A number of years ago I was in my office consulting with a patient, when the room started to shake, the windows rattle, and books started moving on the shelf. I really thought we were having an earthquake, maybe even the “Big One,” or possibly were under nuclear attack.
I ran to the window expecting to see some kind of devastation or destruction. Instead I saw a small, tricked out pickup truck with giant stereo speakers driving by at full volume. I later learned they call them Thumper or Boom Box trucks. Over the next few years it became much more common, annoying, and irritating, to say nothing of unhealthy and permanently damaging to the young person’s hearing.
Since that time it has become increasingly rare to see people, particularly in the under-forties group, anywhere for any length of time without headphones or ear buds throbbing beats and slamming sounds through their gray matter. And most people would rather lose an essential body part than their iPhone or iPod. Many of us turn on the TV or stereo even if we’re not paying attention, just for the company or to break the silence.
Noise has become constant, expected, almost comforting. It’s as if we’re afraid of silence. We aren’t even aware of the constant barrage of environmental noise from traffic, lawn mowers, barking dogs, power tools, air conditioners, dish washers, video games, and car alarms. We are under acoustical attack, and have gotten used to it. If it’s not there, we actually miss it.
Most of us have gotten pretty accomplished at tuning normal noise pollution out, or at least pushing it from the conscious to the subconscious background. But research studies have determined that all these decibels do have significant health implications. Medical experts estimate that more than 75% of disease and disorders are related to stress.
One federal government study found that “street noise ranks as the number one complaint—higher even than crime.” Other experts have said that we are in the noisiest time in history. We’re under siege by noise, and it causes stress that the body reacts to by increasing cortisol and adrenaline, elevating blood pressure and pulse rate. And get this, these effects have been noted even when we are asleep. Over time without an escape from the constant attack, it can lead to problems like heart disease and a compromised immune system, as well as increased feelings of anxiety, aggression, and decreased cooperation.
Modern life has become loud and hectic, with many of us voluntarily adding to it, and it does exact a toll. Just as our over-stressed muscles and bodies need time to rest and recuperate lest they break down, so too, do our minds need some downtime. Modern life and technology heap challenges on the brain it has never had to deal with before.
Bringing silence or quiet into your life cold turkey may seem awkward, creepy, even lonely at first. It may be that it will take some time and practice for your mind to get used to peace and calm. Experts confirm that it even makes use of difference neural pathways in the brain.
One of the most driven, successful men that I know, a true work-a-holic, one day as a fairly young man had a massive heart attack. As he was laying in the ICU, not knowing if he was going to make it, he promised God and himself that if he did recover he would be more sensible, wise, and in control. When his condition improved he scheduled what he calls “me time” every day. It is sacred, inviolable to him. Many times it is no more than to turn his office lights and phone off, put some ear plugs in, lie on the carpet and relax, breathe, meditate, day dream, zone out, and reflect. He reports that he’s never felt better, more at peace, and has actually become more productive.
So get your life back and take control: turn off technology, go on a nature walk, try some noise cancelling headphones. Start with baby steps, 5 or 10 minutes at a time. Work up to where you pay yourself an hour a day. Don’t be afraid of peace and quiet or be silence-phobic; it just may end up your best friend.