Shhh… do you hear that? Or, rather, not hear that? It’s silence.
In our ever-noisy world full of background music, on-demand shows and podcasts, and airplanes flying overhead, many of us don’t experience a great deal of quiet.
And according to scientific evidence, that’s not such a great thing for our health.
Experts and research studies alike confirm that, especially in our loud world, time spent in silence can bring numerous health benefits.
Though an absence of sound may suggest emptiness, you may discover that dialing down the noise offers surprising fullness for body, mind, and spirit.
Here’s a look at some solid reasons to get quiet, plus real-world tips on how to do so.
Silence may help your health in several ways, including:
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called the “silent” killer. That said, there’s something ironic about the fact that silence could actually help reduce blood pressure.
Older 2003 research associated a chronically noisy environment with increases in heart rate and blood pressure.
More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of silence on cardiovascular health, but these results are promising.
There’s a reason why important exams aren’t conducted with music blaring in the background. Auditory stillness helps us focus.
Freed from the external stimulus of noise, our brains can better concentrate on the task at hand. This can have benefits for our work, education, relationships, and more.
“Focusing on one thing at a time with one’s full attention can help promote efficiency and calmness amidst activity,” explains clinical psychologist and mindfulness educator Supriya Blair, PsyD.
“Life happens in order. When we focus on one thing at a time, we are not scattered. Our attention and energy are aligned.”
Racing thoughts are a hallmark of anxiety. Silence might seem like a wide open space for swirling thoughts to fill, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
Instead, it’s possible to allow silence to bring mental stillness.
“Learning to become quiet helps us refrain from expending unnecessary energy, endlessly participating in the hamster wheel of thoughts in our head,” says Blair.
Ultimately, mental stillness can be a gateway to mindfulness, which has proven benefits for anxiety.
“In silence, we can slow down, take time to observe the things around us, and just to be,” says Audrey Hamilton, who facilitates silent retreats with the Carmelite Friars of Boars Hill in the United Kingdom.
“This helps us pay attention and be present to the moment, whatever it is we happen to be doing.”
Quieting the mind might lead to a healthier brain.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean humans will experience the same effects, it’s an intriguing invitation for further research.
We’ve all probably experienced a sense of overwhelm at a chest-thumpingly loud concert or a noisy child’s birthday party.
This mental phenomenon has a physiological basis.
The same study that showed the effects of noise on concentration also found that people who performed their task with noise in the background had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
“An accumulation of unpleasant noise can lead to mental stress and an excess release of cortisol,” says clinical psychologist Martine Prunty, PhD.
“When it becomes elevated, it can lead to weight gain, feelings of significant overwhelm, difficulties sleeping, and chronic diseases.”
Clearing your head with a long silence could be the key to increased creativity.
Though clinical research on the exact relationship between silence and creativity is scant, many experts have touted the benefits of mental downtime for better creative output.
Periods of downtime have been found to increase productivity and improve problem-solving.
“Learning to ‘digest’ our thoughts and quiet the mind can help make room for sparks of creativity and inspired action,” says Blair.
Most of us need a quiet environment for sleep.
In fact, the
But the wee hours aren’t the only time when silence can prevent insomnia. Practicing quiet at times throughout the day might set you up for better rest at night.
“Silence and periods of calm stimulate brain growth and relieve tension, which can result in a higher sense of well-being, as people can then feel more relaxed generally,” says Prunty. “When this occurs, sleep quality improves.”
When you’re silent, you have an invitation to sit with the present moment.
While you may feel an impulse to fill the space with an activity, a conversation, or some music, you can consciously choose to stay with the silence.
This allows the thoughts to settle and the body to return to a parasympathetic state.
We can’t necessarily escape the world in a Cone of Silence, “Get Smart”-style. But with a bit of intention, we can bring more stillness into our everyday lives.
Try these methods of turning down the noise:
- Make your vehicle a noise-free zone.
- Reduce background noise.
- Remove your earbuds.
- Start your day before the rest of the house wakes up.
- Start with small, incremental changes.
Make your vehicle a noise-free zone
When you find yourself traveling solo, try making your vehicle a sanctuary of silence.
If you have a long commute, this can be an ideal time to enjoy the quiet. Prunty suggests turning off the radio to lessen mental stimulation and taking the opportunity to be present.
Turn off background noise during household tasks
Consider: Which daily tasks could be sound-free?
If your dinner prep or morning hairstyling always seem to need a soundtrack, try taking a break here and there to tap into stillness.
Ditch the earbuds
It’s easy to keep earbuds in your ears as a sort of audio autopilot, but you might find some mental relief by taking them out.
“Simply breaking the habit of walking around with earphones stops the constant stimulation of being directly absorbed every second of the day,” says Prunty.
When kids, a spouse, or roommates add perpetual sound to your space, moments of silence can be hard to find.
If you can, try getting up before the rest of your household.
“Don’t grab a coffee and go, but maybe get up 15 minutes earlier and slowly savor that first cup,” recommends Hamilton.
For some people, silence can feel threatening or uncomfortable. If this sounds familiar, start small.
“Begin with practicing 2 minutes of silence at a time,” encourages Blair. “Watch the goings-on of the mind without latching on to a thought.”
This is the beginning of mindfulness.
Silence may offer a host of health benefits, not to mention a greater sense of ease and peace.
There’s a reason for the old saying, “Silence is golden.”
With a little practice, silence can become a nourishing part of your life.