that simple. Being in this zone tends to take away your ability to dwell on other issues in life. It hands you a break from being anxious or depressed. Surfing has taught me to be more mindful out of the ocean, to focus on one thing, and trained me to not let my brain wander into scary places.
A good read on this exact topic is Sam Bleakley’s book Mindfulness and Surfing: Reflections for Saltwater Soul
5. You’ll Meet Rad People
Surfers are the most down to earth people I’ve ever met. Sure, there are some egos in every lineup but the majority of the time it’s a great place to meet like-minded people. Since there are no phones around, the connections we make in the water are genuine and in the moment.
There are even surf-focused events and groups organized around supporting people struggling with mental health issues, like OneWave’s Fluro Fridays at beaches across the world. OneWave is a not-for-profit that uses surfing and saltwater therapy to help people recover from mental health issues.
And remember, it’s OK to not be OK.
Editor’s Note: FIND MORE MENTAL HEALTH EVENTS
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 131114. For further information about depression, contact
beyond blue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.