Silence is golden.
Think about the quietest place you can retreat to. If possible, go there now.
Now, crane your ear.
Even the quietest of places have some sound, whether it’s a siren blaring in the distance, the ticking of a clock, a humming fan, or a blur of conversation carried out somewhere in the background. It’s rare that your world is properly silent. It’s so rare, in fact, that when you do finally find total silence it feels as eerie as it does shocking.
Sound is so welcome in our lives, that we forget what it feels like to enjoy quiet. It’s unthinking, the way we invite it into our lives. You sit down with a good book, but your television is on low in the background. You’re playing a game with friends, but you have background music or television.
Silence is one of the most underappreciated tools to improve productivity and find healing.
The Problem with Noise
If you’re working quietly at your desk (whether you’re at home or in the office), the sound of a jackhammer eating away at the street outside is going to be rather jarring. Of course, it’s going to be distracting. Just like the noise at a rock concert could leave you with hearing problems if you stand too close to the speakers.
That’s not the type of noise that we’re talking about, though. There are two major noise issues that we put up with daily and they’re just as bad for you as the jackhammer and rock concert, they just impact you differently.
- Excessive, prolonged noise (like living near an airport and constantly listening to planes take off and land all day, every day).
- The other, and the one we’ll focus on here is the distraction that comes from general sounds and noise. You’re constantly interrupted by the people around you, even when they’re trying to be quiet. It’s this sound that distracts you and you hear it more than you realize. You’ve reached a point where you’re accustomed to it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t impacting you.
You might be thinking that the airport noise is the biggest problem, but general distraction noise is something that impacts everyone. How quiet is a quiet office, really? Often, train services across the world offer tickets for the quiet carriage.
Yet, there are still people having conversations, talking on the phone, and being generally disruptive while others have chosen that carriage to get some work done. The point being, even in an environment designed for quiet, there can be no quiet.
Now, imagine when you’re under profound pressure and how it feels to try to focus when you can’t get peace. You’re trying to crunch numbers, but you can hear Karen and Kyle chattering in the distance. You just want to run through your presentation, but Mark and Mary won’t quiet down as you begin and it’s throwing you off your game.
You escape to a private office, but you can hear Carly’s phone ringing off the hook because she’s off sick today and no one thought to forward those calls elsewhere. Just as you hit your stride, your own phone buzzes with a dozen notifications that you can’t resist checking.
Now, that’s all work-related. Imagine dealing with all that noise when you’re under pressure, feeling stressed out, anxious, and in need of healing.
Just as in the workplace, our lives have been designed to encourage, even welcome, disruption. We stand with arms wide open looking for the latest disruption. We do this so often; we just can’t understand why the pattern continues even when we’re trying to focus.
The New York Times highlighted a University of California, Irvine, study that found workers focus for just 11 minutes between disruptions.
For years, the experts have shown research that shows that your brain is never quiet. You might not consciously engage in an activity, but your brain is still humming as it runs in the background.
Between all of the background noise, chaos and interruptions in life, all of the disruption is harmful. There’s something waiting to distract you constantly. How do you create things of value when you struggle to focus? How do you find healing from stress, chaos, trauma, and pressure when you can barely shut everything out to get in touch with your mind?
Give Your Brain A Break
Historically, when researchers were looking into the effects of noise or sound, they would use silence as the control. However, that led them to realize just how fascinating silence is in and of itself. This brought silence into the research fold as much more than simply a control.
In an experiment that tested the brain’s response to different genres of music, the silence was the control used between clips. A bit of a palate cleanser, but for the ears.
However, researchers found that it was those seconds of silence that produced the most fascinating results. When stacked up against the relaxing music, the moments of silence had a much more relaxing effect on the brain. It appeared that the effects were heightened because of the contrasting noise.
The question now, of course, is why? It might be related to how the brain works when it’s not being bombarded by external nonsense. The research shows that the brain is never quiet, as we mentioned earlier. It’s constantly working in the background.
When you do consciously engage your brain, it overrides the default mode of your brain to temporarily divert its resources to what you want to do. It’s truly a supercomputer. So, essentially, total silence allows your brain to restore itself to the default state and process information.
If your favorite song stops mid-note, can you continue singing the correct lyrics? Probably, because your brain is constantly processing the information as it runs in the background. Your brain fills in the gaps and it does that by creating the sound. You don’t literally hear that sound or the line, but it creates it in your mind. So, in the absence of noise, your brain will produce internal noise to represent the missing noise.
Silence is more than just a vacation for your brain. According to a German study of mice, two hours of silence daily prompted new cell growth in the brain’s hippocampus. The hippocampus is linked to your memory and while new cell growth doesn’t necessary offer health benefits, it does improve the functioning of neurons. All that to say, enjoying silence daily is going to make you just a little bit smarter.
The Effect of Shutting Out the World
If you manage to shut the world out, you’ll notice a change in both your creative thinking and long-term decision-making skills. These are skills that let you generate creative solutions to any problem that you may face. Additionally, it allows you to focus on your plan long enough to achieve your goals. You do your best work in silence so, savor it when you get the opportunity. More to the point, seek out pockets of silence daily.
