With noise pollution more pervasive than ever and anxiety rates through the roof, an unexpected hero has emerged in recent studies. Researchers have found a link between improved mental health and bird sounds – here’s how it works.
New research from the King’s College London has unveiled a link between hearing bird sounds and an improved mental health state – it was found to be particularly effective at reducing symptoms of depression. But the benefits were found in both diagnosed cases of mental health disorders and the general population as well. It’s not just about sounds, just seeing birds can also elicit these positive effects too – the study followed participants’ exposure to the sound and sight of birds, along with sky and tree exposure.
Dr Andrea Mechelli of the college’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience revealed the extent of these benefits in a press release.
“These findings suggest that short-term exposure to nature has a measurable beneficial impact on mental wellbeing,” she says.
This suggests that even minimal contact with birdsong could have lasting benefits to mental health and mood, indicating that city-siders could stand to benefit from seeking out such phenomena. The study found that participants experienced a significant mood boost when they were in close proximity to birds and the surrounding natural environments – oftentimes lasting for hours.
There are a number of ways that bird sounds lift our mood:
- Decreases stress and improves mood: Birdsong has been found to promote a relaxation response in people, along with reducing stress hormone production. It’s theorised that because our ancestors knew that singing birds indicated safety, it elicits this calming response in our brains.
- Hones observational awareness: The bird sounds force us to stay in the present moment and tune into our surroundings.
- Increases efficiency: Hearing birdsong early in the morning stimulates our brains, helping wake us up, along with providing a repetitive tune to help promote productivity.
But if you don’t live near nature, you don’t have to miss out – you can still reap the benefits of birdsong. Studies have also found that using an app – they used Urban Mind – to simulate those bird sounds elicited those same mental health benefits.
Researcher Michael Smythe revealed in a press release just how effective these simulated sounds can be.
“This study represents a successful example of how smartphone technologies can be employed as a tool for citizen science,” Michael says.
Further research from the University of Exeter found comparable findings of the benefits of bird sounds, indicating that frequent exposure could reduce stress, along with improving the symptoms of depression and anxiety. They found that a higher number of birds resulting in a greater mood boost, with the potential to increase productivity by around 3 times. Not a bad study aid! Next time you’re hitting the books, go for relaxing bird sounds instead of your usual playlist.
The research indicates a greater need to provide greenery and natural sites around urban areas – particularly in the inner-city areas that are lacking in these mood-boosting features. These studies provide promising clues into potential solutions for the growing rates of anxiety, depression and stress. With 2 in 5 Aussies having experienced a mental disorder at some point and 3.3 million having dealt with Anxiety, finding ways to prevent and treat these symptoms are of growing national importance – and it’s not just Australia. Around the globe depression remains one of the biggest causes of disability, while suicide is the 4th highest cause of death in the 15-29-year-old age group, according to the World Health Organisation. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered an increase in anxiety cases by 25%.
Daniel Cox, author of the Exeter University study, shares his thoughts on the possibilities this research poses in a press release.
"This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being.”
He says that birds and nature “show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live.”
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