We lead frantic lifestyles. We often find ourselves hooked up to earphones playing music or talking on mobile phones while being surrounded by the chaotic sounds of our fast-paced, noisy towns and cities. We’re bombarded by all types of sound, from the nearly silent clock ticking to the whirr of a computer to the din of heavy traffic, people shouting, lawn mowers and construction.
The Dangers of Too Much Noise
Sound pollution can be a real factor in creating stress on the human psyche, affecting our mental attitude and harming the physical body. This noise strains the nervous system. “When we talk about noise-related health issues, we should look at the potential impact on our hearing health and overall physiology/health and wellbeing,”says Craig Kasper, AuD, chief audiology officer of New York Hearing Doctors in New York City, which helps patients of all ages prevent hearing loss and recover from noise pollution. According to Kasper, a sound becomes dangerous to the ears when it’s loud enough for a long enough time. “A constant 85 decibels for eight hours is the critical threshold for us to become concerned about a sound causing physical damage to our hearing,” he explains, adding that most people aren’t exposed to such loudness (equivalent to a blender) for eight hours straight. However, exposure to louder noises can be dangerous for shorter intervals.
Everyday Noise Hazards
“Places like nightclubs and concerts certainly have the ability to cause damage to our hearing,” says Kasper. “Using most standard headphones, especially when in a noisy environment—think commuter train, plane or city streets—holds the potential for noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. Household appliances such as hairdryers and vacuums can contribute as well. Lower levels of chronic noise (below the levels that would be considered harmful to our hearing) have been shown to impact a child’s ability to learn; [they have] also been shown through numerous research studies to increase our blood pressure, cortisol levels and impact our sleep.”
5 Ways Protect Yourself From Sound Pollution
- Use earplugs to protect your hearing when in environments that may be potentially harmful, such as clubs, concerts or construction sites, suggests Kasper, who adds that the plugs can also be used to reduce noise when trying to get quiet time.
- Physically distance yourself from the noise source if possible. Kasper recommends nature walks in forests or on secluded beaches as well as indulging in a simple nap for a temporary respite.
- Use sound-isolating headphones so you don’t have to turn the volume up on your device to compete with background noise.
- If you’re far from nature, find quiet spaces where you can remove yourself from the cacophony as needed. These silent havens exist—even in New York City
- Try a silent retreat. Offered in remote locations and done in a group or privately, everything is done in silence, from daily yoga practices and meals to long walks and hikes. Being mindful is a practice; silence is required. The pursuit of mindfulness is one of the most mentally, psychologically, emotionally and physically health-producing pursuits in which any of us can engage.
The Benefits of Surrendering to a Silent Retreat
“In a world surrounded by noise, our inner self loses the ability to hear,” says Lisa Chamberlin, a participant in one of the many silent retreats I’ve led over the past decade and a half. When I lead silent retreats, I ask participants to give up vocal responses to their inner and outer environments. I encourage lots of reading time and even structure this into the program. It is important to have structure during these retreats. Otherwise, the sudden lack of constant, outwardly directed noise can create feelings of despair, loneliness and even panic.
Without the distraction of sound, participants deeply connect to their bodies through healthy eating, meditation and daily yoga. In my experience, those who undertake silent retreats undergo a life-enhancing change. “We were able to stroll the grounds of the beautiful sanctuary in Northern California [with] graceful and calming deer,” Chamberlin recalls. “It was in the magic of this wilderness that I reclaimed my connection to my father, who later passed away.”
When you quiet the chatter, you can finally hear yourself think.