In our modern world there appears to be noise everywhere. Our brains are cluttered by technology and social media notifications while we try to balance work, family life and ‘me time’, often trying to achieve more in less time. I particularly like the analogy of having a brain like the internet with too many browsers open at the same time!
There are so many distractions today and many of us can find this overwhelming. However, embracing silence and practicing mindfulness can have extremely powerful benefits. How often are you really in silence these days? Is it even comfortable anymore?
Research has shown that even when the brain is ‘resting’ it is continuously evaluating, generating new cells and ultimately, connecting neurons.
In 2013, a study published in the journal Brain Structure and Function1 found that a minimum of two hours of silence could produce new cells in the hippocampus region – the part of the brain linked to learning, remembering and emotions.
Other studies have also linked noise pollution to greater anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and stroke and if you live in a consistently noisy environment, you are likely to experience higher levels of stress hormones.
In 2011, scientists studying individuals living near seven major European airports found that a 10 decibel increase in aircraft noise was linked to an increase in anxiety medication use. 2
It’s also been shown that noise has a detrimental effect on task performance at work and at school. According to The World Health Organisation (WHO), Children who are exposed to households or classrooms near flight paths or busy roads can have lower reading scores and may be slower in their development, cognitive functions such as attention and memory, and language skills. 3
While noise may cause stress and tension, silence can release tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart also discovered that a silent pause can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to ‘relaxing’ music. Conclusions were based on the change researchers monitored in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.4
Taking some quiet time out, combined with learning to be mindful can be so important psychologically. Mindfulness has its origins in ancient Buddhism and encourages us to be ‘present’ in our own lives when we are distracted by our thoughts or worries. Just like physical exercise makes us fitter and stronger, mindfulness trains the brain to take the worries off our shoulders, enabling us to see through the fog, focus and take control of our lives.
Five proven benefits of mindfulness include:
– enabling you to see situations more clearly
– improving working memory, attention span and focus
– boosting creativity
– reducing anxiety
– physical benefits including improving sleep quality, reducing stress (decreasing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol) and lowering blood pressure
At Bright Futures Educational Trust we have embedded Mindfulness into our schools, even in curriculum time at Altrincham Grammar School for Girls and at Stanley Grove Primary Academy. It is a great tool for teachers too.
Though we can’t all aspire towards two hours of silence a day, learning simple techniques that can be incorporated into hectic schedules can help us to put in place regular practices that can have a hugely positive impact on day-to-day life. Why not try some mindful listening and dedicate time to one of our courses? These include Mindfulness for teachers, Creating a Mindful School and Mindful Leadership among others. For more information visit:
1 Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis
Brain Struct Funct. 2015; 220(2): 1221–1228.
Published online 2013 Dec 1. 10.1007/s00429-013-0679-3
2 Medication use in relation to noise from aircraft and road traffic in six European countries: results of the HYENA study.
Floud S1, Vigna-Taglianti F, Hansell A, Blangiardo M, Houthuijs D, Breugelmans O, Cadum E, Babisch W, Selander J, Pershagen G, Antoniotti MC, Pisani S, Dimakopoulou K, Haralabidis AS, Velonakis V, Jarup L; HYENA Study Team.
2011 Jul;68(7):518-24. doi: 10.1136/oem.2010.058586.
3 Burden of Disease From Environmental Noise, The World Health Organisation, 2011 https://www.who.int/quantifying_ehimpacts/publications/e94888.pdf?ua=1
4 Cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory changes induced by different types of music in musicians and non‐musicians: the importance of silence
Heart. 2006 Apr; 92(4): 445–452.
Published online 2005 Sep 30. doi: 10.1136/hrt.2005.064600