Listen carefully – what can you hear right this second? The gentle hum of people talking around you? Perhaps it’s the quiet tinkling of music, or the soft patter of rain drumming down? Whatever you can hear, it’s likely having more of an impact than you might realise. New studies show that no other stimulus activates so many regions of the human brain as sound, and it has an impressive ability to boost things like mood and memory, as well as impacting our sleep, heart rate and pain threshold. As well as our day-to-day health and happiness, research has even shown sound - music specifically - to have a strong impact on conditions like depression, anxiety, autism and Alzheimer’s.
Of course, the idea of music as medicine is nothing new. We’ve all known certain songs that somehow trigger states of unexpected joy, deep nostalgia or irrepressible sadness – sometimes just hearing a few lyrics is enough. But it works both ways, too. ‘Sound litter’ – anything from road traffic and loud music to alarms going off - is a type of noise that triggers the stress hormone cortisol, contributing to stress and anxiety (it’s also linked to longer term health issues, too). It’s such a major issue in fact, that the World Health Organisation recently named noise pollution as “one of the most important environmental risks to health” and it’s becoming a very real, growing concern as the world becomes bigger, busier and louder.
But there are small steps we can take to reduce its impact, instead embracing the healing power of sound. It starts, perhaps unsurprisingly, with bringing back a little peace and quiet to our lives. Have you heard of ‘soundwalks’? They’re walks designed to encourage us to listen to our environments, feeling present and grounded in the moment (try the Echoes Explorer app). Likewise, ‘deep listening excursions’ are growing in popularity (they’re in-person trips based in noise-protected areas of extreme quiet and tranquillity). If time allows, you could try a leisurely amble round your nearest area of natural beauty for an immediate dose of calm (people who spend 120 minutes a week in nature have higher health and wellbeing levels than those who don’t). Even just playing nature sounds at home affects our autonomic nervous systems, helping us relax.
Thanks to sound’s transformative abilities, experts say we can look forward to futuristic wellness music ideas in years to come. Like ‘sonic spaces’, where specific sounds - from focus-enhancing and mood-changing noises, to sounds prompting movement, relaxation or even sleep – are played. We can also expect ‘binaural beat’ meditative experiences, where different frequency tones are played through our left and right ears, said to prompt deeply meditative states. There’s even ‘biosonic repatterning’, where tuning forks at ‘nature’ frequencies help realign our nervous systems, leaving us calm and centred. For now though, I’m keeping things simple and embracing my favourite nature-inspired sounds as often as I can. Things like the crunching of leaves underfoot, or waves crashing on the shore. The crackle of an open fire and the rumble thunder in the distance. Laughter, bird song and the patter of rain when we’re warm and cosy inside. Blissful, I think you’ll agree.
I’d love to know yours if you’d like to share them? And in the meantime, here are a few other ways to embrace sound’s healing qualities this month….
Try ‘sound bathing’. There’s a growing list of wellness spaces holding their own in-person sound bath experiences, featuring calm-inducing gong baths or tuneful singing bowls. Try a few drops of CBD under your tongue beforehand for the ultimate wind-down after a long or noisy day.
Turn down the day’s volume. Sleep experts agree our sleep at night is a reflection of our daytime lives – if our daily lives are noisy, it figures our sleep will suffer. Try embracing a day of quiet, and see how it feels. Head out without your headphones. Take the quieter route through the park, and instead of choosing your favourite podcast as you eat breakfast, take note of what you can hear without it instead.
Find a healing playlist. Apps like Spotify or Calm have plenty of calming playlists – and even white and pink noise versions, too. Try a few on for size and see what works for you…
Here’s to finding a quiet spot of stillness in your week ahead.
Love Chloe x