We are under a constant stream of words. At home, at work, in meetings, in the shop and on the tram. We are surrounded by the sound of the street, the honking of drivers, music from our headphones, Netflix or the party from the next apartment. We live permanently amidst a certain soundscape that can deepen our physical and mental disorder. We are literally drowning in noise. We may not even realize it.
As early as the mid-20th century, a link between high blood pressure and chronic noise sources such as motorways and airports was already established. Later, other research added increased rates of sleep loss, heart disease and tinnitus. Incidentally, in the 1960s, the term “noise pollution” was born because of this . In 2011, the World Health Organization even came up with a quantification of the sound pollution burden – 340 million Western Europeans reportedly lose a million years of healthy life each year due to noise pollution. So where’s your nearest quiet forest?
You can hear even when you sleep
Tell us, what is your favourite song that you know perfectly by heart? Do you? Now imagine it starts playing on the radio, you are of course happy and singing along. But you drive into a tunnel or the radio goes off. What happens? Your song continues to play in your head, the auditory cortex of your brain remains active, as if the music in question is actually continuing. The truth is that what you hear is sometimes not actually generated by the outside world. The brain is imaginative and dynamic, conjuring up memories, playing out familiar symphonies inside us. So even in silence, you don’t actually have to be silent.
So it’s not just about the sounds you perceive every day. The human ear absorbs sounds all the time, even during sleep. The brain receives electrical signals from sound, to which the amygdala (a cluster of neurons located in the temporal lobes of the brain) automatically responds with a stress response. Cortisol is immediately released, and heart rate and blood pressure increase. Now add to this nocturnal hum the sounds during the day, multiply by a long period, and a series of health complications are on the horizon. People living in noisy environments for long periods of time can be in real trouble. High blood pressure, disturbed sleep patterns, tinnitus, perhaps even a rise in stress levels, anxiety, fatigue, etc.
Just you and your breath
The music is great, the entertainment in the company is definitely necessary, the noisy show of everyday life gives the feeling that something is happening. It just needs to be offset by the power of silence and breath, which support each other. And they’ll rub off on you with greater equanimity.
It’s like training and nutrition. Here you “just” sit quietly and practice mindful breathing. Your chaotic thoughts may make it as uncomfortable and challenging as working out at the gym, but the results will come. Just a few minutes a day and your head and body will soon get in shape.
Advantages of quiet seating
Scientific research began to notice silence as a control and starting point against which to compare the effects of music or noise. For example, regenerative biology researcher Imke Kirste of Duke University found that two hours of silence a day was able to stimulate the development of cells in the hippocampus, a brain region associated with memory. “We saw that silence actually helps newly formed cells differentiate into neurons and integrate into the system,” Kirste said of the results. Yet at first, she made no effort to study silence. Her test subjects were auditory stimuli such as music or white noise, which, while they achieved short-term neurological effects, neither had a lasting impact.
In addition to stimulating the brain, silence is also labeled as an anti-stressor. It reduces stress levels by lowering cortisol and adrenaline in the blood. One 2006 study found that just two minutes of silence can release tension in the body, and is said to be more effective than listening to relaxing music. The effects could be read directly from the bloodstream through changes in blood pressure, carbon dioxide and blood circulation in the brain.
Let us also mention the psychological and emotional benefits. Silence can help to find a more creative perspective on problem solving, as it takes the mind into completely new dimensions where we normally dare not enter in noisy environments. It promotes self-awareness and a better perception of one’s surroundings. It enables self-reflection. Without stimuli and distractions, the brain may not concentrate, it may go into a certain default mode. But it doesn’t shut down, it remains active, gathering and sorting information. But it works differently than in noise. In a noisy environment, the brain has to process sound and listen to what is going on around us. In silence, it listens to what’s going on inside us.
So will you make the silence louder?