Sometimes it impossible to find peace and quiet. The radio’s on when we get in the car. We go for a walk or sit at our desk with iPod wires in our ears. There’s always something good on Netflix, doom and disaster blast from 24-hour news channels, and emails, podcasts, chat rooms and game screens compete for our increasingly divided attention. Addicted to productivity, we go to sleep with visions of to-do lists and the sounds of our cellphones pinging with persistent notifications. Even when all our gadgets are turned off, it can be difficult to still the chaos in our minds. And if you can’t stand the noise of it all, chances are you’re feeling the effect of devastating sensory input.
The World Health Organization says excessive noise seriously harms human health. Noise pollution has even been called a “modern plague” that can lead to high blood pressure and fatal heart attacks, not to mention hearing loss, insomnia and increased rates of anxiety and depression. We barely even recognize the sound of silence. We’re too digitally connected to bother to daydream. We feel guilty if we’re idle. And we’re so distracted that a Microsoft study of 2,000 Canadians found that the human attention span has fallen to eight seconds (a length of time even goldfish can best by one second).
The quest for quiet
There is an antidote to all this crushing cacophony: quiet time. Studies show that carving out more time for silence and solitude is a balm for the body, calms the mind, boosts creativity and makes us smarter and happier. A 2013 study on mice in the journal Brain Structure and Function found that two hours of daily silence can literally create new cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that helps us learn, remember things and regulate our emotions. Dr. Leo Chalupa, a neurobiologist and vice-president of research at George Washington University, has advocated for “a national day of absolute silence” that he says “would do more to improve the brains of all Americans than any other one-day program.”
Ceaseless noise can work as a tranquilizer to numb our feelings. Silence, on the other hand, restores our energy and helps us better understand ourselves. Most of us operate on a massive deficit of quiet, but as several women shared with Best Health, it’s entirely possible to find moments of stillness in a busy life. Here are their simple strategies.