Hook, Line, and Thinker: Therapeutic Fishing to Reduce Stress

By Deborah Helen Selman, DNP, RN
Professor at FSW School of Health Professions Department of Nursing
Florida SouthWestern State College

herapeutic Fishing to Reduce StressThis past weekend my husband and I decided to store away our big fish tank that had been running for over eight years. We were amazed at how much counter space we had when the job was complete. We sat for hours on the couch with an uneasy stressful feeling that we had done ourselves an injustice. We felt a void in our lives, something was missing. Then we realized that hearing the sounds from the bubbling water, echoed inner peace and tranquility throughout our home and in our minds, and there we sat puzzled by our own thoughts. So, we took our retreat into the backyard boat to rehabilitate with a little bass fishing.

Living in Southwest Florida is like having an outdoor rehab gym in our backyard. I find that fishing is the best stress relieving activity for me. I will outright claim the excuse, of many, that I don’t have time to go to a gym nor do I find peace and harmony running on a treadmill. Knowing the significant health benefits of yoga, I will also admit that during my first and last session, I found my inner self crying out for a fishing rod and had a difficult time posing myself standing on a bank with my arms free flowing in the wind imagining that I was reeling in that big fish. What I learned from that lesson, was to seek and find my own personal balance of relieving stress to maintain a healthy emotional state of well-being; I have but to look no further than my own back door, Southwest Florida.

According to a report from the American Psychological Association (2015), research has demonstrated a clear connection between stress and health that is affected by emotional support. However, one out of five Americans are lacking others to rely on for that emotional support. So, what does one do when there is no one there when you need emotional support? I often find myself in this very situation and take to the sea as a refuge for stress relieving comfort. By focusing on fishing as one task, I am able to take my mind off the repetitive stressful thoughts running through my head. I am not alone on this journey seeking relaxation and emotional balance in life. The U.S. Veterans Health Administration has adopted Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, dedicating fishing activities to support the emotional and physical rehabilitation of injured military veterans. This volunteer program was established in 2005, and as of 2014 has enabled more than 6300 recovering veterans to participate in the emotionally therapeutic often lifesaving fly fishing activities. Researchers Vella, Milligan, and Bennett (2013), studied the effects of a fly fishing program  among  a  sample  of  veterans  with  post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The results demonstrated a link between leisure and recreation promoting numerous benefits of psychosocial health factors with a reduction of PTSD symptoms and somatic stress, depression, and anxiety resulting in a positive mood state.

What we do know is that the effects of stress can put us into a negative mood and even make us somatically ill, and this is not healthy for ourselves and for those around us. So, what don’t we know about stress that we don’t know? Interestingly, evidence in research indicates that stress can be a risk factor for age-related cognitive loss. There are two combined funded studies by the National Institute on Aging presenting a current project known as the ESCAPE project (Effects of Stress on Cognitive Aging, Physiology, and Emotions)(Scott et al., 2015). Over the next several years, the researchers for this project are seeking to find answers as to whether unconstructive repetitive thoughts from stressful experiences are related to an acceleration in cognitive decline. It is comforting to know that researchers in medicine are hard at work behind the scenes finding ways to understand and improve the short and long term impact of stress-related mediators that can negatively affect our health and well-being.

From the perspective of a Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW) Nursing Professor, Advisor to the new FSW Bass Fishing Team, avid fisherwoman, wife, and mother to six grown children with five lively little grandchildren, I am expected to be at my best. I need to know when to unplug and cast the line. My advice is to make therapeutic time for yourself and enjoy the calming, rejuvenating running waters of life. If you have not tried fishing as an outdoor recreation to reduce your stress, I hope you hook into the healthy advantages that our prestigious environment has to offer.

References
American Psychological Association (2015). Stress in America: Paying with our health. Retrieved from https://www.apa.or/news/press/releases/stress/2014/stress-report.pdf
Project Healing Waters (2016). https://www.projecthealingwaters.org/
Scott, S. B., Graham-Engeland, J. E., Engeland, C. G., Smyth, J. M., Almeida, D. M., Katz, M. J., & … Sliwinski, M. J. (2015). The Effects of Stress on Cognitive Aging, Physiology and Emotion (ESCAPE) Project. BMC Psychiatry, 15146. doi:10.1186/s12888-015-0497-7
Vella, E. J., Milligan, B., & Bennett, J. L. (2013). Participation in outdoor recreation program predicts improved psychosocial well-being among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder: a pilot study. Military Medicine, 178(3), 254-260. doi:10.7205/MILMED-D-12-00308

Important Dates
at Florida SouthWestern State College

FSW Open House
April 11-14, 2016
3pm-5:30pm
Visit www.fsw.edu/openhouse for more information

Spring Break
March 7-13, 2016
College Closed

Florida SouthWestern State College
www.FSW.edu – 1-800-749-2322

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