A brawling river, chirping crickets, and a crackling fire – many people experience natural noises as soothing. Now a scientific study proves what some of us have always known to be true: Nature sounds have a direct therapeutic effect on living creatures.
Mother Earth’s ability to heal
Mother Nature is currently very much in vogue. Books about the native flora and fauna, the Japanese tradition of forest bathing and stress management seminars far from congested urban areas are experiencing a veritable boom. This does not seem surprising since many stress-ridden city-dwellers feel that nature is the ideal place to relax. To move freely, to breathe fresh air, to feed your eyes on the vibrant shades of green – being outside affects the body, mind, and soul in many positive ways.
The powerful sound of nature
It is not just the stunning views, refreshing scents and the physical exercise beyond the city limits, though, which are beneficial for us. In recent years, it has been found that one specific component of nature has a particularly profound effect on humans: her sound. Just think about how disturbing the noise from the construction site around the corner or your colleague’s loud phone calls can be. Now, remember what you heard during your last trip to the countryside: you probably perceived those sounds as very pleasant. Whether it’s the humming of the bees or the murmur of a stream, nature’s sounds have been proven to affect the processes in the human brain.
A study proves that nature sounds affect the brain
The positive effect of natural sounds is evidenced by a survey by the Brighton and Sussex Medical School published in “Scientific Reports” in 2017. Dr. Cassandra Gould and her team subjected a test group to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). While the participants were exposed to artificial and natural sounds, created by the audiovisual artist Mark Ware, an MRI-machine measured their brain activity. Additionally, the activity of the autonomic nervous system was measured based on changing heart rates. The results were precise yet astonishing. Depending on the sounds the participants heard, the activity changed in their Default Mode Network, i. e. the brain region that is active while a person is resting.
Nature sounds increase attention and reduce stress
When the participants were exposed to artificial sounds, their brain activity indicated that their attention was shifting inward. What may sound good is quite concerning: an inward focus is also observed in people with clinical depression, anxiety disorder, or even post-traumatic stress disorder. The study participants, on the contrary, turned their attention outward while listening to the sounds of nature, which means they were wide awake and focused. At the same time, however, they relaxed. The sympathetic nervous system responsible for the fight-and-flight reaction in dangerous and stressful situations was at rest, while the parasympathetic system, responsible for the metabolism, recovery, and development of the body’s resources, became active.
Enjoy the sounds of nature in everyday life
The conclusion of the study and the resulting therapeutic options are of utmost interest not only to medicine or urban planning. Everybody can benefit from the comforting qualities of natural sounds! It is not necessary to spend your vacations in secluded corners of the world. Nor do you have to go hiking every weekend. Even if you have only a little time, spend it in the open air – just a few minutes of nature’s music make a difference! On the way to the office, for example, you could take a traffic-calmed side street, where you might hear a squirrel cracking a nut. Instead of spending your lunch break in a stuffy room, step outside, and enjoy your meal in the park. Pay attention, and you will be rewarded: even in the concrete jungle, the wind is dancing through the treetops and birds are singing their songs.
The music of nature: CDs, streams, and apps
If you have little opportunity to spend time outdoors, you still do not have miss out on nature's soothing sounds. They are available on CD, various streaming services and apps. In case you are wondering: the human brain makes no difference. Nature sounds have a beneficial effect, even if it's your smartphone that delivers them. The app Sea Sounds, for example, allows you to mix different ocean noises according to your taste. Nature Sounds offers you even more choices and lets you listen to water, fields, and forests. In addition to wind, rain, and fire, white noise is at your disposal at A Soft Murmur. Although white noise does not originate in nature, it may provide relief for people with tinnitus.
Natural sounds for people with hearing loss
People with other types of hearing loss can also benefit from natural sounds. However, not every sound is pleasant to every individual. What helps one to relax can cause stress for the other. Therefore try different apps and explore which natural noise you experience as calming and relaxing. MED-EL users often report how much they enjoy the sound of nature with hearing solutions like ADHEAR. Amongst them is Robert from Austria, who explained in an interview: “When I tried the device for the first time, it brought tears to my eyes. I suddenly realized all the things I hadn’t been able to hear: birdsong, dogs barking—all these sounds had been missing. The feeling was simply amazing!”