Scientists Understand the Importance of Silence. Do You?
In an increasingly noisy world, silence has become something of a rare commodity. Most of us would be hard-pressed to find a truly quiet moment in any given day, and few would consciously consider this an issue. However, scientists have actually given the subject of silence a fair amount of focus and thought. There has been growing curiosity about what impact silence and noise have on the brain.
Silence is Fertilizer
It literally grows your brain.
One study conducted on mice in 2013 tested the effect of different noises on the rodents’ cognitive function. A control group was kept in total silence. Scientists found that after just two hours, the control group itself showed interesting results. New cell growth (that developed into functioning neurons) occurred in the hippocampus: the part of the brain connected to learning, memory and emotion.
Alternately, studies that measure the impact of noise pollution have found that people, in particular children, exposed to constant noise actually develop a severe stress response with correlated cognitive impairment during their exposure. Learning ability is impacted. The longer the time of exposure, the worse the symptoms.
Regardless of age, those of us living in constantly noisy environments have a continuously high levels of stress hormones. Stress hormones are notoriously damaging to our health. Silence allows our brain and body to let their guard down and replenish.
Through the Life-Span
Other than the easier-to-measure, direct biological impact of sound vs. silence, the latter has additional importance. It is in periods of silence that we are able to self-reflect. This capacity is fundamental to development, meaning-making, cultivating mindful intention, and understanding of our actions and thoughts. We are able to observe ourselves and relax our reaction/response systems.
Most of us use some form of screen-technology for at least 50 hours a week. For young people, this number is likely to go up as each year passes, and screen-time is a significant form of noise. Because of this, it is important that silence becomes an intentional part of our daily routine, and that we impart that to the next generation.
In childhood silence is not only physiologically important, but also psychologically in developing a differentiated sense of self. This continues in adolescence when self-reflection is crucial during a period of identity exploration and developing individuality. Teenagers are constantly contemplating what they think, feel, want, believe, who they are in relation to others, and who they want to be.
But silence isn’t only of value during pivotal moments in our human development. It is integral to emotional health throughout all periods in our lives: as a space of emotional cleansing, cognitive maintenance, and learning. It allows us to exit ‘doing mode’ and enter ‘being mode’. We are able to be in the present moment, which reduces stress, and makes us much more sensitive to our own internal experience at any given point in time.
When your brain isn’t distracted by ‘doing’: by making sense of noise or focusing on goals and tasks, the brain moves its function toward internal processing in a broad, imaginative, and free way.
Prescribe Yourself SILENCE.
Start with 5min, then work your way up to 10min, then 15. Try it twice a day- morning, and evening. Silence your phone, shut all electronics down. Enjoy sitting. Enjoy breathing. Visualize a soothing and peaceful place. Make your silent moments a sacred space for yourself, a form of self-care. Or, make it a special way of connecting with your family.
This doesn’t have to be a still or meditative experience. You can read quietly with your loved ones, work on some coloring books, go for a soothing walk somewhere away from traffic, work on a puzzle, stretch, paint, journal and so on. Activities, when done silently, are very beneficial for the brain and nervous system too. Try it! And there are a lot more ideas online.