If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or not as productive as you’d like, it could be because of the noisy world we live in. According to the World Health Organisation, noise is second only to air pollution as a cause of environmental ill-health. Studies show that noise also increases aggressive behaviour and worsens depression.
On the other side of the scale, the sounds of nature — birdsong in particular — have been shown to have a calming effect on the body and mind.
Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says that we are attracted and enchanted by the sound of birds. He attributes humans love of birdsong to our intrinsic biophilia — an inborn need to connect with nature and other living beings.
Nature soundscapes, including water, birdsong and wind are beneficial for our emotional well-being, can increase our happiness and improve our cognitive abilities. Scientists say that listening to birdsong especially, is physically relaxing and cognitively stimulating.
Vivaldi was inspired by birdsong to compose the beautiful Four Seasons which features songbirds in his Spring Concerto.
Apart from beautiful music, there are other examples of the positive effects of listening to birdsong.
The Mayor of Lancaster, a city in California, claims that birdsong has had a calming effect on the citizens of his city. He’s installed loudspeakers playing birdsong through the city centre and says that it has reduced crime by 15 percent.
Birdsong has also been used as a therapeutic tool. At the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, an installation of birdsong by sound recordist Chris Watson has had a calming effect on patients. Staff say that listening to the birdsong has been successful in reducing stress in young patients going into surgery.
Birdsong soundscapes have been installed in a school in Liverpool. Teachers say that it makes students more alert and able to concentrate better.
Even airports are using birdsong — Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam plays birdsong in their lounge area to relax passengers before their flights.
The special thing about birdsong, says Julian Treasure, chairman of noise consultancy The sound Agency, is that it creates a state of “body relaxed, mind alert”.
Of course, the best way to experience birdsong is in the natural environment. But failing that, listening through your earphones is also beneficial. This is especially good for people who work in open plan offices, where according to Julian Treasure, loss of productivity due to noise can be up to 67%.
So if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or a bit grumpy, take a walk in your local park and listen to the sound of nature, or plug in your earphones and listen to a birdsong soundtrack. It’s a great antidote to our noisy world. It will lift your spirits, make you feel closer to nature and will increase your productivity.