Well, actually, it is in your head.
Your brain doesn’t switch off when you are relaxing, it just switches on a different part.
That part of your brain called the default mode network (DMN). Oddly enough, you DMN is more active when you are lost in thought, in self-reflection, and less active when you are focused on a task.
Apparently nature sounds can also make the DMN more active.
Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) found that just listening to nature sounds had a positive impact on the DMN.
The research lead author, Dr Cassandra Gould van Praag said, “We are all familiar with the feeling of relaxation and ‘switching-off’ which comes from a walk in the countryside, and now we have evidence from the brain and the body which helps us understand this effect.”
Study participants had their brain activity measured (MRI scan) while they listened to sounds recorded from natural (e.g., rushing water) and artificial environments.
- The brain connectivity reflected outward when listening to natural sounds, like it does when you are relaxing.
- Artificial sounds, however, reflected inward thoughts, like when you are ruminating, feeling anxiety, or depressed.
The nature sounds also had a positive impact on:
- The rest-digest nervous system activity, which is also associated with relaxation
- Task performance (participant monitored something on a screen and their reaction time was tracked)
So get out there!
Research clearly supports getting out in nature, be it walking, hiking, running, biking…
- But for an even more relaxing experience, leave the headphones at home.
And if you can’t get out in nature, get those headphones out and find something natural to listen to.