Silence Is Golden: Why Constant Noise, Music, and Loud Voices Are Destroying Our Nervous System

Man covering his ears and screaming.
Image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

If I could collectively tell the world an effective way to improve general mental health, it would be to eliminate excess noise and practice silence.

As I’ve gotten older, I am stunned by the amount of high-level noise every place I go. Even though I am stunned, I am not surprised.

Our culture has become addicted to outside stimuli, so it makes sense the world has become increasingly loud.

After sharing a story on Facebook last winter about my experience with blasting music on a plane (what?!), a deeply conscious friend of mine posted this comment:

“People can’t deal with any level of quiet.”

Sadly, I have to agree.

As I observe the world, I notice more and more noise popping up, some of it in the most inappropriate places.

People talk more loudly, too. They talk loudly because they don’t feel heard.

As I write this blog, music is blasting from a speaker above my head. There isn’t one place I can go in my hotel where there isn’t music playing. Not one quiet spot.

I know the mindset behind this decision: people need distractions constantly. God forbid we sit quietly and reflect on something for a minute or two, without music. If you ask the average person to sit for five minutes without a phone, a person to talk to, or something to entertain them, most people can’t do it. They’re addicted to constant stimuli.

Another reason for constant music is this: studies have shown music relaxes people so they will spend more money. This is why endless music played in malls, stores, banks, restaurants, airports, hotels, motels, hallways, entryways, elevators, planes, cars, buses, trains, train stations, bus stations, grocery stores, lobbies, and gas stations.

The only places I don’t hear music constantly are libraries and courtrooms, although I’m hoping there are more.

Music is everywhere, but that doesn’t make it relaxing.

Constant noise is destroying our nervous system, concentration, sanity, and mindset.

Let’s dive deeper into each type of noise and how it’s affecting us.


Music in Public: Is it Soothing or Stressful?

Woman wearing headphones.
Image courtesy of whoalice-moore on Pixabay

Here’s a confession: I’m starting to dislike music.

Yes, it’s true.

I’m starting to dislike it because I can’t escape it. There isn’t one public place devoid of songs or a radio program blasting from every speaker. It’s crazy-making.

The brain is a stimuli-consuming organ. It must decide what stimulus gets stored and what doesn’t. It sorts through an incredible amount of information from the outside world and decides what is relevant to you and what isn’t. When you sleep, the brain deletes information it doesn’t need to make room for the onslaught of new information the next day.

The addition of music in places we don’t expect (and don’t need) is causing low-level stress, anxiety, and confusion. Our focus is diminished when we notice music blaring from a speaker above our heads. We can become irritated, annoyed, and overwhelmed.

Have you ever been peacefully walking through the grocery store and bam! a song starts up out of nowhere? That initial shock was felt by the body as stress. Within a nanosecond, your brain has to determine if that noise is dangerous or life-threatening. This takes precious energy.

Everything the brain does requires physiological energy. Every decision we make, every beat of our heart, and every coordination of our legs are all being overseen by the motherboard: our brain.

The more outside stimulation the brain needs to sort through, the more energy it uses. This is why you can feel exhausted after attending a raucous party or a day at the county fair. Your brain took in and processed loads of new information and it’s depleted.

This is why we fall back into habits easily, it’s a way to preserve energy. The brain loves habits because they run on auto-pilot.

Let’s not forget every thought we think makes a chemical and is felt by the body. If we are trying to concentrate over loud music, we’re likely creating thoughts based on our frustration, which creates chemicals of frustration, too. Eeek! That’s not what we want.

Another perspective on this: everyone’s taste in music is different. Being at the mercy of music you don’t resonate with, especially in a place you need to be, can cause anger and anxiety.

A quick Google search on this topic reveals many people are sick of loud music in public. They’re sick of shouting conversations over lunch because of the blasting pop rock, they’re sick of grocery shopping while an 80s ballad screeches in their ear, and they’re sick of having to request the volume be turned down to a reasonable level.

I’m sick of it, too. Because I know the silent harm it’s inflicting.