It might not seem like a skill but being able to shut out the outside world is exactly that — a skill. It’s a skill that will help you succeed, it’s a skill that will help you disengage from the pressure to find healing and peace. It’s best to build seeking silence as a habit when your external environment is harmless. That way, when chaos does ensue, you already have the skill set necessary to manage the pressure that comes with it.
When you carve out time alone and you find a way to shut out the noise, you’re creating a perfect environment for success. Success in your career endeavors, success in healing, and allowing yourself to flow creatively as you get in touch with your inner self.
Think of silence as a blank canvas, but for your thoughts. When you unplug, disconnect, and indulge the silence, there’s room for you to process your internal dialogue. And we’re not just talking about actual sound. We’re talking about emails, texts, social media, and a variety of other notifications that ping on your computer, phone, tablet, and otherwise. Put it all away.
It will likely take some time for you to get used to regular silence and quiet time, but if you schedule quiet time daily it will quickly become part of your normal routine and one that you look forward to.
At first, you might feel uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that quiet time feels like a chore. If you struggle with silence, then an activity of some sort will likely help you ease into the habit. However, that activity should be something you can do mindfully — like meditation, deep breathing, yoga, etc. You’ll notice the difference in your overall stress levels in no time. By reducing your stress levels you’re creating a healing environment.
Savor silence when you get the opportunity and strive to find more of it when possible.
The Physical Benefits of Silence
We mentioned earlier how some people dislike silence. The reason for this is that to them silence is lonely. When you sit in silence it feels as though you’re on your own. The idea of being left with their thoughts is horrifying. Yet, others revel in the opportunity to enjoy the gift of silence.
If you fall into the former category, then this next part is extremely important because we’re going to highlight the benefits of silence.
- It helps lower blood pressure, a problem that increases the risks of strokes and heart attacks.
- It improves the body’s immune response.
- It encourages new brain cell growth (as noted in the study of mice cited earlier).
- It reduces the rate of stress by decreasing the levels of adrenaline and cortisol. Silence has been found to be just as (if not more) effective than relaxing music and was noted by changes in the brain’s blood circulation, as well as the reduction in blood pressure.
- It promotes the regulation of good hormones.
- It prevents the formation of plaque in your arteries.
It’s worth noting that science (in the form of the American Psychological Association) has officially recognized the cognitive (and overall health) harm of noise pollution.
Noise pollution contributes to high blood pressure, increased heart rate, an increase in the release of adrenaline and thyroxine, insomnia, and even eating disorders such as anorexia. Likewise, excess noise can result in impatience, frustration, annoyance, rage, fatigue, shortness of breath, and uneasiness. All of this contributes to the risk of a variety of lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease.
The Emotional and Psychological Benefits of Silence
Entertaining silence, in this day and age, is a conscious decision that you make. You’re essentially making the decision to take a break and disconnect from everything around you.
That means no technology, no music, no demands, no chatter, no nothing but you and a quiet room. With that, comes a variety of emotional and psychological benefits.
We already highlighted the benefits to your physical health, but these benefits are far greater and also have a positive impact on your psychological health. So, it’s a win-win.
- Awareness: Once you get comfortable with silence, you’ll notice a shift in your awareness. Settling in silence makes you a more self-aware person. It also gives you a greater appreciation for the world, particularly your immediate environment.
- Sensitivity: Are you aware of your personal essence? Or our life force or flow? You don’t exist in a vacuum, you belong to the human species, and as such, our personal essence separates us from other species. Spending time in silence, spending time with yourself in silence, helps you become more sensitive to that fact and it makes you more appreciative of life.
- Creativity: How often do you allow your thoughts to wander where they will? How often do you let your mind wander away? On the one hand, this is possibly when your brain drowns you in negative thoughts. However, the more silence you indulge, the more used to it you become, the better you can cope with it and the more likely you are to think creatively. Silence can be inspiring, whether it’s a song lyric, poetry, or the solution to a long-standing issue. When you let yourself enjoy the silence, you give your mind free rein to travel widely.
- Reflection: What better way to carry out a bit of self-reflection than in quiet introspection? To do this, silence is a necessity. Silence allows you to reflect in order to connect the threads running through your life. If there’s one thing we can likely all agree on it’s that life can be profoundly chaotic. Yet, as disconnected and disorganized as the world might seem, common threads are running throughout.
Silence, meditation, and reflection will help you find and grab the threads to pull them together into a level of self-awareness that will help you heal yourself from within. It might motivate you down a fresh career path, it could prompt you to cut toxic ties with friends/family/romantic partners. The point is it helps you become more at peace with yourself.
Shut Out Noise
If the outside world presents you with distractions or your neighbors make a racket, then there are steps you can take within your home to help combat that.
- Rugs: If you don’t have carpeting in your home, then noisy neighbors probably seem noisier than they actually are. Some carpet tiles or throw rugs are a great way to combat the noise of neighbors and dampen your own noise as well.
