How the Beach Helped This Entrepreneur Overcome Mental Health Issues and Find Happiness

As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing entrepreneur and wellness junkie, Mike Coughlin. From dealing with the devastating effects of childhood tragedy to struggling with anxiety, Blue Ocean Life Company’s founder Mike Coughlin’s pursuit to live a happier and healthier life has been relentless. Whether in his personal life or […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing entrepreneur and wellness junkie, Mike Coughlin. From dealing with the devastating effects of childhood tragedy to struggling with anxiety, Blue Ocean Life Company’s founder Mike Coughlin’s pursuit to live a happier and healthier life has been relentless. Whether in his personal life or in his career, Mike was forced to adapt to difficult circumstances all in pursuit of a better tomorrow for himself and others while keeping the memory of his deceased older brother as his source of inspiration.

After quitting his job to form a boutique digital agency and a bitter business breakup, Mike found himself low on funds and begrudgingly moving in with his parents, who had just moved near the serene beaches of Cape Cod. While spending time on Cape Cod, Mike would go to the beach during periods of high stress and anxiety not realizing that getting closer to nature would prove to be the solution to many of his problems. As a child, Mike recalls that his father once told him that saltwater heals all wounds. As an adult and in an unexpected twist of fate, Mike would learn that that old wives’ tale was, in fact, backed by science.

As Mike started to feel the mental health benefits of a location-independent lifestyle and a non-corporate way of thinking first hand, Mike was inspired by his life events and nomadic travels to form a company whose sole purpose was to promote positive mental health, especially for those who need it most. In forming the Blue Ocean Life Co. Mike believes that his way of thinking and unique perspective on life – running contrary to many in modern-day society – can inspire people to find happiness and overcome their own struggles no matter how insurmountable they may seem.

What is your background?

Thank you for sharing my story. One of the most interesting things about the Blue Ocean Life Company is that I would have never founded it if I hadn’t gone broke. Nearly 12 years ago, I left my comfy full-time job working for an NYC-based search marketing agency to join a former co-worker to start a new digital agency. Like many others, we were arrogant enough to think it wouldn’t be hard to go off on our own and start our own agency. We were certainly wrong.

After three years of working together for a minimum salary and struggling to acquire any new business, a partnership dispute arose and I was told to leave the company. I fell into legal debt, my bank account hit zero, and I could no longer afford to pay rent. In the short term, this was a painful experience, something I often liken to going through a bitter divorce, but in the long term, I think it will prove to be the best thing to ever happen to my career and maybe even my life.

As a result of these financial and mental health setbacks, I reluctantly moved in with my parents on Cape Cod. I had the option of pursuing full-time work, but I refused to give up on my dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur and am now pushed to create my own independently-owned agency. Although my self-confidence tanked for having moved back in with my parents, the change in environment turned out to be the best thing for me. Given my personal history of dealing with traumatic life events, such as the sudden and tragic death of my older brother and a series of other recent events, I had battled symptoms of anxiety and depression for much of my life. I had sought treatment in the past, often refusing medication for fear of side effects, and nothing seemed to work. Furthermore, dealing with the stress of trying to grow a business only made it worse.

In seeking to solve my troubles, I started searching YouTube and discovered something called “guided meditation,” which is a form of instructed daydreaming that helps people heal from traumatic life events. This is something that professionals often use to help veterans and others with PTSD, and the interesting thing I noticed is that many of these videos or audio tapes have ocean sounds and visuals for the purpose of relaxation and healing.

So as I started to listen to guided meditation audio, I began doing this at the beach while overlooking the ocean and it seemed to have a positive effect on my physical and mental well-being. After years of self-treatment and a lot of ups and downs, it seemed that I had finally started to win my lifelong battle against symptoms of anxiety and depression. No medication required. 

What’s most interesting is that the lesson I learned firsthand was something that was actually proven in a growing body of scientific research. When searching for “mental health benefits of the ocean” on Google I came across a book called “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.” The title is pretty self-explanatory: being in or near the ocean can have enormous benefits on the mind and body. 

