How often do you experience complete silence? With no blaring TV, radio chatter, bleeping phone… not even the whirr of the washing machine. Never? Same here. Yet studies suggest noise pollution can increase levels of anxiety and depression, and even throw our hearts out of rhythm – so this lack of quiet time may be doing us more harm than we realise. Plus, research has shown that silence can have some serious benefits – a study on mice found that it generated new brain cells linked to making new memories. And with an online survey revealing that 43% of us now say we opt for takeaways to avoid rowdy restaurants, it seems we’re increasingly craving tranquillity. Here’s how you can invite more of it into your life.
Silence is, of course, central to mindful meditation, and there’s lots of evidence this practice is good for us. Studies have indicated that it can, for instance, help reduce the perception of pain and aid in managing anxiety. But if you find it hard to carve out peaceful time, the solution could be a meditation gathering, as research suggests we’re more likely to stick with something if we have group support. For example, Just Breathe events attract up to 1,000 people at a time, and the sole objective is to sit, breathe and meditate in stillness. ‘When people think of meditation, they usually consider it a solo endeavour,’ says founder Michael James Wong. ‘But the beauty of a group setting is that it cultivates community, connection and support.’ Check it out at the Wanderlust festival in September, or find out more at justbreatheproject.com.
Ditch the gym, get outdoors – and kill that blaring soundtrack. This is a strictly podcast-, playlist- and tech-free zone. Why? Running in silence will allow you to concentrate on your movement, tune in to how your body feels, and fully focus your attention on the present. Start by running in sync with your breath: inhale, step, step, step; exhale, step, step, step. Count 10 inhalations and exhalations, then repeat. Whenever your mind starts to wander, simply bring your focus back to your breath, steps and surroundings. Mackenzie L Havey, author of Mindful Running (Bloomsbury Sport), credits the practice with instilling a greater sense of calm and awareness in her life: ‘Mindful running allows me to notice when I’m operating in autopilot. Most runs I can simply focus on my breathing and the rhythm of my stride, accepting that there will be moments of discomfort. It’s made me a happier and healthier runner, but also a more switched-on human being.’
Do you live in a house full of chatterboxes, where it’s impossible to savour a minute’s peace? If you need to take serious measures to seek out noiselessness, consider heading to a silent sanctuary. Here in the UK, for example, Gaia House in Devon offers one-day silent retreats incorporating both sitting and walking meditation, plus an hour’s collaborative work period in (you guessed it) total quiet. Talking, or written communication, is an absolute no-no. Oh, and there’s no wi-fi – so you won’t be filling the time with a sneaky scroll through your Insta stories. Visit gaiahouse.co.uk for more details.
Flotation therapy has been around for decades, but has often been thought of as a bit ‘out there’. Yet one study suggests floating in a small, circular pod, with nothing but silence (plus about 600 litres of water and 350kg of Epsom salt, warmed to skin temperature), has been found to help relieve the perception of stress and anxiety and improve sleep quality and feelings of wellbeing. The therapy is popular in Sweden, where there are 120 flotation centres. And the UK is catching up – we have around 50 dotted around the country. For a pod near you, go to floatationlocations.com.
When attempting to get a moment’s hush, picking up a book is one of the simplest options – and surprisingly smart, as reading has been linked to benefits such as lowering feelings of depression and temporarily boosting emotional intelligence. But finding a pocket of stillness to spend with a novel may often get pushed aside in favour of more pressing tasks. Time to take action and stop you and that bestseller being kept apart by finding your nearest ‘chapter’ – aka reading group. Silent Book Club (silentbook.club) meets in London several times a month to read in (yep) silence. Phones are stashed away, zero interruptions are guaranteed, and socialising is strictly optional. Not near London? Why not start your own chapter on community-building site meetup.com?
You might not give it much thought, but our online worlds create all sorts of ‘noise’ in our heads, so it might be time for a digital detox. A number of studies have found associations between social media use and anxiety and depression, poor sleep quality, and lower self-esteem. So why not commit to zero Tweeting, status-updating or Insta-posting for a week? Research suggests that stepping away from Facebook for that long can help to up our happiness levels, while five days without any screen time may be enough to improve non-verbal communication skills. Struggling to stay tech-free? Try the tips for embarking on a 5:2 digital diet at Time to log off. And enjoy the silence…