Silence is Golden
“Peace” and “quiet.” These two words symbolize something that we all long for from time to time; otherwise known as silence. When was the last time that you really experienced true silence, the kind where you could completely quiet your mind and be in a moment of solitude without any interruptions whatsoever? While silence is something that we all need to make space for in our lives, finding it can prove to be quite difficult. Most of us walk around, overstimulated on all levels, to the point that constant noise and activity begins to seem like the norm. The perpetual noise in your life can have serious negative effects for your health and your overall quality of life. The solution to this is simply learning how to find and embrace a little more silence in your life.
When you think of noise, you might think about the constant drone of your coworker’s voice, your neighbor’s lawnmower on Saturday morning or the happy, but loud, chatter and laughter of a houseful of children. We tend to think of noise as auditory stimuli, but the fact is that “noise” can be considered any type of stimuli that bombards any one of your senses. We are a culture that thrives on “noise.” Take the atmosphere of a local coffee shop for example. You might think of this as a place where one can go and socialize, or sit quietly and read. But walk into one, especially a popular chain location, and the colors of the walls might be a combination of bright orange, red and purple. The sound of the espresso machine whirling competes with the music coming through multiple speakers. Even a simple drink, like a cup of brewed coffee, leaves you deciding between half a dozen choices of brews. You smell the aroma of fresh coffee, but also sweet syrup and the warm sandwich on the panini grill. You might find a little table in the corner to sit and enjoy your latte, but all your senses are being stimulated on some level, and your relaxing coffee break is not even close to being a quiet and peaceful experience.
On a certain level, we thrive in this type of environment. We love the feeling of being immersed in activity. Sight, sounds and smells tell your mind that you are alive and that the world around you is also full of life. The problem is that constant noise is bad for us in many ways, and we simply don’t make enough room for healing, soothing silence in our lives. Excessive, constant noise can impact your life in several ways, including:
- Increased anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Decline in memory and focus
- Eye strain
- Decreased physical activity
- Lack of meaningful friendships or sense of community
- Distracted driving
- Poor academic or work performance
- Excessive reliance on technology
- Disconnection from the natural world
It has been determined that people can process and retain approximately seven pieces of information or stimuli at one time. Seven might seem like quite a bit, however those seven slots of brain space can be quickly filled by multiple sensory inputs. Let’s say you are working on a presentation for work. You might be looking at a couple of different resources, while concentrating on how you will put it all together. Add to it that you just got a text notification, you are keeping an eye on the clock because you know you have a meeting in fifteen minutes, and then your coworker walks by with their lunch and suddenly you are thinking about how hungry you are and begin making a mental list for your grocery stop on the way home tonight. Right there in that moment, you have reached your maximum capacity and are on the verge of being overstimulated with sensory noise. The truth is that we are not efficient multitaskers. Research has proven time and time again that our best performances come when we are focused on a minimum number of tasks rather than many. Learning how to reduce the amount of noise you let in and focus on just one thing at a time requires a little training and it all revolves around learning to embrace silence.
Silence, in all its beauty, heals and helps us lead more fulfilling lives. Science has proven that a little silence provides significant benefits including:
Release of Stress:
That tight feeling through your shoulders, your perpetually clenched jaw or your increased level of anxiety are likely symptoms of increased stress brought on by constant noise and stimulation. Noise activates a reaction of stress hormones similar to what you might experience if you were constantly worried about something. Active stress hormones can cause elevated blood pressure, a predisposition to heart disease, weight gain and poor sleep habits. Silence, on the other hand, allows you to release all the tension that builds up from constant stimulation, and relaxes and calms your entire body.
Silence Encourages Mindfulness:
“Mindfulness” is a trendy buzzword right now, and with good reason. The concept of mindfulness involves being centered in, and appreciating, the present moment. When you are surrounded by silence, rather than noise, you can reflect inward and appreciate your connection to the world around you while being fully immersed in the experience of being completely present in the moment. Mindfulness has been shown to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and contribute to an overall feeling of satisfaction with one’s life.