Loud music in a restaurant is designed to annoy you so you’ll leave quickly after paying. It’s a ploy to get a new set of butts in the seats and keep that cash coming. Your experience while dining is irrelevant. This is about money.

And while that’s sad, it’s the truth: relationships have become transactional.

How can we go forward, especially if we are sensitive to noise? We can start to change the culture by creating something new.

The next time you’re in a public place with blasting music, ask them to turn it down and share how much it ruins your experience. Be specific. Ask them to take your comments to the manager or corporate contact. Make a fuss! This is affecting our mental health and we have the right to change the narrative.


Cell Phone, Speakerphone, and Headphone Etiquette

Line of people checking their phones.
Image courtesy of fauxels on Pexels

Have you noticed the number of people who talk on speakerphone in public?

Not only talk, but play music, watch videos, play video games, and listen to voicemails?

Pretty wild, right?

This is baffling for several reasons:

1. Lack of privacy.

I’ve overhead intensely personal conversations at Walmart, Target, the grocery store, car repair waiting rooms, hospitals, hair salons, pharmacies, you name it!

People seem to have no shame about airing their private business in front of strangers. And it’s uncomfortable!

Not only that, it’s inconsiderate, disruptive, and rude.

Clearly, people feel that talking on the cell phone somehow isolates them from the people in their immediate vicinity. The deeper they get into their conversations, the more removed they feel from those who are physically present and the more engaged they become in the conversation itself. Unfortunately for them, and for their unwilling listeners, they are anything but isolated.

susan krauss whitbourne, ph.d., psychology today

From my point of view, I think the vast majority of humans are so overwhelmed by their day-to-day life, they are literally unaware of other people unless they bump straight into one.


2. A Sense of Entitlement.

When people aren’t self-actualized or hold true self-empowerment, they focus outward to feel powerful, worthy, or whole.

We’ve all done this to varying degrees and it comes from deep pain, disenfranchisement, or low self-worth.

The next time you hear someone talking on speakerphone, notice their energy.

Do they hold a sense of entitlement?

In other situations, however, public cell phone talkers may enjoy being in the conversational limelight. They want to look busy, important, and in charge. Their public conversations are filled with overstated stories of their success, either real or implied. They let everyone around them know how well their sales are going or how many demands they experience in their high-level job. Perhaps their conversation is filled with boss-like commands in which they issue instructions to the person on the other end of the phone telling the other person to sell this or buy that. You might suspect that rather than being oblivious to their surroundings, these cell phone talkers relish sounding important and are playing to what they believe is an impressionable audience.

susan krauss whitbourne, ph.d., psychology today

3. It’s hard to understand people on speakerphone, isn’t it?

“What did you say? I can’t hear you!!”

No matter the reason for a public phone call, I’m amazed folks can understand what the person on the other end of the line is saying!

And because they can’t distinguish the words, they turn the volume up higher, believing it will help. We all know the outcome of that!


Why am I going on and on about speakerphone?

Because it’s another example of unnecessary noise in our lives.

The first speakerphone was introduced in 2005 with Verizon’s LG VX-9800. This means we’ve been hearing and ingesting noise from people’s conversations for around 17 years.

Yikes!

In 2005, I was in my mid-20s. No speakerphone noise existed in my life before then.

More noise means more stimuli for the brain to sort through, using more of your physiological energy.

Being the ‘victim’ of a stranger’s cell phone call can incite a stress response, which depletes the immune system and drains the vagus nerve, eventually causing poor vagal tone.

Repeated or prolonged stress responses can cause heart problems, mental stress or dis-ease, digestion problems, mood swings, poor sleep, and depression.

Noise, noise, and more noise. Our nervous systems cannot sustain this and it’s getting louder every day.

A quick word about wearing headphones

Another component of cell phone etiquette dying a slow death is wearing headphones.

More and more, I notice people ditching earbuds for open conversations on speakerphone. Why?

Can they not be bothered to put them in, or does this go deeper?

I think it’s our misguided self-centered culture that says it’s okay to do whatever you want without responsibility or consideration for others.

