To boost your child’s well-being, make time for quiet time.
Published: September 4, 2018
By: Sandi Schwartz
A visit to a silent retreat is on my bucket list. It seems like the ultimate way to reach a mindful, relaxed and introspective state.
Science indicates that silence can be beneficial to us in so many ways, as it impacts our physical, mental and emotional health. Given our increasingly loud lives with technology constantly buzzing in our ears, how can we give our children the gift of silence to make them happier and healthier?
Noise pollution is considered a serious concern throughout the world. The World Health Organization ranks it as the second-most critical environmental challenge after air pollution because excessive noise can seriously harm human health and interfere with people’s daily activities. It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and other physiological effects, reduce performance and lead to changes in social behavior. As the world gets louder, we may be able to cope a little bit; however, our evolutionary biology has not kept up with rapid technological innovations.
Noise affects our bodies in the following ways:
Physiological: Sudden jarring noises cause the body to produce cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that causes us to feel stressed and anxious. Some studies show how chronic exposure to levels of sound greater than 50 to 55 decibels can boost these stress hormones and increase blood pressure, hypertension and heart rate.
Psychological: Sounds can change our mood. Constant or loud noises can shift our mood from happy and calm to stressed and irritated. When we are surrounded by these intrusive noises all the time, the impact can add up and crush our spirits.
Cognitive: The brain has a huge storage space, but the amount of noise that it can process is relatively limited. Being bombarded by noise can impact our ability to focus and think clearly. Research shows that children studying in schools under flight paths have reading skills several months behind their peers in quieter places, simply because they are unable to hear well.
Behavior: Loud noises can lead to changes in how we act. We tend to move away from sounds that we don’t like or that feel uncomfortable to us. In a recent experiment at a shopping center, speakers playing loud pop music were set up at one end of a store while calm, ambient music was played at the other end. The results showed that many shoppers physically moved away from the pop music speakers.
Sound, therefore, can impact decisions that we make in our lives. What is most alarming is that researchers have noticed that children have become so used to constant noise that they are actually uncomfortable without it. Noise, essentially, has become a crutch for our children. This has led to habits like coming home and immediately turning on the television or iPad.
The best remedy for all of this noise is very simple: silence. Being silent may sound like an odd concept, but more research continues to come out highlighting the importance of quiet time for us and our children.
Silence has a calming effect. It settles the many emotions that are activated by talking and listening. As our mental and emotional lives calm down in this quiet space, our bodies can relax. In a group of studies on silence for the magazine Nautilus, it was noted how participants were most relaxed during the moments of silence between pieces of relaxing music as opposed to during the music itself.
We need silence to bring us back to the present moment, helping us to calm down and not worry about what happened in the past or what may happen in the future. Silence is a wonderful way for us to take a step back, find peace and recharge.
Silence also helps us more effectively connect to the world around us. Essentially, all of our senses are heightened when we are silent. We may notice sounds that we never did before, and view our surroundings with a fresh perspective. For example, we may notice how loud the traffic is from our backyard or how beautiful the birds are singing as we wake up in the morning.
Being able to hear more easily allows us to have greater clarity and helps us make better decisions, especially ones that we’ve been struggling with. Silence reduces the mental chatter that distracts us from being able to think clearly and to truly be in touch with our own thoughts and feelings.
Silence may also be good for our brain. In 2013, biologist Imke Kirst conducted an experiment in which she exposed four groups of adult mice to either various sounds or to silence to find out if it affected them. She discovered that the mice kept in silence were the only group that developed new brain cells. These cells were in the part of the brain connected to memory, emotion and learning. Although these results have not yet been duplicated in humans, this study offers some insight into how our brain may change due to silence.