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Silence and Your Health

Silence and your Health – have you ever been driving somewhere in your car and got lost and felt the need to turn down your car’s radio? As though turning it down will help you to see where you need to go better? Well there could be a scientific reason for why we do this. Turning the radio off is our brain’s natural reaction to what is happening.

Our brains are constantly at work collecting information about what is happening around us. It then assesses this information and decides what to do. Part of this assessment is deciding what should be the primary task and get the most focus of the brain and what should be the secondary task and get less focus. Our brains can be good at switching between one task and another and it can do it very fast, however it is not instantaneous, and these small delays as it switches between two different things you are doing can cause minor delays in reaction times. Which in the case of being lost, can mean that you miss the address or the turning you are looking for.

People often turn down the radio when driving in crowded urban areas, looking for a specific address, or driving in dangerous conditions (such as torrential rain or during a snowstorm) because those activities require more concentration than during a typical drive. Turning the radio down or off eliminates a task from the brain’s to-do list, shifting its focus to the most important task: finding the way.

We have explored the impact of multi-tasking in another blog on this website, (Is Multitasking Bad? What happened when I turned off the TV?) and discovered that trying to do many things at once can cause anxiety, stress and loss of concentration. This is particularly true if you are trying to do something complex and that requires focus, such as driving a car or writing a blog. Tasks with lower stakes such as doing the ironing are not impacted by doing something else at the same time, such as watching the TV.

This blog on multitasking got me thinking about noise in general, and I began to think about how little time I spent listening, passively or actively to something, be that, the TV, radio, audiobooks, podcasts, music or white noise. Pretty much all of my waking day is spent listening to something. I wondered about this and whether there are benefits to silence that I am missing out on.

How can Silence benefit us?

Silence helps us concentrate and improves creativity– because as with the example above our brain isn’t toggling between two different activities. Silence increases our awareness and mindfulness – when we allow ourselves to sit in silence we naturally become more aware of ourselves and our surroundings, we can discover that we feel quite tired or have a pain here or there. When noise isn’t flooding our senses we can pay full attention to what is going on in our mind and body.

Silence induces a sense of calm and has a positive impact on our physical health. Dr Amy Sullivan explains that:

“When we’re frazzled, our fight-or flight response is on overload causing a host of problems,. We can use calm, quiet moments to tap into different parts of the nervous system that helps shut down our bodies’ physical response to stress”

This means that being still and silent can help you lower your blood pressure, decrease your heart rate, steady your breathing, reduce muscle tension and increase focus and cognition.

We live in a world that is full of noise, from the media, from social media, advertising, television, songs, radio and so on, everywhere we go our senses are bombarded in one way or another. Often to the point that our systems are overwhelmed constantly. Whilst many of the things we hear about are not actually happening to us directly we may often feel a vicarious reaction of anxiety or stress. Someone in our town or community has been attacked, it’s not us, but it’s close to us. We are told daily that the NHS is crumbling, and whilst we and people we love may not need the NHS today we might someday. We listen to the latest song about heart break, and whilst we might not be going through it now we remember when we were. This constant noise stimulation has a real impact on how we think and feel, whether it be an annoying white noise disrupting our concentration or anxiety inducing news reports.

It would seem clear that including periods of silence in your daily life can have significant mental and physical health benefits. Our next blog Cultivating Silence in Daily Life will explore ways that you can do this. If you are struggling with any issue you might find it beneficial to speak to a professional. If you would like formal help and would like to make an appointment with Paul, please call Paul on 07843 813 537 or fill in the form on the Contact Page, if he doesn’t answer he is probably in a session, please leave him a message and he will call you back as soon as he can.

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