If you type 'nature sounds' into Google, you immediately get a whole list of YouTube and Spotify sounds that all provide relaxation and tranquility. Why is it that we associate nature sounds with calm and quiet? Why is nature relaxing, reducing stress and contributing to better mental health (Twohig-Bennett 2018)? We take a closer look at it in this article.
The restorative quality of nature is believed to be because nature gently stimulates all the senses. Just pay attention when walking in the forest. The light is dimmed, there are no bright colors, the birds occasionally whistle, the rain gently falls on the leaves, the air smells fresh and you feel a cool breeze. There is plenty to see in nature, but there is little that immediately screams for your attention and overstimulates your brain. Nature immediately makes you feel positive and even though it does demand attention, it takes little mental effort, researchers conclude.
So why does it take no effort on our part? Perhaps it's also in our genes; traditionally, humans lived in nature as hunter-gatherers. It was also in nature where people's basic needs were met (air, food, drink, shelter, safety, etc.) and survival was possible. Fulfilling those basic needs still links our brain to gaining physical peace, satisfaction and recovery and perhaps thereby directly to nature. In short, the pattern is familiar and it brings peace.
Research shows that our brain processes nature sounds differently from artificial sounds, such as sounds from the city (Jo 2019, Gould van Praag 2019). Subjects exposed to nature sounds had reduced blood flow to the front part of the brain (right prefrontal cortex), a result of reduced brain activity in a brain region involved in active planning, alertness and control. In other words, their brain switched into a relaxed mode related to rest and recovery. Their heart rate was also lower; another sign of relaxation. They associated this with positive feelings and moods, attributing positive descriptions to what they heard such as 'pleasant', 'relaxing' and 'natural'. This was not the case with sounds from the city (Jo 2019).
Psychologist Daphne Meuwese, who received her PhD from VU University Amsterdam in 2022, investigated, among other things, via which psychological mechanism nature has a restorative effect. More specifically, how people cope with negative emotions and whether exposure to nature influences this process (Meuwese 2022). She also looked at what happens to a person's inner world when they experience nature during psychotherapy (Meuwese 2021). Going a step further, she showed that just looking at nature can support processing negative thoughts and feelings. Nature videos seem to create the optimal setting for self-reflection, and therefore support processing what is on your mind. This process was fast, so fast that a positive effect on how people felt could be measured as early as 5 minutes after watching a nature video, even when nature was only seen on screen (Meuwese 2021).
Bike Labyrinth has a wide range of nature routes, you can find them in the route bar under the icon with the mountains. They also always include ambient sounds that contribute to the experience. You can experience these by turning up the sound of the TV or by cycling with headphones. So are you fed up with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, is your head full of thoughts or are you just ready for a moment of relaxation? Then enjoy a nature route to put your thoughts into perspective, and find your peace again.