[W]inter is noisier than other seasons in some ways, as our snowshoes crunch through layers of crusty snow, or our skis swish along. But when you stop in winter, you really do notice sound. It might be snow falling from a branch, as the light fluffy snow crystals slowly turn to heavy droplets of water in the heat of the rising sun, or the chirping of a chickadee, but sound seems to stand out against the backdrop of winter.
Dealing with a new baby, a long illness, and a sick father left O’Rourke “exhausted, unwell and snappish.” So at her husband’s urging she flew to Seattle alone and wandered into the Hoh Rain Forest, “one of the quietest places in the U.S.” And what follows is her poetic ode to that forest, her appreciation of its “cathedral stillness,” and her discovery of that which she was searching for: “a willful silence.”
Here’s a little taste of what it’s like to escape city noise and enter the silent world Ms. O’Rourke experienced:
O’Rourke’s story is in T Magazine’s November 12th Travel issue, which features the Hoh Rain Forest.
The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.
Rachel Lapidos, wellandgood.com, looks at the growth of silent spa resorts or retreats in her piece, “Is silence the next wellness luxury?.” Lapidos writes that “some in the wellness field consider total quiet a newfound luxury.” Why? Lapidos quotes Beth McGroarty, research director at the Global Wellness Institute, who says the reason is “because it’s so rare now,” adding that “people pay for silence, because that’s how bad [modern life] is—[silence] is so precious.”
Precious, indeed, with Lapidos writing that quiet is “something they’re even shelling out thousands of dollars to get, whether it’s through silent spa resorts or retreats.” So is it just a fad based on more on effective marketing than sound science? McGroarty states that “[s]tudies have shown that when the brain is silent, your hippocampus—the center for organizing thoughts—actively creates neurons, [and] [y]our cortisol also drops, as well as your heart rate and blood pressure. There’s a mental and a physical impact.” “Compare this to when you’re staring at your phone or computer screen and your cortisol shoots up with every (disconcerting) news flash,” adds Lapidos.
But what about those who don’t have the time or money to run off to silent retreat? Lapidos writes that “studies have shown that a mere five minutes of silence a day can have a positive impact on the brain.” So put down your smart phone, find the quietest space in your home, and enjoy the newest luxury that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy.
and Your Health. Belle Cooper has written a very thoughtful piece on the problems with noise at work and play, and the importance of silence in one’s life. On noise she writes:
Two types of everyday noise can be bad for us. One is excessive noise, such as the prolonged loud noise of being near an airport. The other is simply the distraction of general noise around us, such as conversations or interruptions from colleagues in the workplace.
The former may seem worse, but both can be detrimental to our productivity—and sanity.
Cooper lists a litany of horribles caused by exposure to chronic noise from traffic or airports, like high blood pressure, heart problems, and sleeplessness, but she also explores the effects of everyday noise on those of us not exposed to these chronic noise sources. What is the effect on those of us who simply experience what she calls “general daily noise?” She writes:
If you work in an open plan office, you’ll probably find [distraction and interruption] is an even greater problem. Ollie Campbell, CEO of Milanote and part of Navy Design’s multi-disciplinary team, says open plan offices come with their own implicit values. They make team members feel that disruption is acceptable, collaboration is the key priority, and serendipity is worth the interruptions it requires.
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Distractions and interruptions are such a common part of our workdays, we don’t even think of them as excessive noise anymore. It’s often more obvious when we don’t hear the noise of distractions around us at work than when we do.. A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that knowledge workers have focus periods of just eleven minutes on average, in-between interruptions. As Campbell said, “if you need to focus, ‘work’ is pretty much the worst place you could be.”
So what can be done to reclaim some peace, to regain one’s focus and concentration? Cooper suggests that we shut out both excessive/harmful noise as well as “the more general commotion of the modern workplace” so that we can create our best work. And she’s armed with research that shows that silence doesn’t just relax the brain:
One study of mice found that listening to silence for two hours every day prompted the subjects’ brains to grow new cells in the hippocampus, which is related to our brain’s memory abilities. While new cell growth doesn’t always provide health benefits, in this case those new cells did become new, functioning neurons within the mice brains. In other words, silence could make you a little smarter.
Ok, perhaps that reaching a bit, but Cooper shares some anecdotal evidence that silent time helps us make better long-term decisions as well as spur creative thinking. In the end, we can’t cocoon ourselves and block out all noise, but when we have the chance, Cooper suggests that we opt for silence. Sounds good to us!
The Best White Noise Apps & Sites. Lisa Poisso, Techlicious, reviews websites and apps offering pink noise generators for better sleep as well as options to enhance concentration and focus when you are adrift in a sea of noise.
In “Why I hate my fellow commuters in the quiet carriage.” Brian Yatman, The Sidney Morning Herald, writes about commuting by train and how the quiet car is abused by the rude and ignorant. We’ve been there, although unlike Mr. Yatman we may have asked someone to keep it down once (or three times). In any event, his suggestion for maintaining quiet car decorum is spot on:
What we need is some kind of official presence authorised to apply the shushing finger of the law. These marshals would glide about in comfy shoes, separating chatty couples, handing out Reader’s Digests, keeping the peace. They would issue warnings in the form of aphorisms. “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods,” they would intone, invoking the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Repeat offenders would be escorted off the train.
Or offenders could be thrown off, literally, to save time (and quickly escape the sound of their screams). Do not violate the sanctity of the quiet car.
Of course, one would hope that governments would think about how best to limit noise after reading that frightening study. The medical costs alone should be enough to motivate even the most dispassionate bean counter. But until they do, we really must take matters into our own hands and try to make our homes as peaceful and noise free as possible.
New Study Chimes In: “Yes.” If you have ever spent any time in a hospital, whether as a visitor or especially as a patient, you probably wondered how the patients sleep with the constant din caused by monitors, particularly the alarms. The answer, apparently, is “they can’t.” While some sort of alarm is needed to alert staff when a patient is having a crisis, Anesthesiology News reports that “[t]he overabundance and high volume of hospital alarms can have deleterious effects on patients and providers, impairing clinician performance and possibly compromising patient safety (citation omitted).” The good news? The study’s author found that “clinician performance is maintained with alarms that are softer than background noise.”
Coming soon to a hospital near you: A good night’s rest!