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How can Sailing Help Veterans with Mental Health?

Updated: Jan 29, 2023



Sailing has been a part of human history since antquity, and it's something that continues to captivate us today. From its majestic beauty in the open seas to its integral role in trade and exploration, there's something about sailing that just can't be denied. It's an activity that brings people together and allows them to explore their own inner strength and courage. Whether you're a seasoned sailor or just learning the ropes, sailing is an activity that can bring joy to all who take part in it. Not only will you be able to marvel at the beauty of nature around you, but you'll also get a deeper understanding of yourself and your capabilities.


Sailing today is not just a fun recreational activity – it can also be used as a holistic therapy to treat people with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Sailing can even have long term effects on people who struggle with these ailments, and improve overall quality of life.


Being outdoors promotes a healthy and active body, but did you know it also has mental health benefits? Studies show that outdoor activities can help with various mental health issues. Michelle Kondo, a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service, says,

“The physiological response to being outside in nature is real, and it is measurable. There are many physical and psychological benefits of nature that scientists have observed, which can better help us understand how nature supports wellness in the mind, body, and community.”

The great outdoors can be a great source of nature therapy and holistic therapy. Sailing on the open water is a learned task, requires a lot of physical activity, and can have significant benefits for those suffering from mental health disorders. The lasting effects of sailing as holistic therapy can help veterans and others with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, and more.


SailAhead uses the ocean as a therapeutic platform to heal the scars of war. Read about our Mission here. SailAhead is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, therefore your donation would be 100% tax deductible.


Sailing and Holistic Therapy


Holistic therapy treats a person as a whole; mind, body, and spirit. Rather than treat individual issues, this form of therapy considers everything, including the physical body, mind, emotions, central nervous system, and spirit. Psychiatrist Dr. William Marchand says that sailing is compatible with mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment and enjoying life as it unfolds around you. It's about paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment or resistance – simply allowing them to be. This practice can help us become more aware of our behavior patterns and emotional reactions, allowing us to respond rather than react in difficult situations. It can also help us gain clarity, reduce stress and anxiety, and foster a sense of inner peace. Mindfulness is an invaluable tool for living life to its fullest potential.

Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment and enjoying life as it unfolds around you.

Through mindfulness practice, we can become more self-aware and build greater emotional intelligence – the ability to identify, understand, and manage our own emotions as well as the emotions of others. This can ultimately lead to healthier relationships, improved communication and understanding, and a greater sense of connection with ourselves and the world around us. Mindfulness is often described as 'being in the present moment', but it's not just about being aware of 'what is'. It's also about being mindful of our thoughts and feelings, and learning to observe them without judgment or attachment.


By cultivating a mindfulness practice, you can gain insight into how your mind works, become more aware of the ways in which you respond to life's events, and learn how to live with more intention and purpose. Mindfulness can help us break free from our habitual patterns of behavior. Outdoor activities such as hiking, walking, meditation, and yoga are great ways to achieve mindfulness, but so are sports-related activities like sailing. It requires focus and being in the moment. It helps you relax, get outdoors and out of your head, and promotes physical exercise.


There is no time to dwell on unpleasant thoughts when sailing requires 100% of your attention, and physical commitment.


Sailing and Depression


Sailing is an excellent form of nature therapy; therapy that includes the natural environment without the use of medical professionals and medications. These sorts of activities can be used to treat depression. Studies show that just being near the ocean can actually decrease the likelihood and severity of mental health issues such as depression. Doing strenuous, and physical exercise is also proven to help with depression, luckily, you can't NOT perform strenuous exercise while trying to harness the power of the wind!

Studies show that just being near the ocean can actually decrease the likelihood and severity of mental health issues such as depression.

Sailing and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


Sailing is not only a great form of nature therapy for depression, but it also helps with post-traumatic stress disorder. Those suffering from post-traumatic stress are often plagued by anxiety, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts after a significant traumatic event. Distraction can be a great way to help those with PTSD, and sailing is an excellent activity for distraction. Sailing a boat involves many different tasks and allows the participants to focus on a specific task or project rather than everything going on in their heads. Imagine for a moment sailing in rough weather, especially for the first time. Waves, wind, and the salty spray converge to create what is ultimately an intense and exciting situation. Our bodies begin to pump adrenaline, and we can think of nothing BUT the moment!


Sailing and Substance Abuse Disorders


As mentioned above, sailing can teach people to experience mindfulness in times of stress. The exercise of being present with your thoughts, identifying, and dealing with them is an excellent way to help those with substance abuse disorders. It can help people with substance abuse disorders redirect their thoughts to a specific task when thoughts of using drift into their minds. Sailing and mindfulness can also allow them to gain control of their thoughts during times of stress or when someone is feeling out of control, essentially creating new neural pathways and strengthening someone's ability to control their thoughts in a particular moment.


Sailing: How to Help Veterans?


Sailing can help veterans find a place where they feel like they belong. Sailing requires teamwork and is, therefore, an exercise in bonding. Many veterans miss the camaraderie involved with being in the military, and sailing provides an opportunity to work together and bond as a group for a common goal. This activity can never really compare to the intensity and heavy responsibility of military combat, but it does require trust and communication that mimics what those in the military are used to. Sailing with other veterans allows them to spend time with people who have been through similar experiences and help each other heal.


SailAhead takes wounded veterans sailing as a form of therapy. Please consider making a recurring donation to SailAhead to be a part of a group that's devoted to helping our veterans heal from the invisible wounds of war.




Lasting Effects


Any sort of outdoor activity and exercise can positively impact mental health, but sailing has some significant, proven benefits. The lasting effects of sailing as holistic therapy are worth looking into for those who need it. Since sailing requires teamwork and focus, it can teach veterans and others suffering from mental health issues to focus, face their feelings, and redirect their thoughts when needed. Sailing can be a difficult activity and requires collaboration that can be difficult to replicate outside of the world of sailing, making it a unique form of therapy. As mentioned, it can help with depression, post-traumatic stress, and substance abuse disorders. If you or someone you love is suffering from any of these mental health concerns, consider sailing as a natural and holistic therapy. The results might surprise you!



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