When I first found out it was National Stress Awareness Day this week, I was planning to write about different ways of managing stress. Be mindful of what you eat, prioritise tasks, exercise; that kind of thing. I then watched ‘In Pursuit of Silence’ at the cinema, a docu-movie I’d been waiting to see for over three years since I first heard about it as Kickstarter project. Thought-provoking whilst meditative at the same time, the film looks at how noise is affecting the human psyche and the role of silence in living happy and meaningful lives.
The film was not only informative, it also reminded me of why I started QuietSphere. I wanted to help students find quiet from the mind chatter, noise and overwhelm that can be all too damaging and is the cause of so much stress. I was enjoying researching the benefits of silence, solitude and sounds of nature, and wanted to share this information and more to help students take a proactive approach to looking after their mental health.
As primitive humans we connected with silence, but today we are becoming increasingly distanced from it to the detriment of our health and emotional wellbeing. Loud and constant noise is bad for us – it raises our heart rate causing tension in the body, it affects our ability to concentrate and it’s an intrusion to our personal space. Sounds affect our physiology, psychology, cognitive ability and behaviour, and in a world that is getting noisier, we need to be more aware of this.
As any student will testify, being at university can be very stressful. The challenges of living independently, adapting to all that comes with doing a degree, and discovering who you are while dealing with external pressures is not easy. The mind is capable of running wild if you allow it to and this is why silence is so important. It allows the mind to recharge and gives space for introspection and reflection.
When I talk about silence I am simultaneously referring to quiet, as finding true silence is rare. Even in the quietest of places there will ultimately be sounds that reach the ears, be it the breeze rustling in the trees, birds calling out to each other or the gentle hum of insects buzzing. The difference with this kind of noise though is that it’s calming and non-intrusive.
Students can benefit greatly from making a concerted effort to allow quiet into their lives and to be mindful of the sounds they engage with:
When it comes to writing an assignment or studying, are you one of many students, head down with your favourite music or the radio playing through your head phones? While this may feel like an effective study session, it’s worth knowing that the brain is distracted by voices. Whether it’s music with lyrics, a presenter on the radio or your favourite podcast, this background noise will affect levels of concentration.
You don’t have to study in silence though as there are a number of background sounds and soundtracks you can listen to that will help you to stay focused, get more done, and feel calmer in the process. Sounds of nature help to create an atmosphere that allows the listener to relax, meaning the logical, conscious part of your brain can perform better.
Next time you sit down to work, google sounds of nature tracks or have a listen to Wild Ambience on SoundCloud. If birdsong isn’t for you then classical music is good for working to or you can download the free Study app from the Sound Agency.
Poor sleep can have a massive impact on levels of anxiety, depression and how we manage stress. It can become a vicious circle – when we’re stressed and mentally worn out, it affects us in the day, then because we’re stressed and mentally worn out, we find it hard to sleep and because don’t sleep well we then feel stressed and mentally worn out the next day. Taking time to calm the mind and switch off from things before going to bed is time well spent and can make a difference.
I swear by my sleep routine to help me get a good night’s sleep. As much as possible I turn off the tablet by 8pm (two to three hours before bed). Too much noise and stimulation can affect how quickly we fall asleep and the quality of our sleep, so 30 minutes before bed I put on one of my sounds of nature albums or my Indian flute album, turn off the main light and put on my side lamp. I quietly tidy anything that’s out of place or make note of what I need to do the next day. I try to avoid using my phone and if the mind is buzzing and I’m having trouble switching off I’ll either quietly read or do some colouring. Quiet on the eyes, ears and mind.
If you’re finding it hard to get a good night’s sleep have a look at the Sleep Council’s comprehensive pdf which gives practical steps on how to address different sleep issues.
By appreciating silence we step away from all the noise and chaos that clouds the connection with our minds and bodies. Experiencing quiet allows us to collect our thoughts to connect with who we really are and what we are about, and with this reflection comes a greater self-awareness and understanding.
Often, with silence comes solitude and it’s not uncommon for people to struggle with the feeling of being alone. As a result they either try to avoid it or they create deliberate noise – mindless chatter, music, TV for background noise. Although it may at first be uncomfortable, I encourage you to try and become at ease with quiet.
Next time you’re home alone, experience what it’s like keep the radio and TV off and do whatever it is you’re doing in the silence of the house. Go for a walk in a park or local wood and leave your phone in your pocket; be present to the birds singing and the rustling of leaves. Even if it’s just for one minute a day, sit quietly and focus on your breath. Getting used to quiet space in your life is positive step for your health and wellbeing.
I think most of us are used to the noise that surrounds our everyday lives and just accept it. Traffic, people, construction work, music, sirens, the chatter in an office, a noisy bar; the list is endless. Our ears very rarely get rest and that’s a shame. What I have learnt from personal experience is that the more time I make for quiet in my life, the better able I am to deal with life’s challenges, the less stressed I get and the better I sleep. The pursuit of silence really is worth it and I hope you feel inspired to welcome more quiet into your life!
Want to find out more about how sound affects us? I highly recommend Julian Treasure’s excellent TED talk on the subject.