If it seems like there’s a national day for just about everything now, you’d be right. In the month of August alone, we can celebrate National Days for mustard, oysters, and even cherry popsicles. Who knew? Like many Americans, I love to find an excuse to celebrate something – especially this year, when we’re all dealing with an overload of disappointment and cancelled events. So, when I saw that Sunday, August 30th was National Beach Day, I knew I’d want to observe it in some way.
But as luck would have it, I live in the desert and beaches are in noticeably short supply. Sure, there are some lakes and rivers in the area, but to me a “real” beach means an ocean beach. I was lucky enough to grow up in a Northern California city where the ocean beach was a five-minute drive from our house.
I spent countless days of my childhood on the beach. Collecting shells, poking washed up jelly fish with sticks, throwing long, slimy strands of seaweed at my brothers, and running and jumping in the cold, Pacific waves.
The sight and sounds of the ocean bring me peace, as they do for so many people. Why is spending time at the beach so relaxing and enjoyable?
Shelley Batts, Ph.D., an auditory neuroscientist at Stanford University explains “there’s a lot of research that has parsed out what types of noise humans find pleasant and relaxing, and what types are considered noxious and stress-inducing. It turns out that the most pleasing sounds have predictable wave patterns, middling to low pitches, soft volumes, and harmonic frequencies at regular intervals—all characteristics of the ocean’s rhythms.” Ocean sounds decrease cortisol levels in our bodies, reducing stress.
Another reason for our contentment could be the flat plane of the ocean’s surface. “We have evolved as a species to find safety in environments of low complexity”, says neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco. “In a dense woodland, dangerous animals can hide among trees; in a city, we might be concerned with criminals. But at the beach, there is no place for a threat to lurk. It feels safe.”
Some researchers say that the source of our contentment at the beach may even be molecular. Ocean waves generate negative ions, which are charged air particles that have been linked to mental energy and emotional well-being.
So, what can we do here in the desert if we’d love to be at the ocean for National Beach Day?
Options include a day trip to a lake, creek, or even just time spent in a pool or bathtub. Bring a speaker along and play some soothing ocean sounds or find ocean wave videos to watch for a little while.
Colleen Paige, the beach lover who started National Beach Day in 2014, encourages people to observe the day by helping clean up a beach or to donate to a conservation organization that helps protect sea birds and ocean mammals.
If your family loves the beach and its creatures, do a little research with your kids and consider donating to one of the following groups: