Our primal connection to nature

The bond between humans and nature runs deep. Nature sounds likely have a more profound impact on our inherent responses and mindfulness than you may have initially thought. For instance the rhythms of the natural world, from the morning chorus to the midnight calm, play a significant role in reinforcing our biological clocks. In our modern lifestyles these nature sounds can still be used to trigger desired built in responses.

Our connection with nature goes deeper than you might think …

Being in nature is in our DNA. Living amongst busy city streets or urban areas is not natural and is certainly not where we evolved from.  

Throughout the long evolution of our species, we have been embedded in and surrounded by the many natural sounds of our planet. 

As a result, human senses and human nervous systems are exquisitely tuned to respond to the sounds of the natural world at both conscious and unconscious levels. 

By listening to those natural sounds that bring us states of calm and stillness and relaxation, we can find a much-needed antidote to our busy modern lifestyles, lifestyles which so often continually trigger our body’s fight or flight responses, sending us spiralling into ever increasing levels of adrenaline and heightened tension.

Our biological clocks are in sync with nature

Our circadian rhythms, more commonly referred to as our internal clock, are intricately synchronized with the rhythms and sounds of Mother Nature.

As we align with the natural environment, these patterns help regulate our bodily functions based on external cues in a 24-hour cycle. Our bodies respond to the rising and setting of the sun. The gentle sounds of birds chirping in the morning chorus signal the start of a new day, while the calming rhythm of the night lulls us into a peaceful slumber at night.

The circadian rhythm determines our sleep-wake patterns and is guided primarily by light but is also greatly influenced by sound.

This harmonious dance between our circadian rhythms and the natural world helps us maintain balance and well-being, allowing us to thrive in sync with the world around us.

Roots of our circadian rhythm

To comprehend the roots of our circadian rhythm, we must journey back in time. In the past, before the advent of modern comforts like social media, the internet, and electricity, humans lived closely connected to nature.

This intimate relationship allowed us to attune ourselves to natural patterns conveyed through sights, sounds, and smells, enabling us to comprehend and predict our surroundings.

Through keen observations of nature, we gained insights into potential dangers, weather changes, food availability, fruit ripeness, seasonal shifts, and more, all of which were crucial for our survival as a species. This profound knowledge was passed down through generations via tradition and genetics.

Although we have lost much of our ancestral wisdom, traces of nature’s language are still embedded in our genes, often referred to as “survival instincts.” Specific sights, sounds, or smells trigger our sympathetic nervous system, preparing us for protective actions when encountering potential threats.

To learn more about these natural cycles there is a great article here from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences – Circadian Rhythms

Sympathetic Nervous System Response

How our bodies respond to a range of stimula that we recevie through our senses, sight, smell, sound, touch.

The sympathetic nervous system response is a physiological reaction that occurs in our body when we perceive a threat or stress. It is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. This response prepares our body for action by increasing heart rate, dilating blood vessels, releasing stress hormones like adrenaline, and redirecting blood flow to vital organs. It helps us to respond quickly and effectively to perceived dangers or challenges.

If you think of a typical day commuting to work, sitting in traffic, negotiating a busy street, picking up kids from school. Do any of these fight or flight features sound familiar:

  • Prepare for Action
  • Increase Heart Rate
  • Increase Respiration Rate
  • Release Energy
  • Slow Digestion

Some of these reactions are innate and represent a sympathetic response deeply ingrained in our genetic makeup. However, some circumstances that evoke a sympathetic response are acquired through learning and are not inherent in our DNA. These may include responses influenced by parental conditioning, traumatic events, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, certain responses can be triggered by underlying mental health disorders such as stress, depression, and anxiety, which are not directly encoded in our DNA.

One thing is for sure, in today’s fast-paced lifestyle, there is an abundance of artificial man-made stimuli that can activate our inherent fight or flight response.

The good news is we can go a long way with the power of nature to help counterbalance this. Of course nature has its own flight or fight triggers, such as a rattle of a snake or a roar of a lion, but with selecting the right types of nature sounds we can help to trigger our natural response to soothing and calming sounds. Sounds that can help lower stress levels, treat anxiety and depression, and repair our bodies.

A 2010 study found that nature sounds helped test subjects calm down fastest after a stressful event. The other tested recovery sounds were ambient noise, and high and low-noise road traffic sounds. Each sound was played for 4 minutes, suggesting that listening to nature sounds for only 4 minutes a day can help lower stress levels and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Parasympathetic Nervous System Response:

The parasympathetic nervous system response is the counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system response. It is responsible for promoting relaxation, rest, and digestion in our body. When activated, the parasympathetic nervous system helps to reduce heart rate, constrict blood vessels, stimulate digestion, and conserve energy. It is often referred to as the “rest and digest” response, as it allows our body to recover, repair, and maintain normal bodily functions during periods of rest and relaxation.

If you think of moments of calm, sitting on a park bench, lying on a beach or sitting under a tree do any of these rest and digest features sound familiar:

  • Conserves and Restores
  • Slows Heart Rate
  • Slows Respiration Rate
  • Stores Energy
  • Increases Digestion

When the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, we experience a state of calm attentiveness. We become deeply rooted and attuned to our environment, fully immersed in the present moment. This state of being induces a deceleration of bodily functions, conserving energy and potentially accelerating the healing process.

For a while now research has confirmed that patients with a view of green spaces from their windows tend to recover more quickly compared to those without a window or facing an urban landscape. But what more recent research has started to show, as we gain a deeper understanding of the importance of nature sounds, is that the sound of nature can be an equally instrumental factor in fostering healing and overall well-being.

Studies conducted in 2003, 2011 and 2016 all demonstrated that listening to music and natural soundscapes can decrease pain, alleviate anxiety and improve post-surgery recovery times.

Deep dive into these studies

Many studies have explored the significant influence of nature sounds on our overall well-being. These investigations have focused on the therapeutic benefits, the impact on psychological well-being, and even the role in aiding patient recovery. For example:

Nature scenes and sounds helps pain control

In a study, patients undergoing a medical procedure were provided with nature scene murals at their bedside and a tape of nature sounds to listen to before, during, and after the procedure. Compared to the control group without these interventions, the patients exposed to nature sights and sounds reported significantly better pain control, as measured by a 5-point scale. The study suggests that distraction therapy with nature sights and sounds can be a valuable non intrusive strategy to complement standard analgesic medications for patients undergoing painful, invasive procedures.

Music & Nature Sounds aids patient recovery

In this randomized controlled trial, postoperative cardiovascular surgery patients were divided into two groups: one receiving standard postoperative care with music twice daily and the other receiving standard care with quiet resting periods twice daily. The study found that the music group experienced a significant reduction in pain scores and improved relaxation compared to the control group. While the music group also showed lower anxiety and increased satisfaction, these differences were not statistically significant, suggesting that recorded music and nature sounds can be beneficial in addressing pain and anxiety and promoting relaxation in postoperative care.

Music reduces pain amongst cancer patients

In this quantitative study, researchers aimed to assess the impact of music therapy on pain and anxiety levels in cancer patients experiencing pain. Fourteen cancer patients with moderate to severe pain were assigned either to a test group that received music therapy for 20 minutes or to a control group engaged in conversation for the same duration. The study found that music therapy significantly reduced pain scores in the test group compared to the control group, suggesting its potential as a nonpharmacological approach for pain management in palliative care strategies for cancer patients.