Actively listening to the natural sounds of birds helps restore our attention and reduces stress.

Naturalist: Immerse yourself in nature

by Jenny Rigby

Irvine’s open space is valued for its beauty. And increasingly, it is valued as therapy – an antidote to stress and anxiety.

It turns out that while exercise in general keeps weight and cardiovascular health in check, exercise outdoors in a natural setting also reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, while increasing levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

Simply put, people feel calmer and happier following activity in nature. They also show improved cognitive functioning and enhanced creativity.

You can weave a variety of activities into nature-based excursions to deepen the experience. Here are a few prompts to get you started.

Find a sit spot

A sit spot is a place in nature that is close to home and revisited over time. A temporary sit spot along a trail also works.

Find a spot, sit still and engage all your senses. Over the course of even just a few minutes, you will start to notice things, like subtle sounds, aromas, textures and shy wildlife.

Decode bird calls

Birds sing. They also chatter, whistle, bark and trill. In a calm state, birds sing a repeating melody. In an agitated state, they call, making a short, high-pitched note that warns of danger, defines territory, checks in or, in the case of a nestling, demands food. It turns out actively listening to these natural sounds helps restore our attention and reduces stress.

Use your deer ears

Have you ever noticed how a deer moves its ears so it can hear better? Try listening with your own deer ears. Place the curved palm of your hands behind your ears and push each ear forward while maintaining a tight seal. Turn toward a sound and listen. How do your deer ears improve your ability to concentrate and hear things?

Jenny Rigby, director of Acorn Group, is an award- winning interpretive planner, teacher and writer.