Heading into the woods is usually a smart strategy for lowering your stress levels—unless, of course, you’re a character in a fairy tale, in which case your nearest woods are definitely full of evil wolves and witches.
For the rest of us, though, getting back to nature often means getting back our mental equilibrium. But what about when we’re stuck inside and no trips into the great outdoors are on the horizon?
Turns out simply listening to sounds produced in nature (crashing waves, chirping birds, croaking frogs) can help calm your frazzled nerves. That’s the conclusion of a recent scientific study measuring the impact of artificial vs. natural sounds on brain connectivity and heart rate.
Researchers found that it’s nature, not music, that hath charms to soothe the stressed-out mind and body. In fact, the study says that the less relaxed you are, the more that nature sounds can help lower an elevated heart rate and ease the fight-or-flight response that kicks in under pressure.
When you’re cooped up and could use some auditory zen (and who couldn’t?), here are some natural soundscapes available for free online.
(Elk at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado; image by Mike Goad / Pixabay)
The U.S. National Park Service’s evocatively named Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division collects audio from federally protected lands across the country, and then posts much of what it gathers in an internet sound gallery. Listen to bugling elk and gurgling streams at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, or get an aural postcard of Yellowstone National Park’s famed geothermal activity via recordings of hissing geysers and belching mud pots.
The National Audubon Society maintains an extensive online aviary with illustrations, photos, and info about the birds of North America, along with audio clips of their various calls, coos, warbles, chitterings, and honks. Search by species or region to locate a favorite song, or explore at random to discover surprises like the swinish oinking of the American white pelican.
(American white pelicans; image by Evelyn Chavez / Shutterstock)
Listeners inclined toward the music of amphibians can seek out regional ribbits—here’s an assortment from the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville; here’s another from Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources. The classic of the genre is Sounds of North American Frogs, a 1958 compilation of field recordings from Smithsonian Folkways. The album is available for streaming on Spotify and can be found on YouTube as well.
Natural Sound Art
Cities and Memory is a collaborative project encompassing more than 3,500 sounds submitted from nearly 100 countries; sound artists then remix those contributions, adding music and juxtaposing other sounds to create strangely affecting collages for your ears.
Despite the site’s urban name, you’ll find a large section full of nature-centric work incorporating buzzing insects, howling winds, falling rain, bleating lambs, and hundreds more atmospheric effects gathered around the globe.
(El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico; image by Molly Champion / Pexels)
Search YouTube for nature sounds and you’ll get an overwhelming array of options. To narrow things down a bit—and to give a listen to a place you love or have always wanted to visit—try throwing the name of a specific location into your search. That’s how we turned up peaceful recordings of ocean waves in San Diego, waterfalls in Northeast Ohio, and nighttime at El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico (the fluting call of the coquí frog—co-KEE, co-KEE—is a dead giveaway).
Listen long enough to any of these nature sounds and you might get some of the same head-clearing, soul-nurturing benefits you’d get from taking a hike—only without the mud and mosquitoes.