Red Mind - What is it and the science behind it?

What is Red Mind? The science behind it

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Water + Wellness = Strength

Stay relaxed.

Red Mind is becoming more and more prevalent in our lives. We all need some stress to live. Good stress. Research has found that some amounts of stress help to push us to optimal levels of alertness, behavioural and cognitive performance. We need it in fight-or-flight situations. It helps us survive.

However, as stress levels increase across the world, with added reliance on technology and growing urbanisation, Red Mind has become a state of stress response that remains high and on constant repeat.

Red Mind is the opposite of Blue Mind, which is actually more beneficial when there is a presence of this red stressed state. Blue Mind is a feeling of calmness and wisdom, centred with a sense of wider connection, offsetting the stresses of Red Mind and the modern world we live in.

The science behind Red Mind

We all feel it. Irritable. Overwhelmed. Anxious. Like your heart is racing. Even uninterested in life. But something incredibly powerful is also going on inside our brains and bodies, both short term and long term.

Unfortunately, some of those stress-related neurochemicals, such as cortisol, can damage our bodies for up to two hours after even the smallest single stress.” Repeated and sustained stress can wreak havoc from head to toe. In fact, the top ten causes of death around the world can either be caused or exacerbated by stress. By sensitizing the amygdala through constant, inappropriate arousal, and weakening the hippocampus and preventing it from growing new neurons, increased stress can affect our ability to learn, retain information, or create new memories. Increased cortisol and glucocorticoid deplete the norepinephrine that helps you feel alert. Yet they also lower the production of dopamine and reduce serotonin levels, ultimately leaving you feeling flat, exhausted, and depressed (Grey Mind). Studies also have shown that the neural circuits responsible for conscious self-control are highly vulnerable to even mild stress. “Repeatedly activating the stress response system is killing us,” says Franssen.

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols – Blue Mind, How water makes you happier, more connected and better at what you do

What a double whammy.

It’s no surprise that stress, including Red Mind can contribute to other illnesses or even worse, cause them. The body is only capable of so much. Put it under pressure and cracks start to appear. And it’s not just physical stress. It’s emotional stress too, contributing to six leading causes of death – cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, liver cirrhosis and suicide.

The causes of Red Mind


This global issue is having more and more of a negative impact, with no signs of rest. We are always connected. According to research, constant access to social media, where we are aware of more stressful events, can cause psychological stress. The constant need to show up. The constant need to be available. It all creates more anxiety and stress that affects our mental and emotional functioning. And let’s not even get started on the stress levels caused when that technology doesn’t work when we are so reliant on it.

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Technology causing Red Mind - laptops and phones out amongst a coworking desk
This has been the ‘norm’ – but how much Red Mind is it causing

Our own thoughts

As a general population, we are not very good at being with our own thoughts. This dial is slowly changing with mindfulness awareness, even professionals are releasing its value. But it makes sense that if we are angry, afraid, anxious or unhappy, we wouldn’t want to sit with that and think about it.

Instead, we go off to find something shiny and new to make us feel better, to distract us from those feelings. This leads to more Red Mind and we need to stop. Research even suggests that we would rather be electrically shocked than be with our own thoughts.

We need to get comfortable being in the moment. Dealing with our thoughts, both negative and positive. How do we ever move on or grow if we keep running away?

There are so many ways to be present. It doesn’t have to be meditation. Just somewhere calm and tranquil will help. It may be painful at first to give our thoughts this focus, but it is absolutely worth it for your mind, body and soul.

What about Grey Mind?

As mentioned in the above quote from J. Nichols, Grey Mind can be a knock on effect from Red Mind. Leaving us feeling depressed, disassociated, flat and exhausted, increased cortisol and glucocorticoid from Red Mind can lower dopamine and serotonin levels – the feel good hormones. Grey Mind can also occur in its own right for several different reasons, including mild to serious mental health disorders. This type of mind is not to be confused with Grey Matter, which is the outermost layer of the brain and plays a significant role in allowing us to function normally as it controls our movements, retains memories, and regulates our emotions, among many other functions.

My personal journey with Red Mind

I suffered from Red Mind for years before my cancer diagnosis. Whilst I want to look back and say I didn’t realise it, the truth is I didn’t want to admit it. Or do anything about it.

It cost me my health. My life had limited purpose and reasoning. I did nothing to help that. My brain would have been suffering. My body certainly took a hit. I didn’t have personal happiness (hedonia), let along a deeper sense of happiness (eudaimonia).

To get through my illness and come out of it a stronger, better version of myself, I had to address my Red Mind. It was hard at first. I blamed everyone else other than me. But by spending more and more time by the water, this calmness allowed me a safe space to have these thoughts and feelings, working through them to mentally make things right again for me. Perhaps it was a form of my own Mental First Aid.

From Red Mind to Blue Mind

I couldn’t have been in my happy place going through my diagnosis, but being next to water made things seem a little bit ok. The mild meditative state of Blue Mind helped me balance my Red Mind. I even believe it helped me avoid a depressive state of Grey Mind. Putting everything into perspective. Realising my mistakes. Owning up to them. Finding the strength to put them right and come out fighting. It wasn’t meditation though. That word makes me run a mile. It was about allowing myself the time to focus. Focus on getting better.

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I switched off a lot of social media. I wouldn’t crawl through endless medical websites looking for answers. It would have only made things worse. I only existed to myself and those around me that would care and understand. No highlight reels. No influencers making me feel like my life wasn’t already bad enough. It worked. And it pains me that I’m back on social media and behind a website to share this story; it’s just unfortunate it’s the most effective way to try and help others in the world we now live in.

My life is no longer about Mental First Aid. It’s a way of living. A lifestyle. A Water Wellness holistic approach. I spend much more time around the water now, concentrating on those Red Mind thoughts and knocking them out of the pond when needed. They still occur. More so when I’ve not given myself some focus for a few days. But I’m aware of it and know how to react – and hopefully, this will continue to save the rest of my life.

Being alone with your thoughts, sitting at the end of a wooden jetty above the water
Being alone with our thoughts while being around water can be extremely powerful

Why are we not changing our levels of Red Mind across the world? Only we individually can answer that question, but one thing we do know is that water and technology, thankfully don’t always mix well. It’s time to disconnect.

The concept of Water Wellness can have such a profound effect on your Blue Mind. Understand more about the Six Dimensions of Water Wellness or start your journey here, finding how to bring more of this good stuff into your life!

There is only one of you. Find your inner strength. Live your best life.

What are your favourite ways to avoid and overcome Red Mind? What do you struggle with most? Please feel free to share in the comments below, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Disclaimer:  I am not a medical professional.  The purpose of this post is informational only.  Always consult your GP or physician before making any changes to your healthcare routine.

Water + Wellness = Strength

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