Beyond this, the book delves into how “Blue Mind” is the antidote to ‘Red Mind,’ which is essentially chronic stress and burnout caused by modern-day living. The Red Mind can have a toxic impact on your mind and body, so I thought it was important to learn to integrate the “Blue Mind” into my life. Learning to integrate the practices of Blue Mind into my daily life helped me improve my own mental health substantially while the seeds of Blue Ocean Life were starting to grow in my mind.

Beyond taking care of myself emotionally while living at my parents’ house near the beach, I continued to push forward and educate myself in the world of business, a place where I certainly struggled. More specifically, I read the book Blue Ocean Strategy, which I believe led me to the place where I am now in my career. Without reading Blue Ocean Strategy, I would have continued down the same miserable path, mimicking my competition while fighting a losing battle for profits, instead of trying to create my own uncontested marketplace. While reading this book multiple times, I came to realize something that had never ever crossed my mind before: that business didn’t necessarily need to be a zero-sum game. Furthermore, the name and the concept book were eerily similar to another recent read: Blue Mind. At this point, I started to realize that each of these books was actually based on each other and that Blue Mind seemed to be a personal and mental health adaptation of Blue Ocean Strategy

As I continued on both of my attempts to build a lifestyle business, one whose purpose was to reduce my own stress and anxiety, I started to adapt the concepts behind Blue Ocean Strategy and Blue Mind to a new personal life view. Now as a non-corporate outsider not living in the city, I started to see the corporate world through a different lens, one in which everyone was unnecessarily obsessed about outspending, outworking, or outdoing the other to the detriment of each other. In other words, everyone was trying to compete with each other for status or power rather than focusing on creating their own form of happiness.

To me, their thinking was flawed, and they were viewing the pursuit of wealth and of happiness as a zero-sum game. For you to win, someone else has to lose, but Blue Ocean thinking trained me to challenge this very belief. Everyone should be pursuing their own unique form of happiness, which isn’t dependent on the accumulation of goods or social status. This is how the concept of Blue Ocean Life started to come about, but years of difficulty would still be ahead of me. I was still running a struggling advertising business.

Though things did improve somewhat and I had a little money in the bank to spend for travel, I never had a day off. The stress was endless, as I was still battling in a hyper-competitive industry. The lifestyle benefits of my business, however, were huge. I was able to spend much of my time in warm weather climates because that’s where my clients were and because I could work anywhere. One of my early clients was an iconic surf clothing brand located in Southern California and another was a liquor brand in Miami. As I began to travel more often, I started sharing scenic photos of oceanside views on Instagram. One day while sitting on the beach in the Miami area during an otherwise freezing January day in the Northeast, I used the hashtag Blue Ocean Life to describe the life I had created for myself.

From there, I registered the website (theblueoceanlife.com), acquired the necessary social media profiles, started building a Shopify store, and found a drop shipping partner. I sat on the idea for years, however, unsure if it would be successful while still being bogged down by the agency business. As I continued to learn that building a company in the agency business was an uphill battle, I decided I needed a change for my own financial and mental well-being. So I consulted with a trusted advisor and she said Blue Ocean Life had real potential. Since then, I’ve now changed my professional focus to growing the Blue Ocean Life Company while consulting for other clients. And now, the company has started to grow but I assure you that my journey has been anything but easy.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? 

In 2017, when I was struggling to gain a foothold in the creative advertising space as I experimented with “Blue Ocean Life” as the title for a video narrative series about my latest venture, Digital Blue Creative. In the video, which I saw as an emerging medium for advertising, I sought to explain my novel adaptation of leveraging Blue Ocean Strategy as a way to stand out in the digital creative space. While it made a lot of sense in my head, it turned out to be difficult to translate to video. 

Despite still being in credit card debt and not being quite financially stable, I hired a small production company to help me script and produce the concept. However, there were crucial parts of the production process that were overlooked. The biggest issue was that they never showed me the storyboard before the shoot. It turns out signing off on the storyboard wasn’t in the contract and it should have been. So I showed up to the shoot on the beach and they were doing an entirely different scene than what I thought I had paid for. There was some form of massive miscommunication. 

About a week later, the production company sent me the final product. It was a disastrous video and they were demanding payment. The video was so bad and confusing that one of my friends told me it was “the worst video they had ever seen.” To this day, I will never show that video because it is so horrible!

