The sounds of nature could help us recover from mental fatigue - National Tree Day Blog

The sounds of nature could help us recover from mental fatigue

A new study has found listening to the sounds of nature can have therapeutic benefits and help people recover from the stress of urban living.

Published in Global Environmental Change, the research was a collaboration between the University of Exeter and the BBC’s podcast series, Forest 404, about a dystopian world devoid of nature. The study analysed data collected from over 7500 listeners of the podcast series. Participants listened to a range of environments and reported therapeutic effects from listening to landscape elements such as breaking waves or rain. Hearing wildlife in these environments, such as bird calls, enhanced recovery from stress and fatigue.  

The results also suggest these outcomes could be strongly influenced by people’s past experiences. Participants who had memories triggered by the sounds not only found them more restorative, but this increase in 'therapeutic potential' fed directly into their desire to protect the soundscapes for future generations. 

Currently 55% of the world’s population live in urban areas and this is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. Cities place stress on our bodies, by being in a constant state of alert in response to city sounds such as buses, trains, sirens, crowed spaces and so on. On a physiological level, this soundscape activates the primal mechanism in our brain involved in the fight or flight response. The amygdala switches on the stress response system, which is useful in times of genuine danger because it releases cortisol which allows us to respond quickly to a threat. But if it is switched on too often, hormones are constantly released which can have a negative effect on our physical and mental state leading to anxiety, depression and even heart disease. The natural environment is the perfect antidote to allow restoration to occur.  

Alex Smalley, who led the research at the University of Exeter, said “As towns and cities fell quiet in recent lockdowns, many people rediscovered the natural sounds around them. Our findings suggest that protecting these experiences could be beneficial for both mental health and conservation behavior. But they also provide a stark warning that, when it comes to nature, memories matter. If we hope to harness nature's health benefits in the future, we need to ensure everyone has opportunities to foster positive experiences with the natural world today." 

The study highlights the value of art-science collaborations and demonstrates how maintaining contact with the nature world can promote wellbeing and foster behaviours that protect planetary health. 

Read the full study here.  

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.

Jennifer McMillan

Jen worked as a vet nurse while studying environmental science and completing her master's degree in Journalism. She loves bushwalking, storytelling, caring for baby animals, Australian birds and river red gums. Jen works on the National Tree Day campaign and Planet Ark's Seedling Bank.