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Readers reply: why are bodies of water so calming?
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Readers reply: why are bodies of water so calming?

Why are bodies of water so calming? In my experience, this is true whether they are placid or tempestuous. Mary Vogel, Vancouver

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Readers reply

I’ve heard a theory that there is subconscious connection to being in the womb that makes people seek out seas and lakes on holidays. Mind you, this was in the context of tourism and trying to explain why Mediterranean-style holiday destinations are so successful, so not exactly the most scientific of disciplines. And they never specified whether just looking at a body of water is supposed to trigger this, or whether it was being submerged in one, or … rgmann

It’s really not too deep or difficult. We are mostly made of water. We were made in water and birthed from water. We know water instinctively. DrewPompey

It reminds me of my place in the universe: infinitesimally small. A clear night sky has a similar effect. It helps to put my concerns into perspective – and to amaze me that any of us are here at all. LorLala

I was in the merchant navy in the 70s and I never felt more calm and happy than when I was alone on deck on a calm day in the middle of an ocean. Nothing to be seen but the horizon for 360 degrees, with just the throb of the engines for company. I’m 73 now and that remains a strong but very calming memory. ismeee

When we were evolving, we constantly had to be on the lookout for predators (or rivals) that might pose a threat. Consequently, we evolved to like being in locations where we could easily see a threat coming from a long way off. Hence we like (and are calmed by) views from where we can see a long way in lots of directions – for example, from the top of a hill, preferably where there isn’t too much cover nearby for things to hide behind. Since large bodies of water are very flat, we can see a long way across them, which triggers the same response. Shasarak

My guess would include the fresh air and breeze that come with water (well, maybe not so fresh these days) and the sounds: white noise at sea, the bubbling of a stream. When I lived near the sea in Brighton, then on the mouth of the Tay and later in Penarth, I found the ever-changing light and the often dramatic weather and skies a real draw. I like walking in the countryside, but it only changes with the seasons. Water and the coast change by the second. JonathanBaldwinAgain

Natural environments in general tend to be calming. Being by a river or the sea is calming, but so is being in a forest or on a hillside, even a park or a garden. Even in urban areas, rivers or coasts represent an incursion of the natural world into an artificial space. You can hear waves and ripples, maybe see birds, plants or fish. Without being too hippyish or faux-psychological about it, we evolved to live in wild spaces and so most of us find natural spaces inherently reassuring. ProjectXRay

We have evolved with the natural environment for thousands of years and respond physiologically to nature. It is well known that exposure to nature improves health outcomes, such as lowering blood pressure, improving anxiety and depression, and decreasing levels of cortisol, which is a hormone responsible for stress. Given that bodies of water are natural environments, it is not surprising that we find them calming.

I suppose not everyone finds large bodies of water more calming than other natural environments, but I can speculate that, if they do, it may be because we feel safer being able to see for miles and miles when staring at the ocean or lake, as opposed to being in the forest, where a predator can be hiding. Another possible explanation is that we can’t survive too long without water; seeing large amounts of water may be reassuring in that sense. Cococo

Source: theguardian.com