A little quiet goes a long way

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Our world is a multi-sensory one full of noise and distraction. It can be incredibly difficult to get a little peace and quiet. By "noise" I don’t just mean sound, I’m talking about all the other visual and mental stimuli we are inundated by. We are constantly surrounded by music, screens, social media, email and text.

Now don’t get me wrong I love cranking up my stereo and yes, I like to keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and...... but, it can become overwhelming. Every now and then I like some quiet, some silence, some time to tune into what’s going on around me and, especially, within me.

I think we’ve got used to filling the space that silence creates with real and mental noise. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with silence. It can be a space for quiet reflection or a state fraught with discomfort. Perhaps silence means that something must be wrong or there’s something lacking. Maybe we feel we’re not connected to the latest views, opinions and happenings. But are we becoming less connected to ourselves with all the distraction around us? Is the constant "noise" really good for us?

There’s good research now that shows having some "quiet time” can be beneficial for our mental and physical health.

1. Silence has been found to stimulate brain growth: In 2013, a study into brain structure and function found that a minimum of two hours’ silence could result in the creation of new brain cells in the area of our brains linked to learning and recall.

2. Noise affects our stress levels by raising cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline. Chronic elevation of those chemicals is detrimental to almost every system in our body that keeps us functioning. A study in the journal Heartin 2006 found that two minutes silence can relieve stress and tension.

3. For some silence is more "relaxing" for your body and brain than listening to music — as measured by a lowering of blood pressure and increased blood flow to the brain.

4. Periods of silence throughout the day enhance sleep and lessen insomnia. Taking time to "wind down" before bed can reap massive rewards for improving your sleep.

5. Research throughout the 20th century has linked noise pollution to an increase in heart disease and tinnitus. The World Health Organisation likened it to a "modern plague".

6. A little silence can help you to focus better. This seems pretty obvious, how many of us try to finish a report surrounded by noise or colleagues? We answer emails as they come in, read texts or get stuck in a noisy office. Numerous studies have demonstrated that "noise" detrimental to our ability to concentrate.

7. Lowering sensory input helps us to restore our cognitive resources. Removing the noise helps to stop us feeling overwhelmed. We can then tap into our creativity. Problem-solving is easier, projects flow a little better.

8. When we’re quiet we have more of a chance to "hear" what’s going on inside ourselves, to reconnect with what’s important for us. How you create the time and space to calm your mind and take a break from the world is entirely up to you. We’ll all have different ways to do that. Perhaps you might like to soak in a bath, take a walk by yourself, meditate, have a digital holiday one day a week. Be creative and start small, do it often and see where the silence can take you.

Maybe it’s time to embrace a bit of silence rather than trying to fill it with meaningless noise. Sure, it might be a bit uncomfortable at first, but give it a go, hurry up and be quiet!

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach. For more go to www.fitforlifecoaches.co.nz. Twitter: @jan-aitken

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