Feeling the need to get away from it all? Reclaiming silence in your life could have more of an impact than you might imagine.
Here’s a question: when was the last time that you found yourself in total, absolute silence – away from all external noises, screens and distractions? Nowadays it seems harder than ever to switch off from the outside world and find some peace.
Yet it is precisely because of this never-ending activity that we should be seeking out time for peace, and time for silence: the benefits, both mental and physical, are proven, and there is evidence that by taking the time to get away from it all, we are able to revitalise and get on better in our professional and personal lives.
Mindfulness and beyond
According to Erling Kagge, author of Silence: In the Age of Noise, ‘silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy’. Kagge, a Norwegian explorer and entrepreneur, has sailed the South Pacific and ventured solo into the Antarctic in his quest for silence, but he argues that it is equally attainable for those of us who are not quite so widely-travelled. And the best thing about it is that there is no need to go on a retreat or course to reclaim silence in our lives: all you have to do is ‘shut your eyes, breathe deeply a couple of times and attempt to think about something other than what you are normally thinking about’; or alternatively, to think about nothing at all – if such a thing is possible!
The Japanese have long recognised the benefits that retreating from external noise and distraction can bring. Their concept of ‘shinrinyoku’, or ‘forest bathing’, focuses on making time to get away from it all in the forest. They believe that the effects of simply walking amongst the trees by yourself and quietly taking in your surroundings can be profound.
Long term impact
The potential negative effects of excessive noise are quite striking. According to the World Health Organisation, noise pollution is the second biggest environmental threat to health after air pollution. For example, around 3% of deaths caused by coronary heart disease are directly linked to chronic noise exposure. The long term impact of external noise can be profound: research carried out by Seoul University found that there is a significant link between exposure to environmental noise and the subsequent incidence of male fertility.
This is serious stuff, and in fact there are some who have long recognised the threat that excessive noise can pose to us. The Noise Abatement Society was founded back in 1959, and its aims are to raise awareness of the damaging effects of noise pollution, and to research ways in which the impact can be limited – its mission is to ‘improve the aural landscape for all’. Today there is a national helpline for anyone who is suffering from the effects of excessive noise, whether at home, at work or in the community.
So what are the benefits of seeking out silence? Some may seem obvious – for example, we can protect our sense of hearing for longer – but others may surprise you. Research has shown that a reduction in noise can actually help you lose weight – the stress of excessive noise is linked to the production of the hormone cortisol, which increases fat deposits around the middle.
Of course, alongside the physical benefits, there are also benefits for our mental wellbeing. Whilst we may be essentially social creatures – and particularly so nowadays, with our many means of communication – we are also creative and reflective by nature, and these processes are arguably carried out most effectively in silence. Kagge equates the search for silence with the search for wonder – something he believes is integral to our happiness and personal development.