The Profound Impact of Therapeutic Aquatic Activities for Easing Anxiety

Addiction Recovery Publishing Addiction Recovery August 13, 2023

The Profound Impact of Therapeutic Aquatic Activities for Easing Anxiety

There is a value we hold onto here on the Big Island of Hawaii known as “‘Ike Loa.” This has many different meanings, but they all essentially boil down to this: We are all here to grow beyond what we once thought possible. Also, we are here to forever gain knowledge and insight from the world around us. The world around us here in the Aloha State is quite literally that of the Pacific Ocean, and we use it every day to achieve ‘Ike Loa. This includes the therapeutic aquatic activities we offer here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab.

The Healing Power of the Ocean for Anxiety: Utilizing Therapeutic Aquatic Activities for Recovery at the Cellular Level

Most likely, all of us will experience anxiety at some point in our lives. We are all human, and anxiety is simply a part of that experience we all share. However, many of us experience anxiety on a much more intense level. We are the people that struggle with anxiety disorders, and there are more of us than many people may think.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and diagnostic interview data from the National Comorbidity Study Replication (NCS-R), “An estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.” Now, to put that in a little more perspective. Based on population, that is nearly 103 million people that will experience an anxiety disorder in the U.S. alone. No small number.

The good news is that due to the current prevalence of anxiety disorders, there is also an abundance of treatment modalities and recovery options. These range from the more “traditional” mental health treatments to the neuroscientific treatments to holistic practices and experiential treatments. Also, these experiential treatments include therapeutic aquatic activities.

What Are Therapeutic Aquatic Activities?

It should be noted that therapeutic aquatic activities can be beneficial for anyone struggling with anxiety, but they can be particularly beneficial for those experiencing disordered anxiety levels. So, it only makes sense that the next question we should ask is, “What exactly are therapeutic aquatic activities?” Well, the first aspect to understand is that, while the name appears pretty straightforward, therapeutic water activities are much more than simply splashing around in the waves. Though, that can be really enjoyable, even healing, as well.

No, therapeutic aquatic activities are experiential therapies that involve aquatics. What this means is that the experience of these activities is not only therapeutic in the moment, but they are also meant to be therapeutic before and especially after the experience. For example, take surfing. On its own, it is a great way to relieve stress, get physical exercise, and feel a sense of peace and accomplishment. 

Now, experiential surf therapy offers all of those things, but it also offers an opportunity for mindfulness and personal development before hitting the waves, introspection while riding the waves, and working through the emotions the experience brought up with a mental health professional afterward. This comprehensive approach is what can help us heal at the cellular level rather than simply enjoy the ride in the moment, though with the waves off of the Hamakua Coast, that will certainly happen as well.

Experiential Therapeutic Aquatic Activities

Of course, there are many more oceanic experiential therapies than just surf therapy. “Experience” is the essence of this form of therapy (it’s even in the name), and the ocean has endless opportunities to have experiences. These experiences happen in what is referred to in the psychological and recovery community as nature immersion therapy.

However, while there has been much talk of nature immersion therapy as of late, one aspect of the conversation that has been missing is that of the immense natural world that is the oceanic seascape. After all, the ocean covers 70% of our entire planet. So, it seems an oversight that it is not being discussed. However, that does make the therapeutic aquatic activities in our nature immersion therapy at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab wholly unique. This includes the snorkeling that takes place in one of the most vibrant places in the Pacific Ocean, off of the Hamakua Coast.

Swimming With Green Sea Turtles and Tropical Fish

It’s not hard to argue that green sea turtles are one of the most unique and inspiring creatures that can be found in the ocean. They are incredible and intelligent animals that live long and full lives and have the capacity to return to the place where they hatched. According to the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Green turtles are long-lived and could live for at least 70 years or more,” and “Every 2 to 5 years they undertake reproductive migrations and return to nest on a beach in the general area where they hatched decades earlier.”

They are also only found in a certain percentage of the world. Part of that percentage is right here on the Hamakua Coast, just outside the doors of our luxury 30-acre recovery center. Swimming and snorkeling with these wise creatures can help us understand our place in the world and connect to something beyond our own sense of self. Many people often feel overwhelmed with emotion from this experience, which they can then take to journal, work on personal development, and with the help of a therapist, get closer to the core root cause of their negative cognitions, emotions, and behaviors.

Also, snorkeling with green sea turtles and their fellow tropical fish is not simply just an esoteric concept. There have been recent studies that have shown its efficacy. According to the peer-reviewed Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, “The positive association between the activity of swimming or snorkeling in open seas and the mental well-being of rural coastal communities in Indonesia during the COVID-19 pandemic indicates that access to coastal blue spaces is important in a time of uncertainties and high stress.” Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we have access to some of the most profound “coastal blue places” in the world.

Feeding Manta Rays as a Therapeutic Aquatic Activity and a Spiritual Experience

There is also a very specific therapeutic aquatic activity that is unique to us here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab. That is the ability to feed and swim with the majestic manta ray. Like the green sea turtle, these creatures and their movements can profoundly affect our emotional state and psyche. 

Manta rays are one of the biggest creatures in the ocean. That, compounded by the fact that this experience often happens at night (due to the appearance of plankton at night and the manta rays’ feeding schedule), makes this a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone. However, for those looking to ease their anxiety, this beautiful aquatic dance with these gentle giants can be just the thing that is missing.

Move a Muscle, Change a Thought: Physical Therapeutic Aquatic Activities

Now, while swimming with these magnificent sea creatures can be physically engaging, there are many slightly more athletic oceanic activities. That is not to say one has to be in optimal shape to experience them, though the fact of the matter is that engaging in them is almost assured to help heal the physical body.

