I went to the Music and The Mind presentation last week, and besides hearing about music being good for the mind and the soul, I heard something else that got me thinking. One of the panelists talked about the need for silence in our lives and the lack of it in this day and age. I like having sound on all of the time, whether it be with my earplugs in listening to my Spotify, or the TV as background noise when I sleep. What’s the big deal about not liking the quiet?
Need the Noise
We live in a loud world full of distractions, and although conversation and music are good for development and stress reduction, I would agree the lack of silence in our lives can have a negative impact on our health.
Technological devices make is nearly impossible to be completely checked out and alone with our thoughts. In addition to the record number of YouTube hits or streaming of music on mobile devices, “Psychology Today” reported smartphone users are checking their devices about every six minutes. This works out to be around 150 times in a 24 hour day, minutes that years ago were likely filled with silence. And when I say 24 hours a day, I mean it. People frequently sleep with or near their mobile devices, and are accustomed to checking them when they light up or vibrate throughout the night. Not only does this disrupt their much needed sleep schedule, it messes with the one time during the full day meant for solitude. Essentially, silence and solitude are becoming an endangered species these days.
Let’s talk about the benefits of silence. First, silence relieves tension, just as too much noise can cause stress. Silence has the opposite effect by releasing tension in the brain and body. Our brains need time to restore themselves from the sensory input thrown at us from different directions throughout the day. We seem to be obsessed, at least in this country, with getting information or responding to things in hyper speed. Solitude allows for a break from the tyrant of productivity. Studies show that “the ceaseless attentional demands of modern life put a significant burden on the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is involved in high-order thinking, decision-making and problem-solving” (Huffington Post). Silence gives the brain an opportunity to restore itself so that it can be more productive in the future. An article published in the journal “Brain Structure and Function” described a study on mice that showed silence can literally thicken gray matter in the brain and create new cells in the hippocampus (2013).
And if science is not enough to convince you, let’s look at how exploring silent spaces helps with human development and finding meaning in life. Self-reflection is linked to making meaning, and creating meaning is at the heart of what it means to be human. So many of us are stuck in the past or overly concerned about the future. Silence brings our awareness back to the present. It allows us to reflect on our experiences and to discover who we are as individuals. This introspection is a necessary part of growing and can thus help us be more fully present in relationships, a known key to happiness.
Take some time out of each day to be in the quiet. Practice mindfulness in the morning before heading to class. Take a walk outside without your earbuds in and listen to the wind blow through the trees before sitting down to do homework. Consider coming to the new meditation group meeting each week in the library at 1 p.m. for 20 minutes. Your brain will thank you for the much needed break.