Silence is Brain Food:
A study at Duke University showed that periods of silence encouraged new cell growth in the parts of the brain that control memory and sensory processing. It is also during times of silence that our brains can process all the sensory input that it receives. Without periods of silence, you fail to retain and process new information. This can impair your ability to make decisions and think critically. Silence is also important for sparking creativity and opening new pathways of thought.
The old saying that “silence is golden” takes on new meaning now that we have come to realize how important it is for both our emotional and physical health. We should all strive to make time for silence in our daily lives. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to carve out an entire hour every day to sit in dark, quiet solitude. Studies have shown that shorter periods of silence, even as little as two minutes, are enough to initiate positive changes in blood pressure levels and blood circulation in the brain. There are plenty of ways to welcome a little quiet into your life. Here are just a few ideas of ways to make room for sweet, peaceful silence in your daily routine.
- Wake up gently. Change the tone of your alarm from one that awakens you with a jolt to one that wakes you soothingly. If possible, opt for an alarm that gradually increases in volume so that you are not startled awake. If you are worried that this type of wakeup call will encourage you to just stay in bed, try setting your alarm fifteen minutes earlier to give your body time to adjust to the idea of waking up. Waking up naturally and gently rather than fighting against these natural rhythms signals to your brain that it is time to rise and shine.
- Lengthen your morning routine. I am guilty of doing just about anything to get a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning, but the fact is that getting up a little earlier to give yourself a few moments of complete, restorative silence, is more energizing than hitting the snooze button two more times. Give yourself an extra fifteen to twenty minutes in the morning to embrace the quiet and prepare for the day ahead. If possible, do this before anyone else in your household wakes up. If that isn’t possible, find a quiet room in the house or outside where you can sit, breathe in the silence and quietly reflect on the experience.
- Get outside more. If you have ever been awoken by the sweet song of birds in the spring, you know that nature is not inherently silent. However, there is a peaceful, quiet rhythm to nature, and it is one that requires you to quiet your mind to truly appreciate it. Go outside and experience nature. Going for a walk down a busy street doesn’t count. Go to a place where the only distractions will be the sounds, sights and smells that are natural to the environment.
- Clear your to-do list. If you have a never-ending list that you are constantly marking tasks off, it is time to reevaluate, clear some things off it completely and allow yourself a day every once in a while, where you can pretend like the list doesn’t even exist. Knowing you have a list of things to accomplish creates constant mental noise. If this seems impossible, reorganize tasks into more manageable chunks, prioritize and quiet that internal constant nagging voice.
- Go natural and fragrance free. You are bombarded by hundreds of scents in any given day, and this can cause sensory overstimulation just as much as constant noise can. Trade out some of your scented products, such as detergents, body wash, shampoo and lotions, for unscented versions. Then, switch out your chemical, heavily scented household cleaning supplies for gentler, more natural versions with lighter scents that fade quickly. Not only will you decrease your sensory load, you will also be promoting a cleaner, healthier living environment.
- Turn off your phone, put down the tablet, turn off the television and eliminate all the distractions that are constantly competing for your attention.
- Pay attention to your senses. Chances are that you are suffering from noise overload without even realizing it. This is because we have built up a tolerance for being overstimulated and we have stopped paying attention to some sensory experiences altogether. Tonight, when you go to bed, notice how the sheets feel against your skin. The next time you sip on a cup of tea notice how the heat feels on your lips and the way the steam tickles your nose. Look around you and notice the small details that you normally skip over. Sometimes, finding silence in a hectic world is impossible, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t slow down and quiet your mind to the point that you are able to fully experience the world around you.
I like to think of silence as though it is a treasured friend. We need it in our lives because it soothes and lifts our spirits in a way that nothing else can. You must make room for it, however, and the more time you are able to devote to the relationship the more you get out of it. Silence is beautiful. Make it a priority and experience how the absence of noise can bring more fulfillment, joy and health into your life.