However, just as important as the physical effects of these therapeutic aquatic activities is the positive effects that they can have on our mental and emotional states. It is important to remember that to heal at the cellular level, we must focus on all three aspects of our mind-body recovery: cognitive, psychological, and behavioral.

There is a saying in step-based recovery that goes, “Move a muscle, change a thought.” What that means is that when we get stressed out or overwhelmed, taking action and engaging in physical activities can be highly beneficial. These activities can help get us out of our heads and focus on the moment at hand. Quite frankly, it is hard to worry about anything else that is bothering us when we are on top of a wave looking to ride it into shore, which is considered by many to be one of the most gratifying feelings in the world.

Surfing for Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Growth

While exercise is certainly highly beneficial regarding many aspects of our well-being, it is important to note that it matters what kind of exercise it is and where it takes place. According to the journal Frontiers in Psychology, “Early research regarding exercise in natural environments has revealed that individuals experience greater reductions in anger and depression and significant increases in positive self-reported emotions compared with exercise in synthetic environments such as gyms or urban landscapes.” The journal also focuses on the benefits of surfing specifically.

Frontiers in Psychology discusses a study that was conducted in the United Kingdom that looked at the positive effects that surfing had on combat veterans. It found that it lessened their feelings of worry, increased positive energy, and helped them connect with others. Also, it found that surf therapy is now “associated with significantly lower post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive symptoms (at both the conclusion of therapy and 30-day follow up), increases in positive affect, and decrease negative affect, anxiety, and depression.” 

The good news is that for clients that want to engage in surf therapy (boogie boarding as well), we have one of the best local breaks a mere 15-minute walk from our luxury facility. It is a break called Honoli’i, and it offers some of the most amazing waves on the Big Island. The empowerment of hanging a wave onto shore and meditating in between rides as the green sea turtles pay another visit has the potential to be the life-changing experience that a recovery journey was missing. Also, while it is not exactly a therapeutic aquatic activity, it does involve the importance of that beautiful “coastal blue space” we previously mentioned.

The Greatest View in the World: Yoga on the Beach

While yoga is a highly beneficial tool for recovery when practiced anywhere, the ability to practice it on a white sand beach while looking over the Pacific Ocean’s sparkling horizon line takes it to the next level. This opportunity, too, is right outside our door at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab.

While not initially specific to addiction and/or mental health recovery, yoga has been utilized as a healing practice for over 3000 years. However, in recent years it has been studied and has been shown to help with the three areas necessary to heal at the core cellular level: cognitive, psychological, and behavioral. 

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), “Studies have suggested possible benefits of yoga for several aspects of wellness, including stress management, mental/emotional health, promoting healthy eating/activity habits, sleep, and balance.” Compound that with what we already know about the benefits of both nature immersion and physical activity outdoors, yoga becomes a prime conduit for whole mind-body healing, and mindfulness is crucial for deep-rooted recovery.

The Importance of Mindfulness for Long-Term Recovery

Mindfulness techniques such as meditation and journaling are essential parts of recovery for millions of people around the world. They are also critical components of therapeutic aquatic activities because they round out the therapeutic process. 

Journaling can not only help us discern why we want to take part in these activities and the potential emotions they evoke, but it is also a way in which we can process the experience after the fact. This process of journaling can then be used with the help of a specialized therapist to break down what was put down on paper. 

For example, a therapist that has a focus in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can use these entries to help get to the underlying core root issues that may be influencing our negative behaviors. Or another example might be narrative therapy, in which a therapist can use the negative musings of a journal entry to reframe how we view ourselves in a positive, often more realistic, light.

Meditation has also been shown to be highly effective when it comes to processing our thoughts and experiences. Then, more importantly, distancing ourselves from them to reduce anxiety and create a greater sense of inner peace. Also, while the efficacy of meditation practices can be hard to quantify, the NCCIH actually did just that.

In 2018, an “NCCIH-supported analysis of 142 groups of participants with diagnosed psychiatric disorders such as anxiety or depression examined mindfulness meditation approaches compared with no treatment and with established evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressant medications. The analysis included more than 12,000 participants, and the researchers found that for treating anxiety and depression, mindfulness-based approaches were better than no treatment at all, and they worked as well as evidence-based therapies.” This study essentially tells us what we already know here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab because we have seen the positive effects that mediation has had in our clients’ lives firsthand (and continue to do so daily).

Therapeutic Aquatic Activities for Healing at the Core Root Level: Comprehensive Recovery at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we never take a single day here on the Big Island for granted. We are forever grateful for our beautiful tropical surroundings, and we practice ‘Ike Loa in everything we do. Also, we practice what is known locally as “Ho’oponopono,” which essentially translates to “making things right.”

When we are struggling with anxiety, often nothing seems to make sense, and nothing seems right with the world. However, here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we utilize the world around us to make things right again. Ho’oponopono also is a process that ends when our negative emotions dissipate, and we are able to resolve our problems. This resolve is not simply what we can offer at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, but it is also offered by the Pacific Ocean, next to which we call home. 

From swimming to surfing to even snorkeling, the healing effects of water can make a profound impact on one’s anxiety. Water activities can ease anxiety, reduce stress, help build physical strength, and help us reconnect to the natural world. From physical activities like surfing and paddle boarding to immersive experiences like snorkeling and swimming with green sea turtles and tropical fish, the Pacific Ocean offers some of the most unique healing opportunities in the world. If you feel like you or a loved one may be struggling with issues of mental health, we can help. For more information on how Exclusive Hawaii Rehab incorporates aquatic activities in our fully comprehensive and luxury healing plans, contact us today at (808) 775-0200.