Noise is everywhere these days. When we’re out, we’re listening to podcasts, music or audiobooks on our headphones or in our cars. When we’re home, there’s a TV on or a video playing on a computer, phone or tablet. But can constant noise affect our health?
WellTuned talked to Virginia A. Bizzell, licensed counselor and behavioral health expert for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, about how noise and silence affect our bodies.
“We’re all one being: mind, body and spirit,” says Bizzell. “Silence can help us tap into that. Quiet time is good for everyone, especially those of us who are anxious or prone to depression or stress. Silence can change how we think and act, as can noise.”
How does noise affect our bodies?
Studies have long shown a connection between health conditions and chronic noise. (Think airports, interstates, densely populated cities or noisy neighbors.) Constant noise activates the parts of the brain that regulate emotion and memory, prompting a release of stress hormones.
Long-term, a noisy environment can increase a person’s likelihood to experience:
- High blood pressure
- Sleep loss
- Heart disease
- Elevated levels of stress
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
“Noise can make people anxious, which can cause our thoughts, breathing and blood pressure to speed up,” says Bizzell. “Conversely, silence can force our thoughts to change, and give us a new way to approach our emotions.”
How does silence affect our bodies?
Just as studies have shown that too much noise is bad for us, they’ve shown silence to be good.
Silence has been associated with:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Preventing heart attacks
- Boosting the body’s immune system
- Helping new brain cells grow
- Decreasing cortisol levels and spikes in adrenaline
- Promoting hormone regulation
“Being silent and engaging your mind with the sole purpose of dismissing your thoughts is an excellent way to calm the mind and body,” says Bizzell.
How much silence do we need each day?
“It varies person to person, but start small,” she says. “Take 30 seconds and try to empty your mind of all thoughts. Then build up to a minute, 5 minutes or even 20 over time. It’s harder than you think! But it really does have a positive effect.”
What’s the best way to find a silent moment?
Pick a time of day you’re not as busy. For some people it’s first thing in the morning; for others, it’s an hour or two into the workday after you’ve addressed your most pressing tasks.
Sit in a chair or on the floor in a comfortable position, and try to clear your mind of thoughts. Be aware when a thought comes into your mind. Recognize it, remind yourself that you don’t have to deal with it right now, and dismiss it. It may also help to focus on slowing your breathing.
If you have trouble finding quiet inside your home or office, or if stillness in combination with silence seems daunting, go outside.
“Going for walks is a great way to practice silence and focus on the ‘here and now,’” says Bizzell. “Learning to feel grounded in that way has been shown to decrease anxiety.”
5 tips for making the most of silence
“There’s no one magic way to access the health benefits of silence,” says Bizzell, “but there are a few easy things you can try. Keep what works for you and forget the rest.”
1. Run or walk it off
“Activities that use opposing muscle groups engage both the left and right brain, and that can help reduce stress,” explains Bizzell. “Running is one of those activities, as is walking. Those kinds of repetitive movements paired with silence can be very calming.”
2. Get grounded
Look at your environment. What do you see, smell or hear? Taking a moment to focus on each of the 5 senses can help ground you in the moment.
“If you decide to pair walking and silence, for example, try to identify 5 different smells or colors on your walk,” says Bizzell. “It doesn’t even have to be entirely silent for this to work. You might see a red bird, green grass or yellow wildflowers sprouting up in a parking lot. Focus on engaging your senses to help you refocus on being in the present.”
3. Make your own mantra
Come up with a word or phrase that helps you calm down.
“Mine is, ‘Be at peace,’” says Bizzell. “If I find myself needing to calm down, I’ll repeat that while focusing on taking 5 slow, deep breaths.”
4. Factor in faith
If faith is important to you, incorporate a prayer.
“Silent moments are a good time to connect with a higher power, whether that’s God or nature,” Bizzell says. “Do whatever feels right to you.”
5. Give yourself a break
If you try these ideas and find them adding to your anxiety rather than decreasing it, let yourself off the hook.
“For some people, focusing on silence or meditation might increase levels of depression or stress,” she says. “Meditation may not be for you, and that’s okay. It’s all about balance.”
Click here for more WellTuned articles about silence and meditation.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.