Many say that a trip to the beach is good for what ails them.
"I am quite convinced that, with very few exceptions, the sea-air always does good. … Dr. Shirley, after his illness … declares … that [it] did him more good than all the medicine he took; and that being by the sea always makes him feel young again.”
— Henrietta Musgrove in “Persuasion,” by Jane Austen
Henrietta Musgrove wasn’t the first person to extol the virtues of a visit to the seashore. Hippocrates, that ancient Greek whose oath many doctors still swear by, advised his fellow medical practitioners to immerse their patients in the ocean. English physician Richard Russell’s 1750 “Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Affections of the Glands,” written in Latin, was translated into English two years later. The treatise, in which Russell asserts that the ocean is a “kind of common defense against the corruption and putrification of bodies,” was so popular that it was often pirated, and by 1769 was in its sixth edition.
Nearly a century later, in 1865, a French doctor named Joseph La Bonnardière introduced the idea of seawater therapy in a thesis titled “Introduction to Thalassotherapy.” (“Thalassa” is the Greek word for sea.) And by the early 1900s, such was the attraction of sea bathing and breathing in salt air that a newspaper article said of Rehoboth Beach: “every ocean breeze is an ethereal tonic, pure as the quintessence of the elixir of life.”
At the start of the 21st century, anecdotal evidence abounds that a visit to the seashore is good for one’s physical health (see sidebar, “Physical Benefit Claims”). But it is the psychological benefit that seems more certain, backed up by studies as well as accounts from psychiatrists and counselors.
“I regularly suggest to my patients that they go out and sit by the ocean,” says David Kalkstein, a psychiatrist with practices in Rehoboth Beach and Wilmington. “Looking at it, listening to it, it’s very captivating. And it can be very effective therapy for people who are depressed or anxious.”
“Sitting on the seashore is like meditation,” adds licensed counselor Suzanne Messina, who opened Sunni Days Counseling in Milton in September 2012. She often advises people to sit or walk on the beach “with no music, in complete silence, and just let go. It’s relaxing, and it really helps to center and ground a lot of people.”
Both local practitioners follow their own advice. Kalkstein frequently ventures from his office to the beach in Rehoboth, to gaze out over the water. And even though she has a gym membership, Messina regularly walks from her Dewey Beach home to the oceanfront for morning strolls. “I take my dogs, and we walk between 2 and 4 miles,” she says. “It gets rid of all my stress and helps me to get though the day.”
Margaret Kay agrees. A psychologist with a practice in Millville, she says that walking on the beach can be effective therapy for depression and anxiety.
“The ocean has a hypnotic effect that calms the mind,” she says. “People today get depressed and upset about the rapid pace of life. A walk on the beach in the morning can really get the day off to a good start. And a walk after work calms the mind and helps you get your thoughts back to a normal pace.”
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