Here’s Why Nature Sounds Promote Relaxation

Here’s Why Nature Sounds Promote Relaxation

A stream gently ripples through the forest and the wind rustles the leaves of a large oak tree. Birds call out and their songs echo in the distance. The waves crash on the sand and the rain falls gently across the land. These are the calming sounds of nature that help people enter a meditative state. Is there an explanation to why nature sounds have a restorative effect on the human psyche? As it turns out, new data found that these sounds alter connections in the brain and help reduce the body’s natural flight-or-flight response.

Both natural sounds and green environments have been linked to relaxation for hundreds of years. In 2019, a team of British researchers set out to determine if common noises that you hear in a forest affect a person’s well-being. In the study, the researchers exposed 600 participants to silence, woodland sounds, and a meditation app. Researchers noted three integral findings in the study:
People that listened to nature sounds experienced a 30% increase in relaxation.
Those who listened to a meditation app didn’t report a boost in relaxation.
The people who listened to woodland sounds reported a 19% reduction in anxiety and a 24% reduction in stress.

The Connection Between The Brain And Background Noise

Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England recruited 17 healthy adults to investigate the connection between the brain, body, and background noise. The adults would receive functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans while listening to various five-minute soundscapes. The series of segments alternated between natural and manmade environments.

During each soundscape, participants performed a task to measure reaction time and attention. The researchers also monitored heart rates to identify changes in the autonomic nervous system, which is involved with involuntary processes like breathing, blood pressure, metabolism, and digestion. After studying the fMRI results, the researchers identified that activity in the brain’s default mode network varied depending on background sounds. Listening to artificial sounds spawned patterns of inward-focused attention, but nature sounds prompted external-focused attention.

Nature Sounds May Decrease Stress And Pain

Of all the nature sounds, various studies determined that bird noises were the most helpful at alleviating stress and annoyance. Water sounds worked to enhance tranquility, awareness, and relaxation, and other positive emotions. For this reason, one research team from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, encourages people to engage in the Japanese practice of forest bathing. This is a practice that involves walking in nature to appreciate the sounds that already exist. For more information on forest bathing, you can click here.

If you don’t have any large natural landscape nearby, you can escape the honking horns, sirens, and more by playing nature sounds through a speaker or headphones. Dedicate a space for your tranquility, so you can get away from the unwanted city noise. Listening to natural sounds may help you relax better than a meditation session, which can be frustrating for people new to the practice.

Green Spaces Calm The Mind

In addition to listening to the sounds of nature, being in a natural landscape also promotes relaxation. A 2019 report found that people who spent two hours per week outside in a natural setting reported greater well-being than those who spent less time outdoors. A separate meta analysis from 2019 organized pooled data from nine studies involving more than eight million people from seven different countries. Researchers determined that people who lived near or in green spaces tended to live longer than people in less green spaces.

During the 2020 lockdown due to COVID-19, researchers designed a study to determine if exposure to nature could counteract the effects of being indoors. The data looked at about 3,000 residents in Tokyo, Japan, and found that seeing greenery from a window and going outside improved major mental health measures. Some people were able to reduce symptoms of depression and boost overall self-esteem and happiness.

It may take time to find your ideal landscape or background soundscape to help encourage relaxation. Experiment with different sounds and settings, taking it all in by surrendering to the experience. In doing so, you may improve sleep, reduce stress, and enhance overall relaxation.

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