Our world is a cacophony of sounds. The incessant background drone of appliances. The insistent whoosh and hum of traffic. The shrieks of alarms. The buzzings, beeps, and pings of electronic devices. Sometimes it seems as if silence is as precious a commodity as can be found in our modern world, as if silence really is, both literally and figuratively, golden.
It is possible, though, to find the refuge of quiet even in these tumultuous times. It just takes some effort, planning, and a bit of support. And whether you’re a designer or an architect intent on creating spaces tailored to support the health and well-being of future occupants, a business owner seeking to provide your employees and clients with the most healthful work environment possible, or you’re a homeowner determined to cultivate an oasis of peace for your family, it is possible to craft living and working spaces where the healing power of silence may reign.
The Health Risks of Noise Pollution
It may be difficult to truly understand the health impacts of prolonged noise exposure. Our body's nervous system is efficient at filtering it most of the time, which makes it hard to ascertain the true impact. We usually don’t realize how much of a toll this takes on our bodies, minds, emotions, and even energy levels. However, next time you spend any length of time in a loud, busy place such as a bustling airport, restaurant, or office space, a construction site, manufacturing plant, or even sleeping in a hotel abutting a major interstate, take a few moments to listen and feel the effects on your body, and to begin to understand what persistent noise does to both your body and your mind.
There is ample scientific evidence to prove the fact that prolonged noise exposure is a significant risk to physical and mental health alike.
Studies show, for example, that the noise-saturated environment of the NICU can take a devastating toll on preterm infants, not only reducing their chance of survival but also putting their long-term development at risk (1, 2, 3, 4). Infants exposed to the excessive noises of the NICU exhibited significant physiological stress responses, sleep disturbances, increased heart rate, cardiac arrhythmias, and lower oxygen saturation levels (1, 4).
However, it is not only the most vulnerable humans who are subject to the deleterious effects of noise pollution. The evidence of the substantial physical and mental health harms associated with environmental noise in the workplace is vast and growing. For example, studies suggest that chronic noise exposure at work leaves otherwise healthy individuals with an elevated risk of potentially life-threatening illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia (5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
Researchers attribute these detrimental effects to the stress response induced by chronic noise exposure. The physiological mechanisms of the stress response increase inflammation levels throughout the body while also spiking cortisol and adrenaline, the body’s fight-or-flight hormones. As a result, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration increase, muscles tense, and the body becomes ensnared in an exhausting state of anxious arousal.
All this, over time, has a wearing effect on the mind as well as the body. Indeed, research has shown that when you’re experiencing persistent noise pollution, you’re not only more likely to become physically ill, but you’re also more vulnerable to a myriad of mental health challenges. For instance, researchers have found that chronic exposure even to something as seemingly innocuous as traffic noise can increase your risk of depressive and anxiety disorders (10, 11, 12).
It may be difficult to understand why ambient noise can have such a deleterious effect on our overall well-being. However, all you really need to do is close your eyes and pay attention to the noise that surrounds and permeates you. From the sounds of the voices of family and colleagues to the beeps and hums of electronics and the noise of traffic outside, this clamor of activity all around never really allows your central nervous system to get a reprieve. It is under constant pressure to process, filter, react, or disregard a mass confusion of sounds, all day, every day.
Retreating Into Silence
If you are unsure of just how much your nervous system is working on overdrive filtering out all the noises around you, consider taking time out in silence. Disconnect from your devices, step away from the noises of the city, and give your body an opportunity to re-calibrate and relax.
Silent meditation retreats are becoming an increasingly popular option for those who want to escape the maelstrom for a time. Indeed, according to a 2017 report issued by the Global Wellness Summit, silent retreats are among the top wellness trends of recent years and they are emerging in often unexpected places, from “silent” salons where you can receive a shampoo, cut, and style in utter silence, to silent hotels and airports, where your travel experience is infused with the restorative power of quiet.
While salons and hotels might offer a more novel approach to the silent meditation retreat, if you’re looking both for a refuge to find the quiet you seek and a program to help you unleash the power of silent meditation in your own life, wellness retreats, spas, and even Catholic or Buddhist monasteries may be an option.
Whether religious in nature or not, silent retreats are a modern take on an ancient practice, one whose mental and physical health benefits are garnering increasing support from the scientific community. Most people start to experience an increase in overall sensory sensitivity after a few days, seeing brighter colors, tasting with more flavor, feeling with heightened intensity, and definitely hearing with layers of sensitivity that hadn't been experienced before.
The Art of Creating Silent Time
If escaping for a multi-day silent retreat doesn’t feel accessible, consider setting aside some daily silent time.
Research has shown that mindfulness meditation, of which silent meditation is a preeminent example, actually produces demonstrable changes in the functioning of deep brain structures, such as the amygdala (13). This, in turn, can help you better regulate your response to emotional stimuli. In other words, you are less likely to be bruised and buffeted by life’s noise (literal and figurative) if you consistently spend time in silent meditation.
In addition to reducing emotional reactivity, there is also significant evidence that meditation can increase your ability to “act with awareness” (14). Silent meditation, in other words, offers practitioners a rare opportunity to turn inward and reflect. It not only helps to silence the chaos of the external world, but also the tumult that often characterizes our inner lives as well.
Over time, practitioners often find that they are no longer leaping erratically and swiftly from one thought to the next. The mind becomes quiet and they’re able to carefully follow each thought to its logical conclusion. In the process, practitioners are better able to evaluate not only their thoughts and ideas but also their feelings and beliefs–about themselves, their lives, their relationships, and the world around them. This often leads not only to a degree of clarity concerning your own life and the future your desire, but it also helps you to ensure that you are acting deliberately and with self-awareness, acting not in blind reaction to the changing contingencies of the world but to quiet convictions, commitments, and concerns of the inner self (14).
Research shows that short sessions of silent time were often as effective as a day-long silent session in reducing stress and increasing the sense of overall wellbeing in at-risk individuals, including residents of long-term care facilities and new mothers experiencing or at risk for postpartum depression (15, 16).
Likewise, in a study of the use of mindfulness-based meditation practices, including silent time, by professional caregivers, Lamothe et al. (2018) found that even short practice sessions resulted in significant improvements in areas such as perspective-taking, emotional acceptance, and the capacity to recognize the emotions of others (17). In other words, when you take the time to get quiet, you not only develop self-knowledge and self-compassion, but you also learn to better understand and feel compassion for others.
How F-Sorb Can Help
At F-Sorb, we specialize in providing affordable, high-quality, and environmentally-friendly sound mitigation products for commercial and public buildings. Our products are custom-designed to substantially reduce noise pollution in workplaces and community spaces, but also to offer specialized solutions for those seeking a higher level of sound mitigation. Our acoustic panels, for instance, would be ideal for use not only in wellness facilities offering silent retreat packages, but also in homes, workplaces, and health facilities where quiet rooms are desired to allow residents, employees, and patients alike to experience the healing power of silent time. Contact your local F-Sorb representative today to discuss our exciting and innovative array of acoustic products.
At FSorb, we are motivated by improving human health and do so by creating eco-friendly acoustic products. Our mission is to help designers build beautiful spaces that reduce excess ambient noise while calming the human nervous system. With over 25 years in the acoustic business we stand behind FSorb as a durable, environmentally friendly, and low-cost product. If you want an acoustic solution that is safe to human health at an affordable price, then we are your resource.
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