In my book, How to grow older without growing old, to be published in late February, 2018, I discussed over a dozen strategies for strengthening body, mind and spirit. But one significant strategy that I failed to discuss is “silence” – probably due to the incessant background noise of our loud, distracting fast-paced world. My brain was not operating on all cylinders, so to speak, when I originally put together the outline before moving from the city.
That’s what exposure to noise can do to us over a long period of time. I’m not talking about the construction that was going on down the street or the annual fireworks display or the car crash we witnessed at the intersection. I’m talking about sound pollution, both indoors and outdoors from such things as TV, radio, air conditioning, computer printers, cell phone chatter, traffic and other noises of the city.
We don’t realize what this overstimulation of our hearing does to our brain cells. And among other afflictions it has been proven to cause stress, moodiness, anxiety and depression. It has been discovered that noise pollution can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and impaired hearing. Those exposed to loud noises, usually for long periods of time, can suffer from such things as tinnitus, a constant or intermittent ringing noise in the ears that can interfere with sleeping, impede concentration and even interfere with work. One of my sons has tinnitus that was caused by the loud music of his and others’ rock bands during his youth.
You don’t have to be in a rock band or live near commuter train tracks to be victimized by noise. It’s now everywhere – unless you live in the woods, and according to the World Health Organization, persistent sounds of just 30 decibels, similar to that produced by people whispering in a library, are sufficient to disturb sleep patterns.
What can we do about it – short of living in a sound-proof room for the rest of your life? You might start by taking a “silence break” and gradually increase its duration until you are experiencing an hour or more a day of peace and quiet. This is referred to as “attention restoration.” According to a 2017 article in Science, “the brain can restore its finite cognitive resources when we’re in environments with lower levels of sensory input than usual.” This could take the form of a walk through the woods or a quiet park – far away from the noise pollution of the city.
If you want to experience what silence feels like, get a free hearing test. My first real experience of the “sound of silence” happened while sitting in a sound-proof booth waiting to have my hearing tested. It was nothing short of euphoria. Over a year after my move to the country, away from the constant background noises of city living, I find my hearing is more sensitive (even without my hearing aid) to the sounds of nature – such as the rustling of leaves, whispering wind, gurgling streams and the sudden flight of birds.
Silence has been found to repair and regenerate brain cells, relieve stress, improve our power of concentration, and in many ways improve our health and well-being. The article from Science, referred to earlier, mentioned a 2013 study on mice that found that two hours of silence daily led to the new development of cells in the hippocampus, a key area of the brain associated with learning, memory and emotion.
We’re not mice; but the research suggested that silence could be therapeutic for conditions such as depression and Alzheimer’s.
I regret having omitted it from my book. It sure is peaceful listening to the sound of silence.