When I take my dog on walks, I listen to the birds. It took some self-training — tuning into the world around me isn’t something I do naturally, especially when so many everyday stressors are on my mind. But once I began to recognize different calls, my walks became more interesting and soothing. It’s not all in my head, either: A recent study found that birdsong improves mood while decreasing anxiety.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports on October 13, the study explored the effects of birdsong on mental health. The authors noted that more and more people around the globe are living in urban environments, and city settings correlate with higher rates of mental illness. Yet that isn’t the end of the story; previous research found that visiting green spaces (think parks and gardens) inside urban areas can improve mental illness. The authors of the Scientific Reports study wondered whether the auditory experience of less traffic noise and more birdsong had anything to do with that.
Studying Birdsong as an Anxiety Reducer
In an online experiment for the Scientific Reports study, the authors recruited 295 participants. All participants completed a sociodemographic assessment (the test asked questions about age, location, education, income, and more) and a mental health assessment. Then, each participant was randomly exposed to one of four six-minute sound clips: low traffic noise, high traffic noise, low birdsong, and high birdsong. After the exposure, the participants completed a second set of mental health questions.
Based on total responses, birdsong reduced symptoms of anxiety in healthy participants (those who had relatively good mental health); Traffic sounds increased symptoms of depression in general, regardless of mental health status.
“Birdsong could … be applied to prevent mental disorders,” first author Emil Stobbe said in a press release. “Listening to an audio CD would be a simple, easily-accessible intervention. But if we could already show such effects in an online experiment performed by participants on a computer, we can assume that these are even stronger outdoors in nature.”
The authors of the Scientific Reports study agree that more research is necessary to confirm their findings. This is in part because the participants were between 20 and 30, and a slight majority were men. As a result, it’s difficult to apply these findings to a greater population, especially to women older than 30.
In addition, the birdsong sound clip also included the sound of gentle wind and water in the background. Previous research has found that the sound of water is relaxing, so it’s unclear whether birdsong was the primary reason that participants felt less anxious.
The Bottom Line
Of course, not every bird sound will make you feel at ease (a 5 a.m. rooster crow would leave me in a pretty bad mood). It obviously isn’t guaranteed to make you feel better, especially if you suffer from severe depression or anxiety. If this is the case, a comprehensive treatment plan with a mental health professional is the best route.
Still, listening to birdsong is a gentle form of self-care. The next time you go on a walk, take in your surroundings more carefully. Listening to bird calls, closing your eyes for a moment, and breathing in the fresh air can do wonders. It takes you out of your head, and brings you more in tune with nature.
Curious about which bird calls reduce anxiety the most? TK The authors of the Scientific Reports study used a mix of calls from the garden warbler, honey buzzard, woodlark, Eurasian sparrow hawk, coal tit, greenshank, common crane, and black woodpecker. My favorite is the garden warbler — which is yours?