Close your eyes and listen carefully to your surroundings

Listen to Your Surroundings

Close your eyes and listen carefully to your surroundings. What do you hear?
Is it the buzzing of the refrigerator or the whirring of your computer? Perhaps you hear city sounds, with busy cars zooming past your street?

There are many different sounds in our daily lives, from the sounds we usually hear to the sounds we are hearing for the first time. Some are natural and some are artificial. What’s more, each sound has an impact on our emotions, even though that impact may be small. Take TV dramas, for example. The background music of each scene influences the viewer’s emotions, such as a happy pop song that plays during a happy scene.

It’s no exaggeration to say that sound is an inseparable part of our lives. It’s then no surprise that sounds seem to be deeply related to our mental health as well. How do different sounds affect our minds?

City Sounds and Noise Pollution

City sounds have a negative effect on our minds

There are various cases where sounds do affect our health. One of the most negative is noise pollution. In terms of mental health, noisy urban city sounds have a huge impact on our sleep. For example, one survey in Japan across 3,600 adult women from different regions looked at the relationship between city sounds and sleep habits. Results showed that the risk of insomnia was proportional to the amount of traffic in areas within 20 meters of a major road. These results may be easily understood if you imagine living in a high-traffic area, as the city sounds are highly likely to disturb your sleep.

On the other hand, some studies have shown that noise pollution does not affect reading and other activities. Even if you are initially too distracted by the noise to concentrate, you gradually get used to it to a point where it doesn’t even bother you. In fact, some sounds can even increase our work efficiency.

City view

Good Sounds, Good Vibes

Some sounds are negative, like urban city sounds, while others are positive. One of the most typical and successful applications of positive sound is background music in cafes. Successful background music hides and mitigates unnecessary noise, such as the chattering of the neighboring tables. If the background music is to your liking, you will be more satisfied with the environment. Likewise, it’s common to use music and nature sounds in the workplace as a method of stress management for the workers. Naturally, such positive sounds are mentally beneficial to our well-being.

Good sounds, good vibes

City Sounds Aren’t All Bad

The world is filled with all sorts of sounds and everybody has different preferences for sound. A sound that has significance for you may just be meaningless noise to someone else. This seems to be true not only for individuals but also for different locations. Cicadas, for example, are common insect sounds heard in certain areas during the summer. While some regions may consider this sound a nuisance, other locations may consider it to be a pleasant indicator that summer is in the air. Some cultures consider sound as a form of environmental awareness, actively paying attention to these sounds of nature. In a sense, it’s a method of environmental education. If you think about it this way, listening to urban city sounds could also be a form of spatial and environmental awareness. Moreover, there are some interesting aspects of this from a mental health perspective.

Built-in microphone

Be Playful with Sound

Close your eyes and really pay attention to the sounds you hear, from those far away to those that are closer by. Do you hear city sounds, nature sounds, or maybe household sounds? When we create a picture purely through the sounds that we hear, it may be different from the actual visual scenery that unfolds in front of us Thus, this may help us to better understand the breadth of your consciousness.

Listening to the sounds of nature – such as the wind and trees – and noticing their changes can lead to new discoveries within. Other exercises are worth trying as well, such as physically moving our posture to notice how the vibrations in our voice change through movements. This particular activity is considered bodywork that incorporates the element of sound. When we start re-focusing our attention to the sounds normally dismissed, it gives us an opportunity to think about our relationship between self and sound. These activities that allow us to pay attention to sounds have a profound effect on our mental health.

Sounds of nature

Sounds That Resonate With Each Individual

It’s easy to understand from above that there’s a deep connection between sound and mental health. We live in a world that is littered with all sorts of sounds – from nature sounds, to urban city sounds, to household sounds… So, re-focusing our attention on the sounds that we tend to miss in our daily lives is sure to be a plus.

Now, once again, close your eyes and listen carefully to the sounds around you. The sound of rain hitting against the roof, a refrigerator buzzing, a voice over the phone, sounds that cheer us up, sounds that soothe us, sounds that resonate with our sadness. The benign sounds around us could be fueling our energy without us even realizing it. If you’re feeling up to it, I recommend that you try to find a unique favorite sound that resonates with you personally.

Man with a recording microphone

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If you’re looking for more tips on how to care for your mental health, check out some of our past blog posts!

Kageyama, T. (1998). Sound Environment and Mental Health. The Japanese Journal of Mental Health, 13(1) P34-39.