Can't Stop the Noise

Do you ever feel like there is just too much "noise" in the world?

We are inundated with noise-- alerts, text messages, emails, social media updates, endless visual images, constant breaking news, any music we want at our fingertips, and the helpful (but annoying) voices of Siri, Alexa, and Google Maps-- from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed.  We are experiencing stimuli at a rate that we have never seen before. It has become a very noisy world and we have no way to know what impact this is having on our bodies and our brains.  There is a song and video by Kenny Chesney aptly title "Noise" that perfectly illustrates this new world we live in.

"Noise" by Kenny Chesney
Twenty-four hour television, get so loud that no one listens
Sex and money and politicians talk, talk, talk
But there really ain't no conversation
Ain't nothing left to the imagination
Trapped in our phones and we can't make it stop, stop
This noise
Yeah we scream, yeah we shout 'til we don't have a voice
In the streets, in the crowds, it ain't nothing but noise
Drowning out all the dreams of this Tennessee boy
Just trying to be heard in all this noise
Every room, every house, every shade of noise
All the floors, all the walls, they all shake with noise
We can't sleep, we can't think, can't escape the noise
We can't take the noise, so we just make
Link to video:

How do you get away from it all? How do you know when you need to get away?

As one who enjoys quiet, I would expect that I would intentionally add more of it to my day, every single day. What I have noticed is just the opposite.  More and more I seem to be filling my days with "noise".  From checking my phone first thing in the morning, to scrolling through social media throughout the day, to frequently monitoring the news, to researching various topics on the internet, to watching favorite television programs, to shopping online, to texting or talking to friends, to doing a combination of all of those--I am living in a state of near constant noise.  Even if the noise is good or worthwhile or necessary, it is still noise.  There are times when we need to clear our heads.  We may not always recognize the signs, but they are there.  

One of the ways I like to escape the noise is by going for a walk outside in nature.  When I go outside, I can focus on the good noises- chirping birds, running water, crunching leaves, rustling wind. Those noises don't overwhelm, they cleanse. As I walk, my mind becomes noticeably clearer.  I tune in to the rhythmic sounds of my feet hitting the ground and look up at the vast sky above me. I pause by the water and watch the current flow. I start to notice the little things around me.  Soon I am part of nature and not separate from it. Problems that have troubled me start to find solutions.  As my mind opens up, creative ideas flow in.  I can't really explain why it happens, but there is something about the quiet that changes my mind.  I can only assume that there is also something about the noise that changes it in a different way.  

Recently, I took advantage of a warm day to go for a walk. The sky was heavy with clouds, but I decided the fresh air would be worth it.  I was enjoying a relaxing walk when it unexpectedly started to rain. I wasn't dressed for rain so I picked up my pace and headed for home, but along the way I observed something interesting.  Although I could hear the rain hitting the ground, I couldn't see it right away.  Then, I could see the rain in the air long before I could feel it on my skin.  I could watch the rain accumulate on my jacket, but I didn't yet feel wet.  It took awhile before all the little raindrops accumulated and built up to a point that made me feel wet and uncomfortable.  It was surprising to me how subtle the change was. I expected to be soaked right away. 

This made me wonder if this is similar to what happens with the noise in our life. We hear  sounds all day long, but we don't feel anything. We see all of the images coming at us, but we don't notice any immediate effect. We put up with the steady drone of noise until we are vaguely irritated and upset or worse, but we still can't quite put our finger on what is wrong.  As it is with the rain- we don't get wet immediately, but we all get wet eventually- it is with the noise.  We are fooling ourselves if we think this constant daily mental onslaught isn't having an effect on us. 

Most of us are drowning in a sea of noise.  We have gotten so used to the steady stream of noise and visual stimulation, the constant hum of traffic and technology, the never ending habit of multi-tasking, and the urgent drumbeat of news and information; that we no longer know what to do with quiet. In fact, we make excuses for why we don't need it.  We convince ourselves that we work better with background noise, that having headphones on with music is comforting, that checking our phones frequently is calming, that staring at a screen is relaxing.  We fill every moment with activity, images, and sounds; and then resign ourselves to the idea that quiet is for other people.  We are too busy to be quiet, we aren't wired to be quiet, we function better in noise and chaos.  Although ALL of our brains need it more than ever, quiet seems to become more elusive each day.  We need a brain break!

How do you find time to add quiet to your day? And what does it take to be truly quiet?  
There is not one right answer for everyone.  But, as the noise in our life continues to increase  finding quiet is something we need to become more intentional about.  Can you spare two minutes for silence? That's all it takes for real health benefits to kick in!

"Take time every day to experience quiet. Research shows that silence has measurably relaxing effects — even more so than listening to relaxing music. As little as two minutes of silence reduces heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. If there are no quiet places for you to retreat to, consider getting a pair of ear plugs or invest in a set of noise canceling headphones or ear buds."
Overstimulation: Taming A Modern Problem that Leads to Anxiety, Deane Alban

Walking outside is one activity that helps me to become quiet, but there are so many other ways to embrace silence.  Here are a few examples of how you can create pockets of quiet in your day:

Sitting silently wherever you are
Practicing mindfulness
Walking/being in nature
Committing to technology free times/zones in your day

As I have become more committed to periods of intentional silence, I have seen personal benefits such as feeling calmer and experiencing more mental clarity.  But science is also on the side of silence!  Here are some notable benefits:
  1. Silence relieves stress and tension
  2. Silence replenishes our mental resources
  3. In silence we can tap into the brain's default mode network that helps us think deeply and creatively
  4. Getting quiet can regenerate brain cells 
Source: "Why Silence is So Good For Your Brain" by Carolyn Gregoire

If you are feeling a little overwhelmed in your day, or just vaguely out of sorts; I would suggest you try adding in some times of silence- even if it's just a few minutes.  Try one of the above suggestions or come up with one of your own. It might be the easiest thing we can do to decrease the stress and tension in our lives and increase our mental well being.

 Embrace the silence!


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