Audio apps are having a moment in the wellness industry. Music, sound therapy, and autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) have a secure foothold in mental health, relaxation, and wellness rituals. ASMR is a popular term in the music industry this year, with singers including Billie Eilish and Zara Larsson incorporating it into their tracks. Even Lego has dipped into the space, unveiling their unexpected experimental album Lego White Noise in May.

Sound and audio have more to offer than entertainment, though, and consumers are tapping into the field looking for self-care and physical wellness.

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Listening to waves crashing or birds chirping, while relaxing, can actually heal pain, according to a recent study. The research, published with the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States in April 2021, found that listening to nature sounds can have positive health benefits, from improving mood and cognitive ability to actually alleviating the sensation of pain.

Some organizations are experimenting with sound in traditional healing settings. The Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in California is working with students from the California Institute of the Arts and audio-experience startup Spatial to create restorative and calming audio-sensory experiences for hospital patients.

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Spatial’s soundscape spaces in the hospital are meant to promote calmness and tranquility to those working and being treated there. The soundscape rooms will block out bustling noise from the hallways and replace them with natural sound to boost healing.

One “tranquility room” is designed for families who are supporting a loved one, particularly at their end-of-life phase, with audio to help them connect through an integrative healing experience. Another “resilience room” is meant to provide a restorative, collective environment for health providers who have recently lost a patient. Both concepts are constructed to ease the physical effects of emotional strain from end-of-life care.

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Self-care practices are also employing audio to amplify listeners’ physical wellbeing. Backed by research, audio’s effect on the body and the technology it’s used with is revolutionizing self-care concepts to promote intimacy and even improve libido. Dipsea, a new audio app, helps guide users to sleep with erotica stories and a blend of soothing, calming sounds. Its Sleep library includes a spectrum of adult genres to choose from, all of which can be combined with soothing nature sounds at the end of the recording.

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Audio erotica is popping up in sexual wellness apps such as Kama and wellness brands like Maude, whose cofounder Eva Goicochea told Soho House that she wants to make “room to think about sex like personal care” as “people start to consider their sexual wellness as part of their overall health and happiness.”

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The social app Quilt uses audio messages and meetings to give its users a safe space for audio engagement. Originally an app for meeting others in person, the company went digital in 2020 and has since raised $3.5 million in seed. Considered a part of a daily self-care ritual, their updated audio format gives consumers an opportunity to engage with a community at a passive or conversational level. Quilt CEO Ashley Sumner said as a user, you can join in the audio, or just react to conversations with emojis in order to “feel like everybody knows you’re there and you’re engaged, but there’s no pressure to participate—you can just listen.”

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Whether focusing on self-care, pain management, or healing and wellness, forward-thinking companies might consider reinventing their workspaces and institutions to include audio-immersive environments. Spatial COO Darrell Rodriguez told Fast Company that “immersive sound has potential as a therapeutic tool” and that the company “wants to have a social impact.”

Heightened audio is more than just audio branding, it’s an opportunity for healing. Brands ramping up their audio assets or engaging in audio-first social spaces might consider how to weave in elements that boost health and wellbeing.

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