How surfing and ‘ocean therapy’ has helped PTSD sufferers

How surfing and ‘ocean therapy’ has helped PTSD sufferers

For those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – or PTSD – one of the most important things is finding ways to heal and recover. While waiting for treatment for PTSD, there are physical activites you can explore that may help to ease your symptoms and improve wellbeing such as yoga and running, however, another perhaps lesser known option is surf therapy.

Time with the ocean, or the ‘blue gym’ as it’s also know, has long been celebrated as a way to calm the mind and rejuvenate the body, and several US based foundations and charities specifically promote this method of healing for PTSD sufferers, “we believe we can heal each other one wave at a time”.

It has been so beneficial to the U.S. Marines Corps that they have worked “ocean therapy” into their post-traumatic stress disorder treatment regime. The American Navy has also invested $1 million into seeing how beneficial surfing can be.

How does surfing help ease PTSD?

There are a few reasons why surfing is thought to be so beneficial for treating PTSD. Firstly, if you do something fun and enjoyable, it can help relieve your stress and tension levels and take your mind off the problem. When you’re sat at home staring at the same four walls, you aren’t breaking out of the cycle.

With surfing, you are able to focus your mind on something totally unrelated to your problems. It’s a positive experience in which you can feel joy, and are able to be both alone and social with those around you. Water is widely considered to have a soothing, healing effect on the body – often for reasons we can’t entirely explain.

Secondly, surfing is a tiring sport. It can require a lot of physical endurance, which ultimately means you fall asleep quicker at night. Given that many people suffering from PTSD suffer from insomnia and poor sleep, surfing can mean they are guaranteed a necessary and healing eight hours – without any drug intervention.

There’s also medical evidence that movement and physical effort are able to encourage metabolic processes to occur within the brain. This means that physical exercise is having a healing effect on the body. Thanks to research conducted by the Amercican Navy, surfing is also thought to help decrease feelings of anxiety and insomnia, as well as improve a person’s perception of life and reduce symptoms of depression. Along with surfing, hiking is also thought to have similar physical and emotional benefits.

Recently, there has been an increased interest into ocean therapies to help with PTSD, and a documentary has even been created about the subject. Resurface explores the power of surfing to help heal the body, brain, and psyche from the wounds of PTSD. The film focuses on two non-profit organizations that use surfing and “ocean therapy” to specifically help active duty Marines and veterans cope with physical and psychological trauma. These two organizations are at the forefront of using ocean therapy and surfing to combat PTSD.

Surfing alongside other treatments

As these examples have shown, surfing and ocean therapy is a holistic and effective non-pharmacological therapeutic option, but it’s important to note, that while choosing your PTSD recovery path you need to address both the symptoms and the underlying condition. NICE guidance from 2005 and 2011 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.

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Resources: PsychCentral, Independent, Psychology Today, Telegraph 

IMAGE: Catch a Wave by Andrew

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