A Free, All-Natural Aid for Mental Stress

If you’ve been increasingly on edge lately, you’re not alone.

An estimated 264 million adults globally suffer from some sort of mental health disorder. For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified their symptoms.

mental effects of covid-19
IMAGE SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation

I’ve certainly been feeling the anxiety-inducing effects of this crisis myself. On some days I double—or even triple—my self-care routine to help get relief.

One tool I’ve found to be especially helpful has been sound. And new research shows just how effective it can be in soothing your nerves and calming your thoughts—without the side effects of medication.

In just a moment, I’ll teach you exactly how to use sound as a tool for your mental wellness. But first, I want to clear up a common misconception and identify some of the symptoms and risk factors associated with mental health conditions.

The importance of managing mental health

Having a mental health disorder (or any type of condition, really) does not make you “weaker” or “less than” anyone else.

In fact, admitting that you might need help is a sign of bravery, maturity, strength, awareness, and compassion for yourself (and for those that care about you).

A few of the common symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Constant emotional and/or physical fatigue
  • Feeling helplessness or hopeless
  • Irritability
  • Little to no enjoyment from what normally brings joy or satisfaction
  • Low self-esteem

Ignoring these symptoms, especially if they’re getting worse, can increase health your risk for some major health problems like:

  • Heart attack
  • Obesity
  • Premature death
  • Stroke

I realize that these risks and warnings can be scary. But becoming informed and accessing helpful resources (which I’ll soon provide) are the first steps towards feeling better.

The science of nature sound therapy

One sound-based technique researchers have found to be especially effective for mental health comes straight from Mother Nature.

A growing amount of research points to how nature sounds can play a significant role in relieving mental stress and boosting mood.

In a 2016 study, Swedish researchers examined the link between sound and mental health.

During the 12-week study, 59 patients—all of whom had been diagnosed with severe stress-related mental disorders—engaged in a sound-based therapy approach called “nature-based rehabilitation.”

The participants spent four hours per day in an expansive outdoor garden, four times a week.

After their treatment, each patient participated in a 60-minute follow-up interview. During these interviews, many of them recounted their experience in the garden as pleasant, positive, and helpful to their recovery.

The patients also described the other types of noise they heard in or near the garden, or at home. These were categorized as technological (computers, fans, road traffic) and human (conversations or people moving around). The patients were mostly annoyed, disturbed or distressed by these sounds. They often desired to escape them and listen to nothing but nature sounds.

One of the patient interviewees had this to say:

“…You know that feeling of it just being you and nature and it’s completely quiet… You hear a stream trickle somewhere and you hear a bird… You hear some slight rustling in the trees or whatever. [It’s] just wonderful and it’s so incredibly beautiful…”

It’s clear that spending a little time in nature can do wonders for our mindset. But it can improve markers of physical health and wellness, too.

Improve health markers in just seven minutes

In another 2016 study, researchers studied the effects of nature sounds on psychological and physiological stress.

Forty participants were randomly split into three groups. Each group engaged in a 15-minute listening sessions involving either:

  • Classical music
  • Nature sounds
  • Silence

Results showed a significant decrease in muscle tension, pulse rate, and self-reported stress in the nature group, but no significant differences in the silence or the classical music groups. The researchers also noted that some of the positive effects (particularly muscle tension) were apparent after just seven minutes of music listening.

DIY nature sound therapy

Personally, I’ve been heading outdoors nearly every single day to keep my mood up and stress levels down.

I’m blessed to live in a rural area where I can hear the birds singing, and even visit with Buddy and Teddy—two older horses I recently met on a recent walk past a nearby farm.

horses
IMAGE SOURCE: Jim Donovan

The best part is, it’s fairly simple to use the techniques applied in each of the studies I told you about today—even if you live in an urban area.  

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Of course, getting out into nature and experiencing it in-person is the most effective solution, if you’re fortunate to have a place to do that. Even a 45-minute walk in the park can work wonders. Or research which state or national parks are around you.

  2. For an immersive audio experience, you can use free streaming services like Spotify or YouTube. Simply search “nature sounds.” You’ll get a ton of results and can make a custom playlist of all of your favorites.

  3. Take a “bath” in the woods. I explain more here in this article.

Whether or not you’re managing acute stress or a mental health disorder, Mother Nature’s music is a powerful tool for promoting relaxation and better overall health.

Simply pressing “play” or spending time in the great outdoors can minimize health risks while also giving you a well-deserved recharge.

Lastly, If you think that you or a loved one might be suffering from an undiagnosed mental disorder, please see your doctor right away.

In the U.S., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also has several helpful free resources I want you to know about including:

  • Crisis Text Line: Just text “HELLO” to 741741
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK

Help is out there. Don’t wait.


SOURCES:

Any Anxiety Disorder. (2017). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from: nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml

Cerwén, G., Pedersen, E., and Pálsdóttir, A. (2016).The Role of Soundscape in Nature-Based Rehabilitation: A Patient Perspective. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 13(12): p. 1229. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5201370/

Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from: adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Largo-Wight, E., O’Hara, B., and Chen, W. (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. 10(1): pp. 45 – 51. Retrieved from: pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26744039/

University of Sussex. (2017). It’s true: The sound of nature helps us relax. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from: sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170330132354.htm#:~:text=When%20listening%20to%20natural%20sounds,traumatic%20stress%20disorder%20and%20depression.

Young, J. (2015). Untreated Mental Illness. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-your-adult-child-breaks-your-heart/201512/untreated-mental-illness

Jim Donovan image
About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.