As the world stood still in 2020 due to the global pandemic, it gave us all a chance to stop and take notice of our surroundings.
Our senses have been heightened and we’ve been seeing more, hearing more and feeling more over the past few months thanks, in part, to the reduction in road and air traffic drowning out the sounds and smells of our natural environment. For most of us it’s been a positive experience to reconnect with the elements, and it’s certainly proven to help with mental and physical wellbeing.
At Retirement Villages group it’s always been a priority for us to provide our communities with as much access to nature as possible. We consciously build to ensure that there are ample green spaces and areas for nature to thrive. 2020 has proven how valuable that notion is to our community members as they’ve been able to ‘escape’ into nature when needed.
We’re going to take a look at how nature’s influence can have a positive effect on our wellbeing…
Birdsong in particular is known to have a significant impact on our stress levels. Scientists at the University of Surrey conducted a study into the restorative benefits of birdsong and discovered that of all the sounds found within nature, birdsongs and calls were those “most often cited as helping people recover from stress and allowing them to restore and refocus their attention”.
A contemporary composer and multi-instrumentalist, Erland Cooper, worked on an inspiring project during the first period of national lockdown in 2020. He put a call out to listeners of BBC’s 6Music channel, asking them to send in recordings of the sounds that make them happy at the start of their day. As you can imagine there was a huge amount of birdsong sent in consisting of cuckoos and owls, along with the likes of woodpeckers. Erland then composed a stunning piece of music called ‘A Nightingale Sings Outside Our Window’ through which he wove in the sounds collected from the listeners.
If you’re interested in ‘tuning in’ to the sounds of birds a bit more there are plenty of apps and websites that can help you do so.
Bird Watch Ireland have released their guide to birdwatching at home here – there are some great quizzes and games to enjoy too!
There are of course plenty of apps and websites to help you identify birdsong as well – Warblr is a particularly popular option.
And last, but not least, the RSPB of course has some great tips on making the most of the dawn chorus – just click here. And if you want to know when sunrise is where you live (so you can set that early alarm to enjoy the bird song!) you can use this handy tool.
BUT…it’s not just birdsong that can make us feel better…
Their mortal foes, the cat, can also have a healing effect on humans. A cat’s purr creates vibrations within a range of 20-140 Hz which are known to be therapeutic for many illnesses. The ‘purrfect pitch’ can help to lower stress, calm nerves, lower blood pressure and help heal soft tissue damage, infection and swelling.
Also, researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute in Minneapolis discovered that owning a cat can reduce your risk of heart attack by nearly one third.
If you are lucky enough to live near woodland, as most of our communities do, you can lower your stress levels by taking a quiet walk through the woods, making sure to keep your ears open to the sounds surrounding you. The general ‘woodland noises’ of leaves rustling in the breeze and the sound of twigs and natural debris crunching underfoot are proven to be more effective in reducing our stress levels than guided meditation or sitting in silence.
In 2019 The National Trust commissioned research as part of an effort to get more people out into environments such as woodland.
As part of the experiment, researchers exposed participants to three soundtracks – woodland noises, a guided meditation session and deep silence.
When asked to listen to the woodland sounds for one minute, people recorded that they felt 30% more relaxed, while stress and anxiety dropped, however there was no change in the level of relaxation people felt after listening to the guided meditation or the silence.
You can read more about this research, and others here