Can you hear that? Can you hear me? Can you hear yourself? We are bombarded 24/7 by sounds of some sort. Whether it’s a car engine on the road beside us, people talking in the line in front of us, or a television blaring from our family room, if that isn’t enough, we are also choosing to fill our lives with sound. In fact, an increasing number of us turn to audiobooks to ease our daily journeys, music to motivate us while we do our chores, and white noise to help us sleep, and it seems many of us have simply forgotten how to enjoy silence.
The World Health Organization called noise pollution a modern plague as long ago as 2011, and things have only gotten louder since then. So where does the obsession with sound come from?
Joanna Nylund, author of the book Silence: Harnessing the restorative power of silence in a noisy world, states, “Quietness is becoming an increasingly depleted and endangered natural resource while noise is becoming a habitual go-to for many.”
“Paradoxically, noise has become a way of tuning out the world.” She explains, “It can certainly have a calming effect sometimes. If you are choosing a podcast over the chatter of fellow commuters, for instance, that is not always the case.”
That’s because noise isn’t just used as a welcome distraction from intrusive sounds, but also as a diversion from our own feelings, whether we realize it or not. Sitting in silence with just your thoughts to keep you company is a scary prospect for many, often because we know there are things in our life we haven’t dealt with. We instinctively choose to just keep distracting ourselves. The fact that all these different sounds are available at our fingertips doesn’t help matters, either.
The problem is the impact this can have on our mental wellbeing. Constantly ignoring our feelings can have a negative impact on our health in the form of anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, and emotional burnout. It is challenging to sit with some emotions.
It is only when we process uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and experiences, that we can arrive at a sense of acceptance and move forward. Noise creates other problems as well. Noise stimulates the nervous system, and other physical impacts range from gradual hearing loss and poor sleep to high blood pressure, to name just a few. Noise exposure has also been connected to behavioral issues and cognitive impairment in children, and anxiety, poor attention span, and short-term memory problems in adults.
Silence is clearly good for our physical wellbeing, and it also contributes majorly to our peace of mind and allows us to process thoughts and feelings that would otherwise go ignored. In a quiet state, we can allow our minds to wander and our brains to rest from having to perform any specific task. This mode is essential to creativity and problem-solving.
It could be useful to ease ourselves into the idea of silence. If you get nervous at the prospect of relaxing in silence or just prefer not to sit still, try walking in nature or go to a museum during off hours. Perhaps try a quiet hobby, something you can do with your hands that requires little to no thinking and allows for inner peace. Also stepping away from your phone when possible and limiting your screen time will go a long way towards increasing stillness to the brain.
So, go on and take a moment to sit back and enjoy a few moments of stress-reducing, creativity-inspiring silence. Your brain will thank you for it.
Claire Munnings is a health and wellness freelance writer