Sounds of peace for mental health

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Peaceful sounds for relaxation

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By Emily Reiblein, Director HSSE -Crowley Logistics

As the holiday season rolls around again, the hunt for peace is on. Letters and symbols of peace appear on shop windows, hanging on street lights, plastered on cards and gift wrap, and in white doves flying across disposable coffee cups. We are reminded of our universal desire of peace everywhere. What peace looks like is different to each of us. Whether it is stealing moments of quiet from the constant clattering of ship’s machinery or a desire for moments of peace from your own ruminating thoughts, consider allowing your ears to carry the sounds of peace with you.

Our body’s ability to feel peace is entangled with our central nervous system (CNS). It acts as a control system that allows us to accommodate and respond to the wildness of the world, raising and reducing our anxiety levels. Nerves are constantly sending, receiving, and processing orders that tell muscles and organs what to do and how to respond to our physical and mental strife.


One part of the CNS, the autonomic nervous system, helps us understand and obtain peace as the environment supports its evolution. This system has two parts that act like a Yin and a Yang. The first helps us fight-or-flight when stressors arrive on scene (the sympathetic nervous system), while the contrary system helps us relax after the danger is past (the parasympathetic nervous system). This follow-up system helps us de-stress by releasing relaxation hormones that calm our body and clear the way for the mind to follow.

Researchers at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the U.K. found that “natural sounds” can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. They gave adult subjects functional magnetic resonance imaging scans while listening to a series of five-minute soundscapes of natural and man-made environments. These sounds prompted the brain to focus attention externally allowing patients to reduce feelings of rumination, internal anxieties and the pressures of every day stress.

Over all, the sounds of nature increased the parasympathetic nervous system’s response. This response was further increase when those sounds were natural, and not from an artificial sound machine (although both have shown to impact rest and recovery). Taking a walk by a babbling brook, standing on a ship and listening to the sea lap at the hull, or listening to ocean or forest sounds can bring calm to a contemplating mind. 


Other sounds that can reduce stress and anxiety have been studied, as well. A favorite of many sailors and truck drivers is “white noise.” Our maritime workers sleep inside of noisy ships, where background variations and machinery-laden spaces constantly move creating a tough sleeping environment.

White noise encompasses all the audible frequencies in equal amounts giving a person a steady hum that hides all the other noises that live in the background. This well researched noise does have benefits to relaxation and sleep. While conflicting results exist as to whether white noise improves the actual sleep quality, it has shown benefits toward helping people fall asleep (Front Neurol. 2017, Dec 21; 8:718). Machines that emit this very specially constructed noise can be taken into any space and used to bring on a relaxing bedtime advantage.

For those who are inclined toward a combination of musical notes, classical music is a fine choice to bring on peace. In 2015, a research group studying complementary therapies examined the relationship between classical music and bodily functions like heart rate and blood pressure (also controlled by the nervous system). Subjects were exposed to a series of stressful tasks, and then an experimental group spent 20 minutes listening to music while the control group rested. The results showed that the music helped to decrease stress by increasing the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. These findings showed that classical music could be effective at calming the body and bringing feelings of ease to the mind.

Our hearing has the unique ability to bring unto us sounds that resonate deeply within our bodies and that can change how we respond to the world. Its gift of quick relief from our internal and external chaos can help us find new and readily available ways to examine peace throughout this holiday season and into the year to come.

Nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. All medical advice should be sought from a medical professional.

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