Could silence be the secret to improved health and a happier life?
In this day and age it’s hard to find a moment of silence amongst a world dominated by background music, non-stop television shows, podcasts and general chatter.
According to new scientific research, this loud lifestyle is not so great for our health. Experts confirm, especially in this noisy time, silence can have many great benefits for both our physical and mental health.
If we stop for a moment each day and listen to our bodies instead of the noise in the world, we may start to feel a change within ourselves.
1. Silence helps to lower blood pressure
Hypertension or blood pressure, often called “the silent killer” can ironically be relieved by silence. In 2006 a study found that taking a 2-minute moment of silence after listening to music can drastically reduce hypertension. When compared to the effects of listening to slow, relaxing music, silence still had a greater effect on decreasing blood pressure.
In an earlier study from 2003 it was found that constantly noisy environments increased heart rate and blood pressure.
To determine long-term effects of silence on cardiovascular health, more research needs to be conducted, however, these previous results indicate great promise.
2. Silence may improve concentration
This may be one of the more obvious points to make, but silence helps us to focus.
Without constant external stimulation, our minds can better focus on the task at hand. This can benefit work, education and relationships.
In a recent study conducted in 2021, 59 participants performed tasks where they were required to focus, with either background noise, speech or silence. The participants who worked in silence were found to experience the lowest stress levels and possessed the lowest cognitive load.
Supriya Blair, clinical psychologist and mindfulness educator explains, “focusing on one thing at a time with one’s full attention can help promote efficiency and calmness amidst activity. Life happens in order. When we focus on one thing at a time, we are not scattered. Our attention and energy are aligned.”
3. Silence reduces racing thoughts
Racing thoughts are often a primary symptom of anxiety. While one might assume silence may lead to a hotbed of racing thoughts, this doesn’t have to be the case.
In fact, silence can be a catalyst for much needed mental stillness. Blair says, “Learning to become quiet helps us refrain from expending unnecessary energy, endlessly participating in the hamster wheel of thoughts in our head.”
Audrey Hamilton, who facilitates silent retreats with the Carmelite Friars of Boars Hill in the United Kingdom, further explains how silence can benefit our mental health. “In silence, we can slow down, take time to observe the things around us, and just to be, this helps us pay attention and be present in the moment, whatever it is we happen to be doing.”
4. Silence may stimulate brain growth
That’s right, in 2013 a study conducted on mice found that 2 hours of silence stimulated the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with emotion and memory.
While this study was only conducted on animals, it's a promising result which may provide a scientific basis for future research.
5. Silence may reduce cortisol
At one point we’ve all experienced the stress induced by overwhelmingly loud or noisy events like a concert or a children's party.
The same study mentioned previously which showed the effects of silence on concentration also found participants who performed tasks with noise in the background had higher levels or cortisol, the stress hormone.
Clinical psychologist, Martine Prundty says, “an accumulation of unpleasant noise can lead to mental stress and an excess release of cortisol. When it becomes elevated, it can lead to weight gain, feelings of significant overwhelm, difficulties sleeping, and chronic diseases.”
6. Silence helps creativity
Along with all its other benefits, silence can be the key to stimulating creativity.
Although the direct relationship between silence and creativity is yet to be proven by clinical trials, many experts support the connection between mental stillness and improved creative output.
Moments of relaxation have been proven to increase output and enhance problem solving. “Learning to ‘digest’ our thoughts and quiet the mind can help make room for sparks of creativity and inspired action,” Blair says.
7. Silence helps to minimise insomnia
For most people, a quiet environment is essential for sleep. Stress and excess noise can often get in the way of a good night's sleep, and often manifest in sleep disorders like insomnia.
But it's best not to reserve all your quiet practices to your bedtime routine, practicing silence throughout the day can help set you up for a better sleep at night.
Prunty says, “silence and periods of calm stimulate brain growth and relieve tension, which can result in a higher sense of well-being, as people can then feel more relaxed generally, when this occurs, sleep quality improves.”
8. Silence is a form of mindfulness
Silence invites your mind to focus on the present moment. While it’s tempting to fill the silence with a podcast, music or conversation it's important to consider consciously choosing mental stillness. This will give racing thoughts a chance to calm themselves and let the body return to a state of relaxation.
How to surround yourself with silence
While it’s not always the easiest task, here are a few easy and immediate places to start;
Remove the headphones
Where you can, consciously opt-out of putting on music or a podcast to fill the silence, and simply embrace it.
Make your car a silent zone
While this may feel quite daunting, this can be an excellent way to start creating barriers between a noisy lifestyle and silent times.
Reduce background noise at home
With the benefits of silence being so prolific it might be worth considering talking to your local council if noises around your neighbourhood seem unusually loud or distracting.
Start your day before everyone else
Especially if you live with your family, it can be hard to get a second of alone time, let alone silence. A great place to begin is by waking up before everybody else and allowing yourself a calming and quiet start to the day.
Much like all habits, it's important to start with small achievable changes, after all it only takes 2 minutes of silence a day to make a change.
In a world so dominated by noise it can be difficult to get a moment of quiet. But with its numerous health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and cortisol, and improving mental health, it’s worth making an effort to tune into the sound of silence.