The Stress Cure In Your Ears

The word “noise” comes from the Latin word for “nausea.”

While you ponder that, imagine this: You’re lying on the beach enjoying the soothing sound of crashing waves — maybe the muffled sound of a dog barking or birds chirping — when a Boeing 737 screams by overhead.

A little jarring, no?

See, the sounds of nature are very different from the sounds of machines. They even feel different in our bodies.

So what does that mean for our health?

What we know

Most of us are super disconnected from nature (and all the sounds that come with it!)...

Not only do 4 out of 5 of us live in urban areas, but also we spend 90% of our time indoors.¹

We've replaced chirping birds and rustling leaves with smartphone beeps and humming refrigerators.

And it's actually really terrible for us.

See, artificial sounds from devices and machines put us in a state of hyperarousal, which is basically our bodies operating on high alert – constantly.

This can lead to:

– trouble sleeping

– stress (like we need more!)

– reduced cognitive performance in kids

– increased risk of cardiovascular issues²

But here's the good news: sounds from nature seem to do the opposite.

When people listen to recorded sounds of nature, they report less stress and even decreased pain.³ Turns out, your nervous system responds to sounds by changing your heart rate.

Listening to water and bird sounds seem to be best:

At least one study showed that water sounds had the greatest positive impact on overall health while bird sounds had the largest effect on alleviating stress and annoyance.³

Birdsong has also been shown to improve mood and attention.

What we're still learning

In the grand scheme of human history, it's a pretty new phenomenon for us to be so disconnected from nature. So scientists have only recently started studying how nature exposure affects health.

While they are finding positive benefits, they acknowledge that “large gaps remain in our understanding… much remains unknown.”¹ So basically, even when studies connect nature sounds to improved health, science can't really explain why.

There are theories, of course...

One is the idea that we need water to survive, so we’re calmed by hearing it. Another is that nature sounds are inherently less threatening than artificial ones.

The bottom line

"Sounds connect people to nature, and increasing evidence suggests that natural sounds are important for human health and wellbeing.”³

If this resonates with you, maybe explore where you can add more sounds of nature into your life. If you live where it’s difficult to find real nature sounds, incorporate nature recordings into your sleep routine (they’re much better than white noise!). Here’s a helpful guide to all the "colors" of noise:
Noise Color How It Affects Us
  White Humming fan, AC, radio static It's usually recommended for sleeping because it can mask loud noises that would stimulate your brain. True white noise is not found in nature but many recordings incorporate it into sounds of the ocean or wind. Use this combo at night if you have a loud sleeping environment.
  Pink Steady rain, wind, heartbeat, rustling leaves, crickets It's deeper than white noise and has been shown to reduce brain waves, leading to deeper sleep.,Try it during the day to calm you, or at night if you don’t need to drown out city noises.
  Brown Ocean waves crashing on the shore, waterfalls, thunder The human ear registers brown noise similar to white noise but it has a lower frequency and is deeper than both white and pink noise. No formal studies on brown noise and sleep exist, but people have reported it helps them sleep. Try it and see how it works for you.
  Black Complete silence No formal studies exist, but some people find it easiest to sleep with the absence of any sound. Try wearing earplugs to bed if you find that none of the above noise options work for you.

How do I make changes?

We're all different, so we've divided some action steps into varying levels of commitment for you:
Toes In   🦉 Pull up some “nature sounds” videos on YouTube and listen to them whenever you’re feeling stressed. 📱 Keep your phone on silent (or turn off all unnecessary notifications).
Waist Deep   🌳 Try opening in a browser window while you’re working. You’ll get to listen to sounds from forests all over the world while you work. 💤 Get a sound machine to use at night. Find the nature sound that takes you away to dreamland.
Full Immersion ​ 🏞️ Commit to getting outside in real nature at least once every weekend. 🎧 If you live where it’s impossible to escape city noises, take your headphones along and tune into some nature tracks while walking outside.