Studies show that noise has a powerful physical effect on our brains and raises stress hormones. Chronic exposure to loud noise can cause stress hormones to be elevated which decreases our immunity and serenity. These same studies show silence can relieve that stress in the brain and body.
Most days I drive with the radio turned off. I do my best work in the silence of my studio. I love music and listen to it often, but I get to a point where I can feel my body just wants silence. It’s as if intuitively my body knows what science has proven.
“The value of silence is felt by everyone at some point in their life. Silence is comforting, nourishing, and cozy. It opens us up to inspirations and nourishes the mind, body, and soul,” says journalist Azriel ReShel.
Sound travels to the brain as electrical signals via the ear. Even when we are sleeping these sound waves cause the body to react and activate the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with memory and emotion, leading to the release of stress hormones.
Negative effects from noise have been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, tinnitus, and loss of sleep.
I don’t need science to tell me that hearing police sirens, a traffic helicopter, or even 2 people having a loud argument is detrimental to my health. But I have wondered how many of us realize that having the TV on so much during the day and night or constantly listening to music, could be stressing us out more than relaxing us.
Research has shown the constant demands for our attention from modern life is placing a lot stress on our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for making decisions, solving problems and more.
But when we spend time in silence, our brains are able to relax and release this constant focus.
It’s easy to resort to old habits like flopping down in front of the TV to relax after a hard day or putting earbuds in to escape whatever or whomever may be causing us stress. But science shows a better way to destress just might be to find silence, sitting quietly in a room by ourselves, walking in the woods or meditating.
“Researchers have found that silence helps new cells to differentiate into neurons and integrate into the system, and that when we experience silence, our brains are able to work at better understanding our internal and external environments. We can make sense of our lives and gain perspective, something that is vital to our overall well-being,” Azriel ReShel writes.
According to ReShel, we may think of silence as a lack of input, but studies show otherwise. The brain recognizes silence and responds powerfully. Research by a Duke University regenerative biologist, Imke Kirste, discovered that two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory, involving the senses.
How can we find silence? I know it’s easier for some than others, but I also believe that it is about having an awareness, actually looking for it in our everyday lives. And the great news? It doesn’t have to cost you a penny.
Donna Miesbach from the Chopra Center suggests simple (and free) ways to find silence:
• In the early morning hours, pay attention to the hush that precedes the break of day. Can you hear it? Can you feel it?
• When you gaze at a flower, recognize that you are connected and both part of the same, larger universe.
• Allow yourself to bask in the crystal clear silence of freshly falling snow (or rain). Feel the magic of that pristine moment.
• Notice how nature becomes quiet before a storm. The birds stop singing and the crickets stop chirping in the moments before a storm. Even the wind quiets down. It’s as if all living things are standing in awe of that silent power. Let yourself experience that same sense of wonder.
• And then, of course, there is the silence between your thoughts. It’s easy to overlook, yet it is always there.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn once said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Living in the flow of life is “surfing” at its best. When you can do that, you don’t have to look for the silence any more. You are the silence. That understanding, that awareness, is more than enough.
Let’s choose to reduce the noise of life, become aware of the healing power of silence, and learn to surf our way into self care.