When they refused additional revisions to the video, I had considered not paying them for the rest of the project because I viewed their behavior as a potential breach of contract. However, I came to realize that the contract was poorly written, and I didn’t think there was a way out of paying.  I begrudgingly paid them an additional $5,000 for the final product, which had a total cost of $10,000, and never saw the light of day.

This was the second in a series of three videos that were essentially the genesis of Blue Ocean Life. It turned out that my attempts to gain market share in the creative space were daunting. It turns out that the book was right – entering certain hyper-competitive markets or what the book defines as “red oceans” can leave your business sinking. Trying to create a “blue ocean” or an uncontested market space was a failure in the advertising industry. I learned the hard way, but this failure and my next video in the Blue Ocean Life series would ultimately push me to my latest and greatest pivot. Could adopting the Blue Ocean Strategy to the wellness and clothing industries create uncontested market space? Could Blue Ocean Life be a brand that has no competition. I believe the answer is yes. 

Is there one person who helped shepherd you through your journey?

There have been many periods where I have nearly lost all hope in my entrepreneurial aspirations, but without the right help, I would have given up. In 2020, I had one of the worst years of my life. I had serious personal issues that arose, the pandemic struck, and my long-term freelance client of nearly 10 years terminated its relationship with me due to COVID.  I was not working for months on end, had to take leave from BOL, and my morale was low. Additionally, I was reluctantly back living at my parents’ house yet again. 

Even though I had started to lose hope, I still failed to believe that Blue Ocean Life was doomed. But because I needed the mental rest and I was running short on funds, I had no choice but to put BOL into maintenance or survival mode. This meant leveraging a low-cost virtual assistant from the Philippines to handle much of the day-to-day operations until I could regain my emotional and financial footing. My game was to just survive the storm or to bend like a palm tree until I could be in a better mental and financial place to continue my journey.

With the dawn of 2021, my life had started to turn around. On a personal level, I started to let go of all of the poison that dragged me down in 2020. Just as certain people helped me on my journey, others harmed me. On a professional level, I gained a contract position that was high-paying and it helped me get back on my feet and pay off all my debt. The winds of the storm were passing.

As of Spring 2021, things were improving personally, but BOL was still struggling. Survival mode for the business meant staying in business but not growing. Things needed to change or I was probably going to put the company out of business. As a result, I reached out to my friend and longtime business mentor, Kristin Marquet of Marquet Media, to help me make a decision about the future BOL. She told me that she believed that the brand still had real potential, and I trusted her opinion given her experience building successful businesses, particularly fashion brands. 

After our initial meeting, I hired her as a consultant to help me with all facets of the business and to effectively rebuild and revamp the entire brand. This is the new Blue Ocean Life brand that you see today. Because of Kristin, I have a renewed hope for the future of the company.

When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

In creating BOL, I wanted to share my way of thinking and living that falls outside the boundaries of our overly complex, tech-addicted, and cutthroat corporate society, to support and encourage others to pursue a similar aspirational path towards happier and healthier lives. That’s why Blue Ocean Life is more than a brand. It’s a movement. It’s a minimalistic movement to take our minds back from large corporations that control them and lead us away from a more natural, simpler, healthier, and purposeful way of life.

Today, we’ve grown into a mission-driven brand that promotes our physical and emotional well-being by advocating for lifestyle changes and holistic techniques that bring us further away from unhealthy modern behaviors and closer to nature, and the ocean, to improve our health.

How can we start to improve our well-being?