- Drapes: A good set of curtains is a great way to keep street noise out, especially if your windows are thin. The thicker the material the better it will be at keeping noise out. Luckily, there are noise-absorbing curtains on the market which makes life a little bit easier.
- If you share walls with a neighbor and they’re particularly loud, then you can dampen some of that noise by placing furniture against it. A bookshelf or a cabinet is an excellent way to naturally insulate your home against external noise.
What if the noise is coming from inside the house? A whirring fan, an old boiler, or a particularly aggressive tumble dryer can all increase your home’s ambient noise levels. Luckily, you can drown them out and not by turning up the television.
- First and foremost, consider your digital devices. Turn off the TV for silence, and especially to shut out the world outside with all the bad news going on on a daily basis. Then go to your computer, tablet, and phone that make a lot of noise such as constant dings from notifications. There are a variety of monitoring devices that will track the ambient sounds in your home. This will help create a clear picture of the key moments of noise pollution you’re dealing with.
- The loudest appliances are found in your laundry room — consider soundproofing your laundry room or soundproofing the room where your washing machine and dryer are located. Foam insulation is more than sufficient to do the job.
- Alternatively, you can soundproof the room in which you spend the most time. At least then you can escape to this quiet place.
If there are devices that have to run around the clock, do your best to locate them in a soundproof area. This will help you manage the overall noise level of your home.
What if the noise isn’t literal noise from your neighbors or the kids playing video games? What if the noise is within you? What if it’s your thoughts you can’t dampen?
- Meditation: The beauty of meditation is that it trains you to block out external noise and get in touch with your inner voice. Don’t underestimate the power of this skill. Start practicing meditation daily, even for five or ten minutes, to build your habit and get comfortable with being alone with your thoughts. It’s difficult to find healing if you’re so completely disconnected from yourself. Meditation is one of the best ways to quiet everything so that you can hear what your inner voice is trying to tell you. Who knows what you’ll learn about yourself.
- Yoga: Like meditation, yoga forces you to focus on your breath and the movements your body makes. It benefits you in much the same way as meditation does, with the added benefit of physical activity that will help you improve your range of movement and encourages better sleep. The latter, of course, is one of the keys to managing stress which will make it much easier to deal with pressure and heal.
- Deep Breathing: Yoga and meditation both focus on breathing as part of their practice, so deep breathing is taking one of the keys from two popular activities and using it on its own. It’s a grounding exercise that will help you shut everything out and center yourself.
How to Create Silence
If you’d like to entertain silence, but you’re having difficulty figuring out how or you’re just deeply uncomfortable with sitting quietly, there are other ways for you to get in on the action.
- A Walk in the Park: Or anywhere, for that matter. Sometimes, getting out in nature and taking a walk in a quiet part of the area is a great way to enjoy silence. Yes, you will hear the sounds of nature, but these are typically soothing sounds that don’t distract you from being alone with your thoughts. This is the perfect place to start entertaining silence if you struggle with the likes of meditation.
- Hit Snooze: Normally, we would discourage the use of the snooze button. However, if you spend an extra 5ish minutes in bed each morning, this is your opportunity to soak up the silence and slowly wake up to the world. You can pray or express gratitude silently, or just allow your thoughts to wash over you.
- Deep Breathing & Meditation: Of course, meditation and deep breathing are also excellent tools for exercising silence. And, for those who are uncomfortable with sitting quietly, but struggle with the first two options, this is the best of both worlds. You’re sitting quietly, but you’re doing so in an activity that will help you calm your mind and indulge the quiet.
Once you get to grips with silence, you’ll likely find it easier (and more enjoyable) to sit quietly and address your thoughts. It’s just a case of working through the initial discomfort to reach a point where you don’t just accept silence, but you look forward to it.
In this day and age, it’s difficult to find silence. We’re constantly overwhelmed with information — from the smartphone notifications highlighting the latest political scandal to the endless news about the pandemic, natural disasters and wildfires destroying the planet. It’s a lot to take in, especially because the news cycle is 24 hours a day.
That’s just one slice of the high-pressured pie. On top of all of that, you’re just trying to survive through pandemics, economic downturns, potential recessions, and life in general. No wonder so many of us struggle to calm our minds and shut out the external noise. The external noise is essentially a tsunami knocking at your window, leaking in despite your protests.
While silence might seem difficult to attain, you can do so by carving out special time for it. Just like anything worth having in this life, sometimes adding it into your schedule and making it a task is the only way to ensure you make it happen.
Silence is indeed golden, and so will you be by creating more of it in your life.
George J. Ziogas is an HR Consultant with 15+ years of experience across a number of industries with a specialization in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS). He is a qualified vocational instructor/teacher and personal trainer. George is also a blogger and top writer in numerous categories/tags on Medium. He speaks several languages (English, Greek, Macedonian), and enjoys working out/keeping fit, music, reading, and traveling. He is married and lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales.
Image courtesy of Sound On.