Taking a few minutes to notice nature is scientifically proven to improve your mood, life satisfaction and performance.
Cover Image: The Otway Fly Treetop Walk. Licence PUBLIC DOMAIN
Nature Nudge Exercise | Sound Map
How to do it (3-7 Minutes)
Step 1: Find a place with natural sounds: Bird song, wind, water moving, peaceful humans.
Step 2: Let your body relax.
Step 3: Notice the sounds in six directions: to your left and right, front and back, up and down. (Some people prefer to close their eyes).
Step 4: Now that your ears are turned on, let’s make a sound map. Notice where the quiet areas are. Now notice where the noisy areas are. Imagine the landscape as a sound-map in your mind. A soundscape!
Step 5: Sound is present in the landscape for a reason. Ask yourself why some places on your sound-map are quiet and others louder. For example, the trees are noisy because they are high enough to catch the wind, there is a road behind me and the traffic is busy, the sports field area is quiet because nobody is playing.
Stay with the sounds as long as you like but aim for 3-7 minutes.
Sound Map Exercise Audio
Take me through this exercise using audio
How will I feel?
Getting to know and connecting to your place is proven to increase your wellbeing, vitality and life satisfaction. Tuning into nature sounds (as opposed to other sounds) will decrease your stress levels and restore your attention and focus.
Curious to learn more about the benefits?
Click Why Does it Work? below to read the research findings.
Take on the form of a kangaroo and cup your hands around your ears to make them more sensitive. Face your hands forwards, now face them backwards. Now try facing one hand forward and one backwards.
Nature Sounds and Mental Wellbeing
Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) conducted an experiment where participants listened to sounds recorded from natural and artificial environments, while their brain activity was measured in an MRI scanner, and their autonomic nervous system activity was monitored via minute changes in heart rate (Gould van Praag et al. 2017).
The researchers found that when listening to natural sounds, the brain connectivity reflected an outward-directed focus of attention; when listening to artificial sounds, the brain connectivity reflected an inward-directed focus of attention, similar to states observed in anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
There was also an increase in rest-digest nervous system activity (associated with relaxation of the body) and better performance in an external attentional monitoring tasks.
Other research has found a benefit from listening to nature sounds for:
- Sleep and insomnia, (Nasari, Ghezeljeh, and Haghani 2018)
- Restoration and stress recovery (after listening to bird sound) (Ratcliffe, Gatersleben, and Sowden 2013; Alvarsson, Wiens, and Nilsson 2010).
- Reduction in muscle tension (after less than 7 minutes of nature sounds) (Largo-Wight, O’Hara, and Chen 2016),
- Reductions in anxiety after heart operations (based on clinical trials) (Amiri, Sadeghi, and Negahban Bonabi 2017)
Brief nature sound (less than 7 minute) “booster breaks” are a promising area for future research with important practical implications.
Nature Sounds, Placemaking and Connection
Sounds provide a specific kind of information over and above the visual which helps enhance and emphasize the different components of the environment. Sound is present in the landscape for a reason. Think of it as ‘absence and abundance”. If it is silent, that might mean there is an absence of things that people, plants and animals need: shelter, food, water, protection, pathways, social contact and so in. If it is noisy, what is there to make it so? Connecting with the soundscape activates the biophilic and belonging aspects of ‘placemaking’. Placemaking, being a planning framework known to improve personal and social wellbeing (Jack 2015; Fuller et al. 2016). Multiple studies have also found that nature sounds (esp water) increase peoples pleasure of place, even when viewing urban settings.(Carles, Barrio, and de Lucio 1999).
Making a soundmap connects people the underlying natural and human ecology of place. In a meta-review of the nature wellbeing literature Capaldi, Dopko, and Zelenski (2014) found:
“those who are more connected to nature tended to experience more positive affect, vitality, and life satisfaction compared to those less connected to nature”
It is important to match nature nudges with optimal nature. The design template for this activity will have a minimum of harsh urban sounds as research shows people prefer natural sounds over artificial sounds (Carles, Barrio, and de Lucio 1999). However, our experience is that this nudge will work in urban areas provided some nature sounds are present such as birds singing, wind in the trees, and pleasant human sounds. The ability to hear water (even distantly) is particularly pleasurable, and bird sound particularly stress relieving (Ratcliffe, Gatersleben, and Sowden 2013). Finally, some areas of silence are beneficial to this activity. They provide contrast in the landscape and curiosity in the mind of the user.
Alvarsson, Jesper J., Stefan Wiens, and Mats E. Nilsson. 2010. ‘Stress Recovery during Exposure to Nature Sound and Environmental Noise’. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 7 (3): 1036–46. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph7031036.
Amiri, Mohammad Javad, Tabandeh Sadeghi, and Tayebeh Negahban Bonabi. 2017. ‘The Effect of Natural Sounds on the Anxiety of Patients Undergoing Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery’. Perioperative Medicine 6 (1): 17. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13741-017-0074-3.
Capaldi, Colin A., Raelyne L. Dopko, and John M. Zelenski. 2014. ‘The Relationship between Nature Connectedness and Happiness: A Meta-Analysis’. Frontiers in Psychology 5 (September). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00976.
Carles, José Luis, Isabel López Barrio, and José Vicente de Lucio. 1999. ‘Sound Influence on Landscape Values’. Landscape and Urban Planning 43 (4): 191–200. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0169-2046(98)00112-1.
Fuller, Sara, Sarah Atkinson, Sara Fuller, and Joe Painter. 2016. Wellbeing and Place. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9781315547534.
Gould van Praag, Cassandra D., Sarah N. Garfinkel, Oliver Sparasci, Alex Mees, Andrew O. Philippides, Mark Ware, Cristina Ottaviani, and Hugo D. Critchley. 2017. ‘Mind-Wandering and Alterations to Default Mode Network Connectivity When Listening to Naturalistic versus Artificial Sounds’. Scientific Reports 7 (1): 45273. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep45273.
Jack, Gordon. 2015. ‘“I May Not Know Who I Am, but I Know Where I Am from”: The Meaning of Place in Social Work with Children and Families: The Meaning of Place’. Child & Family Social Work 20 (4): 415–23. https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12091.
Largo-Wight, Erin, Brian K. O’Hara, and W. William Chen. 2016. ‘The Efficacy of a Brief Nature Sound Intervention on Muscle Tension, Pulse Rate, and Self-Reported Stress: Nature Contact Micro-Break in an Office or Waiting Room’. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal 10 (1): 45–51. https://doi.org/10.1177/1937586715619741.
Nasari, Maryam, TaherehNajafi Ghezeljeh, and Hamid Haghani. 2018. ‘Effects of Nature Sounds on Sleep Quality among Patients Hospitalized in Coronary Care Units: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial’. Nursing and Midwifery Studies 7 (1): 18. https://doi.org/10.4103/nms.nms_39_17.
Ratcliffe, Eleanor, Birgitta Gatersleben, and Paul T. Sowden. 2013. ‘Bird Sounds and Their Contributions to Perceived Attention Restoration and Stress Recovery’. Journal of Environmental Psychology 36 (December): 221–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2013.08.004.