From the moment we wake, we are greeted with a cacophony of sound. The alarm clock blares, then the coffee maker echoes its drip, drip, drip. And whether we are consciously aware of it or not, the muted hum of the refrigerator in the background underscores the morning.
In the spirit of decreasing the non-essential noise in my life, I’ve been reading a book titled, Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence, by George Michelson Foy. In the book, Mr. Foy travels the world measuring the decibels of various environments with his Kawa meter; from his kitchen at midnight to an anechoic chamber that the Guinness Book of World Records dubbed, “the quiestest place on Earth”. It’s a thought-provoking read and a commendable piece of journalism.
Apparently, the writer Marcel Proust didn’t like noise any more than I do, so Foy measured Proust’s bedroom in Paris where Proust wrote propped with pillows on his bed and corkboard lining the walls to insulate him from the clamor of the busy Paris streets below. For Proust, noise was disruptive to the creative process. It is for all of us.
But what is this thing called silence? Is it simply the absence of sound? And how does it affect us?
What is silence?
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines silence as “forbearance from speech or noise; muteness.” This forbearance does not come naturally for most us. We must make time in our daily lives for the benefits silence creates and be mindful of its importance. This may sound impossible in a chaotic, sound-laden existence but even a small adjustment in our lives can make a difference.
The benefits of silence
The attentional demands created by modern life are burdensome on the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part that is responsible for such high-order thinking as problem solving and decision-making. The result is that our attention resources become depleted. Consequently, we become mentally fatigued and less able to make healthy decisions.
Continuous exposure to noise and sound effects our heart as well, leading to high blood pressure and placing us at greater risk for heart attacks, eventually affecting our longevity. Loud noises release the stress hormone cortisol while silence has the opposite effect. Too much sound and loud noises, simply aren’t good for us.
The good news is that once we are mindful of this, we can minimize that influence by deliberately making an effort to create silence in our environment. Even 2 minutes of silence is better than ten minutes of listening to relaxing music.
Now, I’m not asking you to unplug your refrigerator or forego your morning cup of coffee, but here’s some tips for creating silence:
- Walk in nature. The natural sounds of birds chirping and leaves blowing in the wind are better for us than made-made ones.
- Meditate for 10-15 minutes daily
- Turn off the TV for an hour each day
- Turn off your cell phones for an hour each day
- Stop your computer’s sound notifications
- Turn off the radio in your car and listen to the silence
Give your senses a break and make room for silence. Your body and mind will reward you with longevity and better health.