It’s believed if we consider other people, we will have something of ours taken away. We will lose or go without.

The next time you experience someone sans headphones, take note of their attitude and energy.


Loud Voices, Shouting, and the Constant Cry for Attention

Teenager cupping his hands over his mouth and shouting.
Image courtesy of sweetlouise on Pixabay

People don’t need a cell phone to talk loudly, they can do it on their own! 😉

Here’s a scenario you may be familiar with:

You and a friend are talking and it’s getting heated. You don’t feel heard, so you compensate by cranking up your volume and repeating yourself. Your friend does, too. Now, you’re both miles away from what you’re saying because you’re focused on being heard and getting louder.

As we feel less and less heard in our lives, guess what? We get louder.

I’m not only referring to family and friends, either.

I’m talking about not being heard by society, the popular group, the cliche, or the collective.

We are dying to be seen, loved, appreciated, and noticed and it’s coming out in our volume.

Groups or cultures that have felt marginalized, abused, silenced, unrepresented, or discriminated against tend to be louder once they have a voice. Why? Because for so long, their voices were taken away.

This can manifest not only as volume but as energy.

The more we feel stifled, the louder we tend to get. We’ve all experienced this in personal and collective ways, especially if we’ve had trauma.

We see this in public constantly: people yelling at their kids, yelling for their spouse, yelling at the poor cashier, yelling into their speakerphones! My God, it’s anarchy at times!

Some of us have no awareness of just how loud we are or can become when upset. The more intense we get, the more stress is cursing through our body, causing inflammation, mood swings, and negative thoughts.

All this yelling, shouting, screaming, and ‘spotlight insecurity’ (fear you’re not the center of attention) is slowly killing people. It creates stress cycles that never complete, holding all that energy in the body until it escapes in another form — through illness, mental distress, hatred, anger, and violence.

People don’t feel heard because they aren’t listening to themselves. We’ve created a culture of outside validation, ignoring the wisdom of our inner truth.

How does a kid get attention? They cry, scream, beg, yell, and throw a tantrum. All forms of noise.

We learn from infancy to get our needs met, we need to get louder!

But getting louder as adults accomplishes very little, especially when we aren’t aware of the damage it’s doing.

Have you ever noticed the push to be an extrovert? In the past few years, endless articles have been written about ‘coming out of your shell’ and ‘how to be more extroverted.’

The messaging is clear: be louder, get louder, become louder, more, more, more noise!!

Very few articles are written about the value of being an introvert because self-connection is not valued in society — relationships with others are.


The Power of Silence

Image courtesy of Kristina Flour on Unsplash

I wonder what the world would feel like if more people knew the power of silence.

In many spiritual texts, silence is the gateway to hearing God, our intuition, and our wisdom.

In silence, we have a reprieve from outside influence, conditioning, and the weight of others’ opinions, beliefs, and mindsets.

Silence sets us free.

Our senses aren’t designed to cope with this barrage of noise. We naturally find the sound of birds singing or of wind rushing through trees pleasing, but mechanical noise jars and grates. And since we live our lives against a background of mechanical noise it follows that there’s always an undercurrent of agitation inside us, produced by the noise. This noise is certainly one of the reasons why modern life is so stressful as well. In modern life our senses are bombarded with massive amounts of external stimuli our fields of vision are always crowded with different (and constantly shifting) things, and our ears are bombarded with a bewildering variety of sounds, all of which clamour for our attention.

Steve Taylor, ph.d., psychology today

In silence, our truth finally comes out. We can hear guidance about what is important to us (not what we’ve been told is important). For many, getting quiet is the first time they come in contact with their authentic feelings.

Can you appreciate the value of silence now? Can you understand the damage of noise, especially on the physical body?

How does noise affect you?

Does too much noise create stress, anxiety, or overwhelm for you?

Have you experienced the power of silence or cutting out excess noise?

I’d love to know in the comments!

P.S. If noise is crippling you, wear earplugs in public. I’ve been doing this for the past year and it makes a huge difference when I go out. Using them in the airport and on planes has been a game-changer for me!


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