Talk is cheap
Empty barrels make the loudest noises
Speech is human; silence is divine
Speech is silver; silence is golden
These are just a few popular sayings that extol the virtues of silence. From our childhood days when our mothers chastised us for being too loud at the table, we’ve always suspected that silence is better. But we still have a lot of learning to do because we are probably the noisiest generation in history! So, at least on some level, we must recognize that there’s something great about quietude.
Why do we structure our lives so that there’s no allowance for quietness? Why are we so afraid of our thoughts? What are we scared of? Why do we need blaring music in our ears or the TV playing loudly in the background?
Now, as a side note, there are exceptions… Some people genuinely need noise. For example, if you have an ear disease called tinnitus, you might benefit from using a white noise machine – the same as if you battle anxiety and intrusive thoughts or simply struggle with sleep. Barring these exceptions, most of us have much to gain from silence.
In reality, ‘silence’ isn’t an absence of sound. It’s a presence… We are so used to living in a noisy world that we have forgotten the power of that small, invisible but impressive tool. We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed by thoughts, emotions, and noise in our lives. The constant buzz of social media, the never-ending stream of emails, and the pressure to produce more content than ever before can make it challenging to stay focused on what’s important. But stillness – calm – quietude can help us escape these distractions, focus on what matters most and live in the moment – we just need to take the time to find it.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of silence you might not have been aware of. Did you know that your brain constantly scans the environment for potential threats, even during sleep? This means that frequent or sudden unexpected noises can stress the brain up and lower cognitive function. I’m sure you can automatically see how silence can be therapeutic. An interesting study conducted in 2011 demonstrated that students who lived near the noisy Munich airport performed worse on memory and comprehension tests than those who didn’t.
Does this surprise you?
Their brains were probably screaming for help.
But the good news?
According to that same study, the adverse cognitive effects were reversed once the noise pollution was removed. So, it will seem that when the noise is short-lived, people can often return to their baseline cognition levels. But what if it’s a more long-term noise assault? Modern studies reveal that the effects then become more permanent. People with continued exposure to noise pollution often describe feeling chronically angry, frustrated, ill at ease, and anxious. They also experience poor sleep, both in duration and quality. Now, even if you don’t live or work close to an airport, train station, or nightclub, don’t imagine you’re off the hook. Those random moderate-intensity noises we experience daily can still be problematic, particularly while engaging in tasks requiring heavy focus. If your home or office space has such adverse conditions, it could affect your concentration levels – and by extension, productivity! Bottom line? To give your brain and mind the best chance of success, you’ll be advised to fall in love with silence again.
If the effects of noise were limited to the mental or psychological spaces, perhaps it would not be so bad. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It also appears to affect the physical body in diverse ways. For example, science has shown strong associations between noise pollution and conditions like headaches, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and respiratory agitation. When the noise is severely loud and constant, it may even lead to gastritis, colitis, hearing loss, and heart attacks.
Wow, who would have thought that?
Conversely, a more quiet, serene environment is often associated with lowered blood pressure, brain growth stimulation, and improved sleep. It’s worth noting that with noise pollution, there’s no remedy for the stress and tension but silence. You might be tempted to replace the noise with a different kind of sound or to play “relaxing” music, but it’s not necessary. Just switch the speakers off entirely and embrace the silence. Better still, donate the sound system to a stadium or theatre. You’ll be glad you did.
Why is this the case? Studies have shown that observing only two minutes of silence relieves physical tension more than listening to relaxing music. Although more research is needed to show stronger links between silence and our long-term cardiovascular health, the early findings show promise.
My advice: ditch the earbuds and remember to inculcate noise-free breaks in your daily schedule.
The benefits of silence are numerous. From mental and physical ones like the ones listed above to those that involve a sense of well-being and mindfulness; we can’t emphasize being quiet enough. So how do you improve in this regard?
You can start by simply deciding to reduce the noise you consume. Initially, you should make small, incremental changes – even if you can only manage a few minutes at a time. You’ll be inspired to do even more when you understand an improvement in how you feel. Create time-offs or sanctuaries when you can relax your mind. It could be in a closet or serene park; in any case – take the time to drink in silence. Your brain will be glad for the rest, and your body will feel more at ease afterward. If your schedule does not permit having such breaks in the middle of the day, consider doing them early, before everyone is up, or later in the evening, when the household is winding down. Whatever strategy you choose to adopt, aim to prioritize quietude because, as we’ve seen with sound, less is almost always more.
Written by Laolu Ogundele
This resonates with me. When I first began working out, I noticed everyone had headphones/ear buds, and I saw it as a distraction from doing hard work or feeling your body. If there’s no noise, then you notice your heartbeat or sweat or whatever. I also work in silence, unless I’m feeling anxious (as you noted above). When anxiety hits, then I listen to classical music. Otherwise, I need quiet, so I can hear my own thoughts when I’m putting words together. Thanks for sharing this Victoria.
Thank you Katherin & agree with you, I have to work in silence too, without distraction:)) it’s not so easy in our online modern world… but we have to give our ears & brains a break from the constant listening & translating sound into information 😴🤔😄
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