As COVID-19 vaccinations hit critical points around the world, governments are making the choice to lower or completely eliminate lockdown restrictions for the general public. For most people living in urban areas, this means one thing: it’s getting noisy again. Aeroplanes are flying again, there are more cars on the road, entertainment venues are back to full capacity, schools are open. It was peaceful while it lasted, but the silence of lockdowns has finally broken. So how do we adjust back? What can residents do to prepare themselves for the sheer amount of noise coming their way?
If you’re someone who is sensitive to nuisance noise — or even if you don’t think you are, but the rising levels are taking you by surprise — there are a number of small “Do It Yourself” things you can do to physically prepare your living space for post-lockdown noise levels. Some of these measures may only work for particular living arrangements, but they can still provide some inspiration for you to build your own ideas upon.
Seal up any holes and cracks. Sound waves can be insidious, infiltrating even the smallest of gaps. Any gaps around windows and doors, or where pipes and wires enter your house, can be filled with flexible caulk or expanding foam to quickly reduce that insidious noise.
Similarly, make sure all your doors and windows are flush to their frames. Small openings like those can add up. You can also add simple weather-strips to your doors and windows to further block any natural gaps. If the problems are persisting, you may need to consider further structural changes like solid-core doors or storm windows.
Add mass between you and the noise. If you have a busy road outside, you could consider dense hedging to dissipate some of the noise. Inside, you could add acoustic walls or heavy furniture to further absorb those waves. Wall and roofing insulation can also do a great job at absorbing sound, provided it’s installed with noise dampening as a consideration.
If these measures don’t fully insulate you from the nuisance noise around your home, try fighting noise with noise. You might make some white noise around your house through a specific noise machine or an appliance like an air purifier or humidifier, or wear some noise-cancelling headphones. If they’re a good pair, you won’t even need to be playing music to lower the amount of noise reaching your ears. We’d recommend over-ear ones over earbuds, as they properly insulate the ear from all angles and can be a lot more comfortable to wear for long periods.
The soundscape that we got used to during lockdowns is going away, and sadly there isn’t much we can do to affect that. While some things like barking dogs or noisy neighbourhood parties can be (slowly) addressed through complaining to your local council, there’s just going to be more cars outside, more flights overhead, and more construction next door than we’ve seen over the last two years. It’s a fact of life now. But nuisance noises like those do cause a lot of stress in our bodies, which can lead to significant health problems. So if you’re being mentally affected by constant noise, here are a few things you can try that may help.
Get into nature. Studies are showing that natural sounds like birdsong, lapping waves, or rustling leaves can have an effect that is opposite to that of urban noise on our bodies and minds. When you spend time in a natural space like a forest, beach, or mountain, it can make you more focused, boost your mood, improve your memory, and overall lower your stress levels.
Though it may not work for everyone, meditation can be a great tool in learning to accept and move past uncontrollable sounds. You can adjust your thinking patterns to lower your body’s automatic fight-or-flight responses, and even if it’s not 100% effective in removing the effects of nuisance noise, it can do wonders for your mental and physical health.
Lastly, if you still find yourself stressed from endless noise, talk to a medical professional. Mental health experts have a number of methods that can help you adjust to the changing world at any scale, and if noise is a key issue in your life they can be of great help in addressing it from your end. Misophonia — a neurological condition categorised by powerful emotional and physiological reactions to certain sounds — is garnering a lot of attention in psychological research right now, and talking to a professional about it can lead to a lot of positive outcomes.
Re-adapting to the world as it was before extended lockdowns won’t be easy for any of us, and rising noise levels is an important consideration in that adaptation process. Taking the time to address the noise in ways that can make an immediate difference to our lives is our most powerful tool right now, but there are also ways to implement long-term change. NoiseNet is building those solutions. If you’d like to learn more, check out https://www.noisenet.com/.