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Relaxing vs. Stressful: the Impact Different Sounds Have on Our Mood

Updated: 19th February 2024
There are countless ways to explore the wonderful world of sound, with streaming services and social media platforms such as TikTok unleashing a whole host of different noises. Whether it’s our favourite music playlist, white, brown or even pink noise, or perhaps the tapping sounds of ASMR, there’s a sound for every scenario at the tap of a screen. 

There have been 81,000 UK Google Searches for ASMR in the last month alone, and TikTok videos under #asmr have had a whopping 1062.5B views. Therefore, it’s clear that people are looking for sounds to help them relax. But which sounds promote relaxation the most, and which are the most stress inducing?  

What is ASMR?

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It describes the sensation experienced from listening to certain sounds, or seeing certain visual triggers, such as tapping and flashing lights, which trigger a response from the brain. This is described by ASMR fans as a ‘tingling’ sensation, with the sounds said to help improve your mood, promote concentration, help achieve better sleep and  provide pain relief. 

ASMR sounds can also help neurodivergent people, such as those with ADHD or Autism, to help them relax, concentrate and regulate their emotions. 

TikTok is home to thousands of ASMR creators who share regular content, the most popular triggers include whispering, tapping, crinkling (like paper or leaves), roleplay scenarios (like makeup application or hair brushing) and soft speaking. 

most relaxing sounds

Sounds Brits find most relaxing

We carried out research to discover the sounds the people of the UK find the most relaxing versus the sounds that induce the most stress. The results show that the sound Brits find the most relaxing is the sound of waves (42%), followed by rain on a window (34%) - showing that water really does help soothe us. Bird sounds took the third most relaxing spot (33%), followed by fire cracking (23%).

The top ten sounds Brits find most relaxing are: 

1. Waves (42%)
2. Rain on a window (34%)
3. Birds singing (33%)
4. Fire crackling (23%)
5. Cats purring (20%)
6. Running water (20%)
7. Wind (17%)
8. Thunderstorm (16%)
9. TV (13%)
10. White noise (11%)

Susan Leigh, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist at Lifestyle Therapy, shares her expert insight into how these sounds help promote relaxation:

 “Waves often have a rhythmic ebbing and flowing, making a regular soothing pattern. The strength of the waves reminds us of the daily cycle of the moon, day and night, the reassuring continuous flow and power of nature.

Rain on a window gives that lovely secure feeling that comes from being safely ensconced indoors. The regularity of rainfall is that soft familiar backdrop to our indoors cosiness, when we may think about going outside, see the weather and change our minds.   

“Birds singing often means that all is well with the world. It may be springtime and they’re busy building nests, it may be 4am in summer and they’re busy finding food for their young. Maybe happy memories from hiking as a child with family, stopping for a picnic, maybe soggy sandwiches, but the birds don’t mind and still continue to sing.” 

Interestingly, overall, women are more likely to find sounds relaxing than men, with more women marking each of the sounds as relaxing across the board.

Younger generations (16 to 24 years old & 25 to 34 years old) find rain on the window the most relaxing. On the other hand, wave sounds are the most soothing to older generations (35 to 44 years old, 45 to 54 years old & 55+). 

Those aged 16 to 24 are the most likely generation to engage with white noise for relaxation (22%). Neurodivergent people are also more likely to find white noise relaxing than those who consider themselves neurotypical (15% vs 10%)

Susan further commented on this: 

“White noise is often seen as a remedy, a sought-out solution to stress or insomnia and younger people tend to be more tech savvy, so are more inclined to seek out solutions online. 

It can be likened to radio static, a whirring fan, a humming air conditioner, and a vacuum cleaner. And it’s possible to download white noise to use whenever it’s needed.”
most stress sounds

Sounds Brits find most stress inducing

When it comes to the most stress inducing sounds, the results vary. The sound of babies crying appears in the top five most stressful sounds for men, but not for women. Meanwhile, women can’t stand the sound of chewing. 

Overall, the top ten most stressful sounds for Brits are: 

1. Nails on a chalkboard (41%)
2. Car alarm (39%)
3. Drilling / construction work (38%)
4. Snoring (36%)
5. Babies crying (34%)
6. Chewing/ mouth sounds (33%)
7. Sirens (33%)
8. Dogs barking (31%)
9. Slurping (30%)
10. Sniffing / coughing (30%)

On top of this, nearly one in ten (9%) find the sound of work notifications such as Slack and Teams stressful, whilst 11% can’t stand the sound of sports commentary

“Many of these are sounds that demand attention, that ‘someone’ could and should do something about. There can be a weary ‘is it me again, do I have to sort it out?’ Or there may well be irritation that someone is deliberately doing something that they know is annoying, which makes it extra-annoying as a consequence.”

