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The Growing Problem of Noise

The arc of modern life seems unavoidable, even if COVID shelter-in-place orders temporarily reduced decibel levels. This includes more cars, helicopters, buzzing drones, pinging devices, ringing hospital monitors, screaming TVs in waiting rooms, and nonstop discussion in open-plan offices. The decibels of emergency vehicles’ sirens are a valuable indicator of the loudness of our general environment since they need to be loud enough to drown out the noises around them. According to estimates, sirens now are six times louder than they were a century ago, which suggests that our population centres are also significantly noisier. The Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the U.S. National Park Service estimates that every 30 years, noise pollution doubles or triples. More recently, a 2018 World Health Organization analysis of 34 studies linked noise exposure to poorer reading comprehension, standardized test scores and long-term memory.

Professor of sound processing and relaxation at the University of Pennsylvania Mathias Basner says, “Noises generate tension, especially if we have little or no control over them.” According to Basner, “the body will release stress chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline that cause changes in the makeup of our blood—and of our blood vessels, which have actually been found to be stiffer after a single night of noise exposure.”

The worry of hearing loss, a serious problem that can also result in social isolation and loneliness, has been around for years. But over the past few decades, a large number of peer-reviewed articles have demonstrated dangers for things like cardiovascular disease, stroke, and depression, as well as the various problems that might arise after any of these.

But more and more, researchers are discovering that excessive noise might harm our health in different ways. Here are some things you should be aware of regarding how our noisy world may influence you and what you can do to stay safe.

According to research, routine exposure to loud noise has been linked to cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure, says Liz Masterson, an epidemiologist from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (NIOSH). In a CDC study she co-authored that was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2018, it was discovered that people who were regularly exposed to loud noises at work—defined as needing to raise their voice or shout to be heard by someone standing a few feet away—had higher rates of hypertension and high cholesterol.

Health may be impacted by the disruptive effects of loud noise in your neighbourhood. German researchers found that individuals who reported being irritated by noises in their area, such as the rumble of automobile and construction equipment engines and horns, had a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heartbeat that can cause blood clots and stroke.

Additionally, background noise can prevent you from getting the necessary slumber.

According to Richard Neitzel, associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, “the general notion is that noise, if you’re living in a noisy society, noise, of course, impairs sleep.” And among other health problems, inadequate sleep has been related to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Finally, consuming unhealthy food and beverages may result from spending time in noisy situations.

According to a 2018 study that was published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, diners and shoppers at supermarkets and restaurants made better food purchases when music and noise levels were low and unhealthy food purchases when the volume was turned up. According to other research, louder music may increase booze consumption in pubs and restaurants.

The Importance of Silence

Journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates stated that serious thinkers and writers should stop using Twitter in a recent interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein.

Coates believes that to produce quality ideas and work products, one element that is all too lacking in modern life is stillness.

He is not alone. Writers J.K. Rowling, and Walter Isaacson, among others, all have rigorous routines for controlling information flow and developing extended periods of deep stillness. Structured intervals of stillness have been cited as essential to success by business executive Ray Dalio, former Governor of California Jerry Brown, and Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio.

The nervous system is restored, energy is sustained, and our minds are trained to be more adaptable and receptive to the complex surroundings in which so many of us now live, work, and lead thanks to recent studies.

Several years ago, Imke Kirste, then a professor at Duke University Medical School, led an unusual study to explore an ancient inquiry: “Is silence really golden?”

Kirste and her team put mice inside anechoic chambers—tiny virtually soundless booths—for two hours a day. Then they tested the effects on their brains of five types of sounds: white noise, mice pup sounds, Mozart’s “Sonata for Two Pianos in D,” ambient noise, and silence. Following the application of each sonic variable, her team measured cell growth in each mouse’s hippocampus—the region of the brain most associated with memory.

While Kriste and her team hypothesized that pup sounds would yield the strongest results, they found that silence, in fact, elicited the strongest response from the mice, yielding the highest number of newly grown and sustained neurons. “Functional imaging studies indicate that trying to hear in silence activates the auditory cortex,” they wrote.

It’s a simple but powerful notion: “trying to hear in silence” can demonstrably accelerate the growth of valuable brain cells. This act of listening to quiet can, in itself, enrich our capacity to think and perceive.

In Imke Kirste’s analysis, the power of listening to silence isn’t just pure relaxation. Counterintuitively, she and her colleagues noted that listening deeply in a quiet environment can actually be a kind of positive stress, called “eustress.” Of the various stimuli they studied with the mice, they wrote, silence was “the most arousing, because it is highly atypical under wild conditions and must thus be perceived as alerting.” While the study authors agree that most everyday stress undermines the growth and healing of the brain, they see eustress as something different—the kind of exertion that makes us grow beyond our limitations.

Physician Luciano Bernardi discovered that even “relaxing” music was not as effective at regulating the cardiovascular and respiratory systems as two minutes of silence placed in between musical pieces. And a 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, based on a survey of 43,000 employees, found that the negative effects of noise and distraction caused by open office plans outweighed anticipated but as-yet-unproven positive effects like higher morale and productivity boost from impromptu interactions.

However, practising quiet goes beyond simply taking a break from tweets and office chitchat. Real, long-lasting silence calms both internal and external chatter and promotes clear innovative thought.

This form of silence aims to relax the automatic thought processes that routinely uphold a reputation or advance a viewpoint. It’s about taking a short vacation from one of life’s most fundamental duties: having to come up with the right words to say.

Maintaining silence “increase[s] your chances of discovering innovative ideas and information and identifying weak signals,” argues Hal Gregersen in a recent Harvard Business Review article. When we’re preoccupied with the linguistic agenda all the time—what to say next, what to write next, what to tweet next—difficult it’s to find room for genuinely alternative viewpoints or completely novel concepts. It’s challenging to switch to deeper listening and attention modes. True original ideas are uncovered in those deeper forms of attentiveness.

