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Noise can be sickening: 5 ways to heal



The world can be a loud place.


If you've ever sat through a long flight with a crying baby, or tried to sleep when the neighbours were holding a party, then you know what I mean. But it's not just those annoying moments when the world is too much; it surrounds us every day.


We awake to the sound of an alarm, we have TVs and videos playing whilst we get to work, we play music whilst we study and write reports. People talk to us, traffic thrums in the background - the list goes on.


And even when we finally crawl into bed at the end of the day, we often have to contend with background sounds, we scroll the videos in our social media, we may have someone snoring in bed or children crying for our attention. I've recently paid the price for a youth spent soaking up loud music, and developed tinnitus, meaning even on the quietest of nights I'm listening to loud whistling, whether I want to or not. Sound is all around us.


But have you ever stopped to think about what that means? I know I didn't.



Our minds are built to consider sounds as key survival information. That rustling sound in the grass, is that the wind or a predator? That thumping sound, is that something running towards me? That roar - is that for me, or is someone else about to get eaten?


Our brains are hard-wired to respond to sounds, particularly loud or unexpected sounds, as potential threats. We have a fight-or-flight mechanism in our heads that starts with the amygdala, which sends out a distress signal causing the hypothalamus to fire up the adrenal glands and start our bodies pumping, ready for action. And all that can start with that sound we just heard.


And constantly entering that state is bad for us, not just in the short term but in the long term too. Long-term exposure to the fight-or-flight mechanism has been linked to anxiety, depression, and even heart disease.


In short, sounds can make us sick. Our whole body chemistry fires into action, raising our blood pressure and causing us to tense up ready for action.


Only, we're living in a world so soaked in sounds that we have ceased to recognise what's happening to us on a daily basis. So, what solutions can we apply to help combat this?



1. Meditation and mindfulness time

One of the simplest ways to cut down on noise is to effectively ignore it, via meditation and mindfulness. It's not technically stopping the noise but instead finding a way to hold off the impact of those sounds on our bodies.


Mindfulness is a way to accept what is happening within and around us and to be accepting of it. Meditation is a way to focus that acceptance towards a calm and stable place - far away from fight-or-flight.


Psychology Today has a great article on this that explains how you can meditate, even in the midst of a loud event.



2. Quieten our devices

Sometimes, the sounds that assault us are of our own making. It can be easy to become so concerned we'll miss out on something, that we surrender our peace in return for the certainty that we'll know. That includes everything from alarms to alerts and notifications. If you are anything like me then you have at least one computer, one tablet, and one phone, maybe a smartwatch too. There might be a Google or Alexa device hovering in the kitchen - and all of them are waiting to tell you every time something happens. You'll be notified when someone posts something, when someone responds to your email when an app has been updated - the list goes on.


Of course, the companies behind this technology know exactly what they are doing - algorithms are designed to keep us locked in and responding, both creating and consuming content. They want us to be aware when things change so that we come back and respond.


But we don't have to live that way.


Our phones have silent modes and off switches for a good reason. Most also have quiet time controls too, when you can silence alerts and stop being informed of every little change. And in case you feel any level of panic around using those controls, there are safeguards to ensure that people in your contact list can still reach you, should they need you. So if are needed, you can still be reached.


You can easily be in control of how much peace and quiet you surrender to your own technology - and your body and mind will thank you for it.


There are great articles out there to help you with this, such as how to shut up your gadgets at night from Wired, and how to stop the buzzing and beeping from your devices.



3. Don't frown, turn it white or brown

In step 1 you learned you could ignore it, in step 2 you learned how you can turn off your own contribution to it. But you can also cover it with - well, more sound.


White noise is a relatively consistent noise that can sound like the hissing we used to hear on old TVs when they weren't tuned in right - think Poltergeist. A smooth sound that raises the background noise to a consistent but bland level, covering smaller background noises that are bothering us.


Brown noise plays a similar role, only instead of the consistent non-descript sound of white noise, it uses a more random and overlapping set of sounds. But just as with white noise, it is a way to mask sounds that are breaking through and annoying us.


How does this help? Well, both white noise and brown noise break the cycle of stimulus and response that trigger our fight-or-flight response. They can allow us to get back to whatever we were trying to do, whether that's sleeping, meditating or anything else.


And it's very simple to apply. There are numerous apps, many of them free, that will play white or brown noise for you, either through headphones or a speaker. My personal favorite is an app called Noizio, which allows you to choose from a very wide range of sounds and then overlap them at different volume levels to create your own personal ambient brown noise blanket for your ears. I am not advocating for that particular app, we have no affiliation with it and do not receive any benefit from that link, this is merely to give you a start point if you're not sure where to look.


Masking sounds with white or brown noise is a great way to reduce their impact on you.



4. Float in peace

If you've never tried a floatation tank, I highly recommend it. It is one of the best ways you'll ever find to shut down sounds and spend a short period of time in blissful silence. This is variously known as floatation therapy or sensory deprivation tank therapy.


If you've not experienced it before, it's basically a warm bath with super-salty water that helps you float effortlessly on top. It's normally set up within a very quiet room or location, with ear plugs to help keep out all external sounds. Sometimes it is also in complete darkness, although not everyone is comfortable with that approach.


Floatation therapy can offer real health benefits, although it can take a little getting used to - some people find the lack of input to be a unique experience, and many report having auditory or visual hallucinations, as the brain can sometimes attempt to fill in the missing input with something it made up. But there is no doubt that it offers an excellent break from the sounds that bombard us each and every day.



5. Getting away from it all

Finally, one of the most useful ways we can escape the soundscape of our world is to find a different world for a short while. A weekend break away, a cozy cottage in the country for a short stay, even booking into a hotel room for a night somewhere far from home. If you live somewhere where the soundscape is active all day - in the city or near traffic, for example - then finding somewhere where the sounds are more soothing, or missing entirely, can be a powerful relaxant.


I once spent a weekend in a tent right on the edge of a beach. The weather played nice, the days were empty and quiet, and each night the lulling sounds of waves gently breaking on the shore ushered me into the best sleep I think I've ever had. It doesn't have to entirely lack sound - just those sounds that prove stressful and disruptive. It's winter here in Australia right now, and another of my favorites is a stay in a home with a fireplace; the gentle pop and hiss of burning wood as the fire whispers away is not only the perfect accompaniment to a good book; it's also the perfect way to ease the body and mind away from the sounds that keep you ready for fight-or-flight all week.




Our lives can be stressful enough, and the sounds we are surrounded by can make it much harder on our overworked minds and bodies. But with a few simple steps, we can give ourselves the break we need.


Take care of yourselves, and each other.








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