Susan also shared her thoughts on other stressful sounds: 

“Snoring can cause irritation as the snorer is often unaffected by their snoring and may be oblivious to the disturbance it causes others. They may need to visit their doctor or do some breathing exercises and if there’s a reluctance to do so it can appear selfish or inconsiderate, which makes for more stress in the relationship.     

“Babies crying  can be distressing to hear if it goes on too often or for too long. A baby cries to attract attention when they want or need something. If a parent chooses to ignore the crying it can become louder and louder, distressing others so that they want to pick up the child and soothe it.

“Sniffing and coughing are more noticeable post-pandemic as people are keen to protect their health. Occasional or sensitive attention to coughing and sniffing may be fine, where there’s a keenness to stay a little away from others, but continual sniffing can become a habit and, once noticed, can be hard to un-notice. There can be frustration if someone appears to do little to remedy their problem.”  

Overall, our research shows that women are far more likely to find certain sounds stressful and triggering in comparison to men. This supports various previous studies which show that women are more sensitive to sound, with them being more likely to be both relaxed or stressed by certain noises. 

How to set the perfect relaxing sound for every scenario

Different types of sounds work better for different activities.  Whether it’s working, studying, sleeping or simply trying to relax, there is a sound out there for every scenario. Currys recently partnered with Professor of Psychology at Goldsmith University, London, Joydeep Bhattacharya, and sleep expert Dr. Lindsay Browning, to develop a tool that directs you to the perfect sound whatever your goal. 

Concentration, working and studying

To improve concentration, brown or white noise can help. Brown or white noise playlists and video content can be found online, however, real life examples can include sounds such as thunder, rainfall on a tin roof and the stream of a waterfall (brown noise), as well as radio or television static and a whirring fan or a hairdryer (white noise).

Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya said:

 “Recent research shows that white noise in the background leads to enhanced cognitive performance in terms of maintaining attention, task performance, higher creativity and lower stress levels in a workplace setting. Importantly, this enhancement was found when noise was presented at 45 dB, but not at the 65 dB level. 

White noise might be more effective for tasks requiring sustained attention and memory processes and for individuals with low arousal levels.”


Dr. Lindsay Browning, psychologist, neuroscientist and sleep expert at Trouble Sleeping, said: 

“It has been suggested that listening to background noise, such as pink noise, during the night can be helpful for people with insomnia. This is because, if your sleep is disturbed by external noises waking you up, such as from a barking dog or police sirens, then playing background noise can help to mask those noise interruptions. 

Pink noise is a background sound which is more pleasant to listen to than white noise because it contains quieter high frequency sounds which some people can find shrill.”  

Relaxing sounds for Tinnitus

For those experiencing Tinnitus, the persistent symptoms, most commonly hearing a ringing, hissing or buzzing sound from no external source, can be extremely triggering and stressful to deal with. There are various methods to provide relief from Tinnitus, one of which is the use of white noise and sound therapy. 

Hannah Samuels, audiologist at Boots Hearingcare said: “Some sounds can irritate us for a short period, but if you have hyperacusis (sensitivity to normal sounds) or tinnitus, it can be much worse. Tinnitus can be aggravated by sudden or prolonged loud sounds such as machinery, music or even a car journey.”

“Most people with tinnitus find that it can be temporarily reduced using the distraction method with things like a ticking clock, sound generator or hearing aids, which often come with dedicated tinnitus maskers built in.”

“For issues like tinnitus, you can help your brain distract and retrain by using white noise. Listening to white noise allows you to take your mind to an external sound, tuning out from the tinnitus and shifting your focus elsewhere.”

emma jarvis

Written By:
Emma Jarvis

Digital Optimisation Lead

Hannah Author Image

Medically Reviewed By:
Hannah Samuels

Audiology Expert

1. 81K Google searches in the last month (03/01/2024)
2. #asmr amounts to 1062.5 B views accurate as of 04/01/2023
3. Survey of 1,500 people aged 16+ in the UK