I explain why charisma, confidence, and pedigree won’t get you where you want to go in my book I Know Myself and Neither Do You. I emphasize the value of fostering stillness in our daily lives.

The majority of people in Western nations live in huge cities, which are noisy places in our modern society. Although it is uncommon, silence is an essential component of the power of isolation and is very valuable to the quality of our lives.

The effects of airport noise on schoolchildren near Munich’s airport were examined in a study by Professor Gary W. Evans of Cornell University, which was published in Psychological Science. According to the study, kids who were exposed to loudness developed a stress reaction that made them disregard the noise. He discovered that the kids didn’t pay attention to speech or other more common noises, as well as the dangerous airport noise.

Silence is calming and sustaining. It may serve as motivation. It cultivates the spirit, body, and mind. In contrast, the din of the outside world stifles our imagination, disconnects us from our inner connection, and weakens our fortitude. Science is now demonstrating that stillness might be just what we need to restore our worn-out bodies and minds.

According to studies, noise has a significant physical impact on our brains, increasing stress hormone levels. Electrical signals from sound are carried to the brain by the ear. The amygdala, the area of the brain connected to memory and emotion, is activated by these sound waves even while we are sleeping, which causes the release of stress hormones. Thus, if you live in a constantly noisy atmosphere, you will have exceptionally high amounts of these dangerous hormones.

The Latin term NAUSIA, which means sickness, or the Latin word NOXIA, which means hurt, damage, or injury, are the roots of the word noise. According to studies, noise is associated with high blood pressure, heart illness, tinnitus, and disturbed sleep. More and more people are finding it difficult to perform in noisy settings. Science has now established both the harmful effects of noise and the therapeutic benefits of silence.

Many spiritual and meditation instructors advise their pupils to take regular breaks throughout the day for silent meditation. Even though we may perceive quiet as a lack of input, science argues the opposite. Imke Kirste, a regenerative biologist at Duke University, found that two hours of stillness every day stimulated cell growth in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with the formation of memory involving the senses.

Taking a Break from Technology According to the Attention Restoration Theory, the brain can “recover” some of its cognitive capacities in an environment with decreased sensory input. Our brains have less downtime in our digital world. Massive volumes of information are continually being processed by humans. Our prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for decision-making, problem-solving, and other functions are under a lot of stress as a result of the continual attention demands of modern living, according to research. Our brains can unwind and let go of this continual focus when we are left alone and in silence for some time.

Researchers discovered that while noise causes stress, stillness eases mental and physical tension. Noise impairs our ability to focus, think clearly, motivate ourselves, and operate properly in the brain. However, studies show that a brief period of silence can miraculously restore the abilities that have been adversely affected by prolonged exposure to noise. The ancient spiritual teachers knew that quiet heals, allows us to delve deep inside ourselves, and harmonizes the body and mind. The same is now being said by science.

Two minutes of quiet are more calming than listening to music, according to a 2006 study published in the journal Heart. Silence also releases tension from the body and brain. This was ascribed to variations in the blood flow and pressure in the brain.

According to a 2013 study in the journal Brain Structure and Function, two hours of stillness can stimulate the growth of new cells in the hippocampus. This is crucial since the hippocampus is connected to our capacity for learning, memory, and even emotion.

There are retreats where reading, writing, and eye contact are prohibited to emphasize the strength of silence. During a research retreat with 100 scientists, it was discovered that muting voice increases awareness in other areas.

How to Make Quiet Time a Part of Your Life 

  • Allow your thoughts to wander. During the silence, you can allow your thoughts to go where they will. Many people subsequently find inspiration arises. Solutions to current or long-standing problems may suddenly occur to you, or you find an innovative solution. Alternative ideas could coalesce, and you may think of ideas that never occurred to you before.
  • Become more aware of your environment. Deeply observe the nature, colors, sounds and physical sensations in your immediate environment, particularly when you are in nature. In silence, you may notice a distinct shift in your ability to be more self-aware of the emotions or feelings that arise. Or you may be more aware of your immediate environment and notice things you didn’t before.
  •  Schedule quiet reflection time in silence in your day or week. This means no social interaction or listening to music at the same time. Silence permits the kind of reflection that promotes the ability to connect threads in a seemingly disorganized, disconnected world. Or after meditating in silence, you may be more motivated to mend significant relationships that have become strained.
  • Engage in a brief meditation every day, preferably at the beginning of the day. In a 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, older adults experiencing insomnia found relief in the form of improved sleep quality and less daytime impairment after undergoing a 6-week intervention of silent mindfulness meditation.
  • At work schedule 5 minutes of quiet time between meetings. If you’re able to close the office door, retreat to a park bench, or find another quiet hideaway, it’s possible to hit reset by engaging in a silent practice of meditation or reflection.
  • Take a silent walk in nature, preferably among the trees or by the ocean which has therapeutic effects. You need not be a rugged outdoors type to ditch the phone and go for a simple two-or-three-hour jaunt in nature. In my experience and those of my clients, immersion in nature can be the clearest option for improving creative thinking capacities.
  •  Take a complete break from your electronic devices and social media for a day or a week. Turn off your email for several hours or even a full day, or try “fasting” from news and entertainment. While there may still be plenty of noise around—family, conversation, city sounds—you can enjoy real benefits by resting the parts of your mind associated with unending work obligations and tracking social media or current events.
  •  Go on a meditation retreat, where periods of silence are built into the daily routines. Even a short retreat is arguably the most straightforward way to turn toward deeper listening and awakening intuition. Some people have described this experience as a “total detox.”