  1. Spend More Time In Nature & Meditate. I learned first hand that spending more time in nature is a great way to improve mental health while also boosting creative thinking. When I developed the concept of Blue Ocean Life,  I was spending a great deal of time outside the city and on the beach. I think the majestic qualities of nature helped me think and feel differently than people who were spending more time confined indoors and in urban environments. While meditating in natural environments, I was able to further boost the power of my senses. It not only helped to reduce my stress levels and make me more positive, seemed to enhance my imagination and helped me become more introspective. My own personal introspection through meditation and my enhanced connection with nature helped me develop the Blue Ocean Life concept while also simultaneously helping me reduce my stress levels.
  2. Exercise Often. I developed an excellent exercise routine years ago, going to the gym 5-6 days a week. Exercise is a great stress reliever and without it your body will build up stress and it will not have nowhere else to go. That stress can manifest itself as anxiety and physically manifest as muscle tension and other physical symptoms. All of these happened to me at some point, but I learned to treat my mind and body with the utmost care.
  3. Take Time Off. There was a period of time between 2019 and 2020 that I was neglecting my own mental health by not taking adequate time off and it led to a period of intense burnout and anxiety symptoms. No matter what, you must take time off even if it hurts your business or work situation. In the long run, burnout will cost you more money and the most important thing of all: your physical and mental health. Never sacrifice your health for the sake of a business or career. Never.
  4. Invest In Ergo-Friendly Equipment & Physical Care Services.  I learned the hard way in 2020 that poor ergonomics could lead to substantial suffering. For office jobs, sitting down all day and working at a non-ergo friendly workstation, something that often occurs while traveling, can harm your body as it did mine. I developed a pinched nerve injury in my neck that haunted me for months in 2020 and also had a toxic impact on my mental health. 

After paying the painful consequences of poor ergonomics, I invested in ergo-friendly products. I bought an adjustable, stand-up desk, an ergo-friendly chair with lumbar support and headrest, and a travel laptop stand with a portable keyboard. Additionally, after I had recovered from my injury, I started going to the chiropractor monthly for spine alignment maintenance as well as using hydromassage often at my local gym.

  1. Practice Flotation Therapy. One of my favorite stress and anxiety reducers is flotation therapy. Flotation Therapy is a form of sensory deprivation also known as REST (restricted environmental stimulation technique) where you float silently in a pitch black tank of densely saturated saltwater. 

Absent any form of technology or even light, your brain naturally falls into a relaxing, trance-like state. Significant research has shown that Flotation Therapy has clinically significant mental health benefits. The tank also helps reduce muscle tension and is good for your skin. It even helps boost creative thinking like other forms of meditation. It’s a win-win all around when it comes to flotation therapy so I highly recommend it as a safe alternative to many forms of psychiatric medication and even a way to enhance your level of creative thinking.

If you could start a movement, what would it be? 

I’m a strong advocate for using natural methods and making lifestyle changes to improve mental health. I personally experienced an extremely adverse reaction to over-prescribed psychiatric medication and subsequent provider mistreatment that caused significant psychological suffering. It took me almost a year to recover from this suffering. Because of this, I’m hoping to help raise awareness for the many ways you can improve mental health without medication through lifestyle changes or holistic methods. I have practiced many of these methods, and I’ve made important lifestyle changes, and there is virtually no risk for adverse reactions or side effects for taking these steps.

The sad thing is that many professionals in the medical and mental health community don’t know much about these methods and they may be putting many people unnecessarily at risk for side effects or adverse reactions when they could have first recommended holistic methods. This is an extremely important topic, and lives are being destroyed or lost because of improperly prescribed medications. I will never say that there is no use for psychiatric medication, but I stand by my belief that psychiatric medications are often overprescribed and should be used only as a last resort after all holistic methods and lifestyles changes have been at least tried. Many people in the medical profession may dispute my claim, but I welcome any form of debate or conversation on the topic. This is a conversation that needs to be added to protect the public and drive reform.

Beyond this, I’m hoping to raise awareness about the healing properties of the ocean, the beach, and the outdoors, in general, to help improve mental health. I’ve woven my various personal wellness tips and advocacy into the Blue Ocean Life collections. For example, the Healing Wave collection is all about raising awareness about the scientifically-proven healing benefits of the ocean. Overall, I would love to inspire others to use the outdoors and other holistic practices as a way to improve their moods, de-stress and get re-energized. 

How would your mental health movement help society?

Mental health is very important to BOL as a brand. In fact, BOL is more than a fashion company as we are deeply rooted in spiritual wellness and encourage others to have conversations around mental health. We hope our brand message helps spark these conversations both online and offline to help promote positive change in society. In my eyes, there is nothing more important in life than both physical and mental health. For these reasons, I find that there is no more noble cause to support.

Giving back to the community is our most important core value. Ten percent of profits from every purchase support mental health causes. As our first partner, we’ve chosen to support the International Surf Therapy Organization (ISTO).  

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Sure, readers can connect with us on Instagram.com/BlueOceanLife and Pinterest.com/BlueOceanLife.

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.