How Natural Sounds Can Soothe Stress

You don’t have to walk in the woods to chill out when you’re stressed. A study from the United Kingdom suggests that just listening to natural sounds such as the burbling of a brook or wind in the trees may do the trick. The research team set out to learn what happens in the brain when people listen to sounds from natural environments as opposed to those from artificial ones. They recruited 17 healthy adults who volunteered to undergo functional MRIs to measure their brain activity while they listened to different sounds. The investigators also monitored changes in the participants’ heart rate during the sessions. Results showed that brain activity while we’re resting differed depending on the sounds. Artificial sounds seemed to provoke responses similar to those seen with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, while familiar natural sounds were linked to a lessening of the reaction that prompts the “fight-or-flight” response and led to brain changes that help the body relax. The researchers reported that individuals who were most stressed when the experiment began were those who relaxed most in response to natural sounds. But stress increased slightly among those who were already significantly relaxed before they listened to natural sounds.

Cassandra D. Gould van Praag et al, “Mind-wandering and alterations to default mode network connectivity when listening to naturalistic versus artificial sounds.” Scientific Reports, March 27, 2017; 7: 45273 DOI: 10.1038/srep45273

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