In an increasingly noisy world, neuroscientists are discovering exactly what kind of silence has the most dramatic impact on your mental health – from flotation tanks to guided meditation – and how much you really need
10 Aug 2022
MOST days, I am drowning in noise. As a work-from-home mother, I am stuck in the middle of a busy household with two dogs, two teenagers and a husband who works from the next room. It’s a cacophony of zoom calls, phone notifications, video games, music and barking, and that’s before my neighbor starts up his leaf blower.
Is it any wonder I long for some silence? The World Health Organization backs me up – it says that our world is too noisy and that this is harming our health. Of course, for centuries we have known the importance of quietness: in many religions, silence is promoted as a vital healing process. But my noisy surroundings got me wondering what benefits there are to seeking silence in the modern age.
These days, people go in search of quiet in all sorts of places. They join monasteries for a silent retreat or head to the hills for a weekend’s peace. There is even an increasing trend for spending time in sensory deprivation or flotation tanks – if you can afford it. Indeed, in his book Silence: In the age of noise, Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge calls silence “the new luxury”.
Figuring out what peace and quiet actually does for our mental and physical health is the ambition of a group of neuroscientists and health professionals who are beginning to unravel the benefits. By getting to grips with their research, I discover that a little silence may be vital to offset the detrimental effects of our noisy world. But just how much quiet do I need, and where should I get it?