Surfing: a therapy to treat anxiety, stress, PTSD, and more | Photo: Shutterstock

The Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) is among the institutions that are researching the possibility of using a new form of therapy to treat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), anxiety and stress.

The physical and psychological benefits of surfing are something many enthusiasts can attest to. Scientists have been working to establish the exact mechanism and value of this form of rehabilitation.

The NMCSD studies were prompted by studies that show an increasing number of people diagnosed with PTSD. More than 8 percent of adults in American will have PTSD in their lifetime.

Between 2001 and 2011 the number of active duty military personnel diagnosed with the condition increased by 65 percent.

Researchers believe it can be effective for treating a number of other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and stress.

Surf therapy can be thought of as a form of adventure that can be appealing to young people who are underserved by other forms of treatments.

Surfing: a holistic form of therapy | Photo: Shutterstock

Benefits of Surf Therapy

Surf therapy could prove to be beneficial for treating mental health conditions for the following reasons:

Emotional Wellbeing: According to the Wave Project

A British surf therapy charity study indicated an improvement in mental and emotional well being for young people who had experienced trauma and other psychological issues.

The therapy yielded consistent week-in week-out improvements in self-management, communication, and cultivation of positive outlook on the young participants.

Non-Pharmacological Therapy

The therapy does not require medication and is free from the side effects that come with medication-based therapies.

Holistic

It is a holistic form of therapy that promotes mental, psychological and spiritual well being. A holistic approach is much more effective compared to therapies that are non-integrated.

Cost

You only need a surfboard and the ocean. You may initially require a trainer, but the therapy will prove to be cheaper than other alternatives in the long run.

Surfing: it gives the opportunity to unplug and engage in therapeutic, outdoor activities | Photo: Shutterstock

Why it Works

In order to make the most of this form of therapy, researchers are trying to establish why it is effective for psychological conditions such as PTSD, anxiety and even substance abuse. Here are the reasons why it could be one of the best forms of rehabilitation:

Adventure Therapy

Surfing is a form of adventure or outdoor therapy. Research indicates it is particularly effective in treating anxiety and stress. Researchers say it is beneficial because:

Unplug

Adolescents and adults are constantly engaged in activities that involve a lot of screen time on the computer and the smartphone.

Surf therapy gives the opportunity to unplug and engage in therapeutic, outdoor activities.

Alternative Psychotherapeutic Intervention

It gives an alternative to those who are not responsive to other forms of intervention. It has been found to be effective for adolescents who may not find traditional therapies appealing.

Recreation

It is a form of treatment that is fun and enjoyable. Participants are therefore likely to see it as a form of recreation rather than a monotonous treatment protocol.

It engages participants who voluntarily involve themselves physically and psychologically.

Surfing: nothing inspires awe like the vastness of the ocean | Photo: Shutterstock

The Psychological Power of Awe

Awe is defined as the feeling of wonder and reverence mixed with feelings of fear when experiencing something vast or novel. Nothing inspires awe like the vastness of the ocean.

It may be compared to looking at the stars and contemplating the universe that appears to stretch into eternity.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicates that awe inspires a sense of wellbeing, loving-kindness, and magnanimity.

Why does it work? According to the researchers, the feeling, though short-lived and hard to define, encourages us to look beyond ourselves and consider our situation without the temptation to be preoccupied with narrow self-interests.

In addition, they believe this sense of reverence can inspire people to be more loving, more likely to volunteer, and to adopt a more loving attitude towards others.

Focus

Surfing requires a fairly high degree of concentration or focus. You are forced to maintain focus as you glide through the waves.

Therefore you tend to gravitate from other negative thoughts even if for only a limited period of time. The fact that it is done outdoors and is a fun activity makes it easier to keep the mind focused.

Adrenaline Rush

Surfing is a good form of exercise that promotes physical fitness. In one hour an average person can burn around 240 calories per hour. It is also a low impact form of exercise suitable for people of all ages.

The focus required to surf combined with the adrenaline rush helps to promote a sense of mental and physical well being.

There are many studies that have confirmed the benefits of exercise in promoting self-confidence, the mind’s ability to cope with stress and alleviate anxiety.

Additionally, dopamine promotes a sense of well being that counters the distress experienced by people struggling with various forms of addiction.

This makes it ideal for addressing mental health conditions, alcoholism, and substance abuse.

Surfing: a low cost, evidence-based treatment suitable for people of all ages | Photo: Shutterstock

Taking Up Surf Therapy

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression or PTSD, you can take up this form of therapy by signing up for programs arranged by charities and non-profit networks.

These programs have trainers that guide participants so that they can overcome the mental health challenges they are going through.

There are treatment programs near you that you can find by doing a quick search online.

Conclusion

Researchers have established that surf therapy to be effective in treating conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and prevent suicidal thoughts.

Surf therapy is particularly impactful for adolescents and adults that are not responsive to conventional therapies because it is not appealing.

It is a low cost, evidence-based treatment suitable for people of all ages. There are several programs that you can sign up for even if you don’t live near the sea or have never surfed before.

Further, research is being conducted to establish the exact mechanisms and modalities to enhance surf therapy for the treatment of a number of mental conditions.


Words by Patrick Bailey
Professional writer | Mental Health, Addiction, and Living in Recovery | patrickbaileys.com