Learning to listen to the silence

Most of us have surely noticed that today’s world is a pretty noisy place. From electronic gadgets, to the sounds of traffic, to just listening to the chatter of family, friends and co-workers, much of our day is probably filled with a great deal of sound.

This noise may seem a condition of modern life, but studies have found that purposely adding a little silence to our days may bring a number of benefits.

Adding some quiet can provide not just mental health benefits, but physiological ones as well. Turning off at least some of the noise has been shown to lower blood pressure, boost the body’s immune system and possibly even improve brain function. A recent article cited a 2013 study that found that two hours of silence helped create new brain cells in the areas linked to remembering, emotions and learning.

While most of us might find it hard to find two hours of silence, even two minutes of quiet time was found to relieve tension through positive changes in blood pressure and circulation in the brain.

Being surrounded by non-stop noise often results in feeling tense and uncomfortable, and might lead to a headache. Numerous studies have documented the harmful effects that noise pollution can have on our health and ability to think and concentrate.

Finding more quiet in your day doesn’t mean going to extremes or needing some totally silent environment. It simply requires making a conscious effort to escape from the everyday noise of your life for at least a short period, what professional counselors call mindfulness.

One suggestion is simply to get outdoors and enjoy a quiet walk with no specific purpose except to relax. Yes, there will still be sounds around you, but as you focus on yourself and your walk, they no longer become a primary distraction. Leave your headphones home, too. And if you walk with a companion, just agree to make it a silent journey.

Deep breathing exercises or quite mediation can also add periods of quiet to your life. Numerous online sites offer instructions for either activity. Or, just find a quiet corner in your home and settle in with a good book for a half hour.

None of us is ever going to live in a perfectly silent world, but finding a way of quieting at least some of the noise can offer real physical and psychological benefits.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.