In a world on constant stimulation, it’s no wonder we are falling a part at the seams. We easily recognize when a child is overwhelmed, overstimulated and ready to crash, yet somehow we subscribe to the idea that as adults the need for downtime and decompression disappears. Well, fortunately (or not if you’re used to burning the midnight oil), I’m here to bust that myth.
The human body very much needs periods of rest, relaxation and decompression in order to function optimally. In fact, we need it so much that we have two very distinct branches of the nervous system designed to handle both times of stress and activity and rest and replenishment. They are termed the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and most of us living in modern societies get stuck in our sympathetic (fight or flight) system, leading to burnout, exhaustion and dis-ease.
While we tend to think of noise as something we simply hear, noise actually has more to do with our brain and endocrine system than anything. Each sound we hear gets processed through the brain as we try to make sense of what it is and how it fits into our world. The sound of traffic on the freeway doesn’t mean a whole lot to us, but a crying child that sounds like our baby does. This constant filtering out of important vs. unimportant happens without our immediate knowledge, but when we are in a state of stress, or hyperarousal, we are more keen to tap into every single sound we come into contact with leading to sensory exhaustion.
This is why when we are feeling more mentally and physically fatigued, sounds can appear to be more irritating or intense than usual. Ever feel your heart start to race when a motorcycle zooms past? Or get instantly angry when you drop the shampoo bottle in the shower? When stress and anxiety are present, the body is already in a state of fight-or-flight and sudden, loud sounds exacerbate the stress response. Not only is this an issue for us physically, but it doesn’t allow us to tap in to the intuitive healing nature of our bodies and minds. If hypersensitivity to sound is something you notice, it could be a huge clue into the levels of underground stress your body and brain may be experiencing. We are often numb to the effects of stress in ourselves because we’ve been pushing so hard for so long that it feels natural.
Many of us are quite afraid of silence. We’ve trained ourselves to need noise and stimulation like a toddler needs a binky. You see, in silence we are able to hear ourselves think, and for most humans that’s a scary concept, particularly if we aren’t living aligned with our truth and purpose. It’s easy to get caught up in the “shoulds” and forget about our happiness and wellbeing when we are zipping from task to task and fall into bed at the end of day with the tv blaring to drown out our thoughts. BUT, when we get still and silent, we are no longer able to run from the ideas, thoughts and beliefs that aren’t serving us and to some, that is unbearable. When our lives are in need of change, it is the moments of silence that make this apparent – but if we’re unwilling to hear those messages, silence becomes the enemy.
However, with some love and attention, I believe that everyone can come to not only not fear the silence, but come to adore and crave it. Ten out of ten times, the thoughts we are afraid to think or face are just merely shadows on the wall. We believe there are monsters under our bed, but when we turn on the proverbial lights, we find that they are really just shoe boxes and dust mites. Learning to love silence comes first from understanding that thoughts are simply thoughts, and they have no power over you unless you choose for them to. Just because you think a thought, does not mean you must take action on it or that you must continue to think it. But, without ever stopping to assess what they are, it will be impossible to let them go or to choose new ones. This is where silence comes in handy. Not only is it incredibly soothing and nourishing to your body’s physiology, but it allows the mind to eventually slow down, catch its breath and reroute to greener pastures.
So, how exactly do we practice something like silence? I personally find that it’s easier for me factor it into my day in small ways that in larger chunks of time. When you think of all the places that noise shows up in your life, it becomes easier to find ways to let it go. Take an inventory of the sounds in your life: traffic, cell phones, notifications, emails, conversations, spouses and kids, televisions, radios, music, air conditioners, work environment and so forth. Now, once you’ve done that, look for periods of time when you could purposefully choose silence instead. Often, I will choose to turn off the radio, roll up the windows and find silence on my drives. I meditate for at least 10 minutes a day as well and find silence in my sitting. You could put your phone on silent at night or choose to read instead of watching TV. Take a walk in nature by yourself or close the door and take a five-minute power nap. However you can, try to fit in this replenishing practice to see a drastic reduction in stress, worry and anxiety. As your physical body relaxes, so to will your mind, and once that happens positive momentum makes the practice easier and easier.
Until next time...