I am finding more and more in my own life and the lives of my clients a sense of profound exhaustion. I’ve been spending a lot of time on this reflection lately, wondering what the consistent link was. I always find it funny that it isn’t new knowledge; it isn’t something I haven’t reflected on before. And I found simply an acknowledgment that there is so much that is easy to get distracted from. Literally.
Have you ever noticed how little silence we have in our lives? We are inundated with sound and stimulation designed to keep us enthralled. Everything around us notifies us to do something, to feel something. What I have found easy to forget is how often I can get pulled into life’s distractions and lose my balance. Usually, when I finally see it, I am already speeding towards burnout without access to the breaks.
How does noise affect us?
Have you found that there are words that you know? Their meaning is so obvious to us that the thought of looking it up in the dictionary is ridiculous. I was recently at training where they encouraged us to look up every word in a statement. I was astonished by how many of the word meanings surprised me. This got me thinking, what does noise even mean?
When I saw that Wikipedia describes noise as “unwanted sound judged to be unpleasant, loud or disruptive to hearing,” I was so surprised. I don’t know about you, but seasickness brings a visceral response to my mind with this new way of experiencing noise when I saw that noise is described in studies as pollution. Now I can understand how excessive noise is related to stress, high blood pressure, heart disease, tinnitus and loss of sleep.
The World Health Organization (WHO) studied the health burden of noise in Europe in 2011. It surveyed 340 million residents and found that they were losing a million years of healthy life every year due to the noise! They further concluded excessive noise to be the root cause of 3000 health disease deaths.
In Munich’s airport, Professor Gary W. Evans from Cornell University charted the effects of airport sounds on school children. He stated that children exposed to noise developed a stress response which caused them to ignore the noise. The children ignored harmful noise! He said that “this study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise–even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage–causes stress and is harmful to humans.”
Interestingly, it isn’t how loud something is that makes it an issue for us. In a 2011 publication from the American Psychological Association, Bronzaft stated: “A dripping faucet may not measure that loud, but it sure can keep someone awake.”
I found it interesting that scientists didn’t set out to study silence. They used it as a baseline to study noise against. Then in 2006, Physician Luciano Bernardi studied the physiological effects of noise and music. He found that there was a robust effect taking place between the noise. What he found was that the brain recognizes silence and responds powerfully. Further research at Duke University by Imke Kirste, a regenerative biologist, discovered that two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to memory formation involving the senses.
It can be hard to find silence in a world filled with notifications and the hum of technology. Here is a list of things that help me.
- Get out into nature
- Take a walk
- Mindful exercise
- Taking breaks
- Airport mode on my devices
- Time limits on social media and social media breaks
- Filtering out distractions.
- Lessening excess noise, such as working in silence
- Driving with the stereo off sometimes
- Noise cancelling headphones in loud places
Want to add to the list? Add your silence tips in the comments.