The sound of silence: is cutting out noise the answer to a stress-free life?
More than half of us feel that noise in the workplace affects our performance, while the constant onslaught of sound in our daily lives can damage our health
We all know the importance of a little peace and quiet, but how often do we actually manage to escape the noise and get a moment of silence?
Peace is a precious commodity in a world where persistent noise has become part of the daily commute. We are surrounded by sound; from angry car horns to relentless beats escaping from other people’s headphones, and loudly spinning washing machines. Sound is my family business. My grandfather John Connell OBE founded the Noise Abatement Society in 1959, after lobbying the Noise Abatement Act in parliament. My mother, Gloria Elliott, is now the chief executive of the charity. I founded Quiet Mark in 2012: an award for household tools, appliances and vehicles that reduce noise output but maintain high performance.
Because we can’t see it, it’s easy to overlook the serious impact that noise can have on our health. The World Health Organisation reports that 40% of Europe’s population is exposed to noise levels in excess of 55dB at night: a level that disturbs sleep, concentration and productivity, raises blood pressure and increases incidences of heart disease.
When the department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) and Quiet Mark surveyed 2,000 visitors to our Quiet House at the Ideal Home Show, 76% felt that the quality of their home life is affected by noise. A further 61% felt that noise in the workplace adversely affects how well they perform.
Why is silence so important?
Silence is liberating. Thinking decisions through from beginning to end with no distractions is something I try to do for an hour each morning. Taking time out actually helps me to stay peaceful despite the demands of the rest of the day. Creativity flows and decisions download effortlessly. It can be a comfort in challenging times and a special way to solve problems.
A recent YouGov and Mental Health Foundation survey reported that 29% of people are stressed; while 24% suffer from anxiety and 17% from depression.
Of the 2,000 British adults surveyed, nearly half of workers struggle to switch off after work, and that nearly two thirds of people would be likely to take part in activities that reduce stress if given the option.
Sitting quietly could be the key, whether that’s at home before breakfast or with our work colleagues on the 14th floor of the office. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain and improve sleep. Silence improves our health.
The power of silence has been embraced by the medical profession in recent years as a way of reducing stress and combating depression and anxiety. The NHS now, in some instances, prescribes the ancient art of meditation and mindfulness to patients when once they may have prescribed anti-depressants. Mindfulness has become the new buzzword for peace and quiet. Through the process of meditation patients are encouraged to be silent.
Mindfulness is entering the mainstream at a rapid rate. There’s an all party parliamentary group looking at the benefits of bringing mindfulness into public policy, while global companies such as Goldman Sachs and Google are offering it to their employees.
Taking time to be quiet forces us to think truthfully about ourselves and others in real time, to find answers beyond ourselves. It can be humbling but deeply rewarding. As uncomfortable as that may be, when we face up to reality we connect with who we really are and heal in that place.
Sometimes it may be impossible to get away from a ringing iPhone, a noisy work colleague or an overcrowded tube. But we do have the choice to put down the phone, step away from the computer, slow down and enjoy benefits of quietness.
Source: The Guardian