Ode to Silence: 7 Benefits for Mind and Body
I fondly remember the days when my children were small. My eldest child possessed an inquisitive and active mind. Each day was saturated with his nonstop questions and observations. On more than one occasion I would look at him and, as kindly as a tired and exasperated mother could, say, “Please be quiet. Mommy’s ears are tired!”
We live in a world of perpetual sound. Pinging alerts of incoming emails and texts on our phones. The perpetual background noise of television, radio and podcasts. And even when escaping to nature, the noise of leaf blowers, lawnmowers and construction work assaults us. Let’s face it, life is noisy! We’ve become so inured to noise that, when we do encounter silence, we’re often uncomfortable. But weaving moments of silence into our lives has numerous benefits for both mind and body.
Benefits of Silence
Besides giving our ears a break, silence offers significant health advantages that enhance overall well-being. From a physiological standpoint, silence helps:
- Lower blood pressure, which can help prevent heart attack;
- Boost the body’s immune system;
- Benefit brain chemistry by growing new cells. A 2013 study found that two hours of silence could create new cells in the hippocampus region, a brain area linked to learning, remembering, and emotions;
- Decrease stress by lowering blood cortisol levels and adrenaline. According to a 2006 study, two minutes of silence relieves tension in the body and brain and relaxes us more than listening to music;
- Promote good hormone regulation and the interaction of bodily hormone-relate systems;
- Prevent plaque formation in arteries.
In addition, the steady stream of auditory stimuli keeps our focus on the external world. This makes it harder for us to turn our attention inward and connect with our own bodies and thoughts. In contrast, taking time to be silent—whether in meditation or lounging in a hot bath after a long day—offers a wealth of benefits for body and mind. Here are a few.
Silence Supports Brain Health and Improves Memory
Silence is wonderful for your brain. It gives your prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved with working memory, a break from processing stimuli. Not only that, but in silence you can tap into something called the “default mode” of your brain, where you let your mind take over to engage in daydreams, contemplation, or simply get lost in thoughts. There’s evidence that this state helps to replenish brain cells.
Sitting in silence for ten to 15 minutes can also boost your memory. For example, a 2014 study of patients with amnesia showed that a ten-minute rest in a quiet darkened room increased recall from 14 to 49 per cent. The study also yielded similar results for healthy participants improving memory recall from ten to 30 per cent.
Silence Improves Sleep
The importance of quiet sleep cannot be stressed enough as it helps restore the body and the mind, and is important for your physical, emotional and cognitive health. Case in point, a 2015 study in which older adults practiced mindfulness meditation for six weeks found that periods of silence during the day can also improve sleep quality and lessen insomnia.
Silence Promotes Better Decision-Making
When you’re in a noisy environment, it becomes difficult to make any decisions, as your brain is constantly being bombarded with stimuli. But just five minutes of silence reduces the stress response of the amygdala, the part of the brain that drive the “fight-or-flight response. Additionally, the amygdala releases serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin — known as “feel-good” hormones. This restores your sense of well-being and calms your mind. With that, you can make better decisions as you process information with clarity and awareness.
Silence Fosters Creativity
When allowing thoughts to wander where they choose, inspiration may bubble up. Tapping into our subconscious and intuitive mind frequently yield creative solutions to current or long-standing problems as well as innovative work-arounds. Furthermore, ideas for going in a different direction could coalesce, creating momentum and excitement for other potential pursuits.
Relaxation is a primary mechanism for healing. When you are stressed, your body’s natural repair mechanisms are disabled. By contrast, when you’re relaxed, your body’s natural repair mechanisms are enabled and you heal faster.
Silence Heightens Emotional Well-Being
Mindfulness is the first step in emotional healing. It enables you to acknowledge difficult thoughts and feelings—such as inadequacy, sadness, anger or confusion—with a spirit of openness, curiosity and self-compassion. In fact, research has shown that self-compassion greatly enhances emotional well-being. It bolsters happiness, reduces anxiety and depression, and can even help you to maintain healthy lifestyle habits leading to greater ease and well-being in your daily life.
Making Time for Silence
The benefits of silence and solitude are many. But if you’re still immersed in your daily life, still looking at your phone every few minutes, checking your email, working, texting, etc, the benefits of silence are greatly reduced. In order to truly tap into that inner quiet place, it helps to dedicate a set time in which you can excuse yourself from your daily responsibilities and linger in silence.
Start by devoting ten to fifteen minutes daily to silent activities. Use that time to take a walk in the woods, enjoy your morning coffee in solitude, practice yoga or meditate. Alternatively, carve out time for sacred pauses. Sacred pauses are mini-meditations you take during the day when you are involved in a goal-oriented task. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed in a quiet space. Take a few slow, deep breaths. With each breath let go of any thought or worries and invite your body to relax. Do this often throughout the day to give your mind and body a respite from noise and stressful thoughts.
By making silence a part of each day, you can bolster the health of your mind and body. Be well!