Read this month’s guide below, or listen to it via the podcast player
It highlights the value of discretion over eloquence. It suggests that there is power in silence.
In my experience, I find this to be true. Opportunities for silence, pauses, and quiet moments are what allow me and my clients the space to think more deeply to find those elusive insights we’re so often seeking.
But what our modern-day scientists and researchers are discovering is that silence is also essential for maintaining our health and wellbeing, and for activating more of our brainpower and potential.
I have a story to share about my own experience with silence … or the lack of it.
Many years ago now, for a time I lived in London, England, and for a year of that time, I lived near Brockwell Park with my then-boyfriend, on a very busy and noisy road. The bus with squeaky breaks used to stop right outside our apartment block at all hours of the day and night, waking us up.
Our neighbour upstairs worked odd shifts and would tramp up the wooden stairs in her noisy clogs at two in the morning, and then stomp around her sitting room for an hour, which was right above our bedroom. I remember being constantly tired, irritated and agitated, due to this excess of noise. It created an underlying layer of grating stress in my day-to-day.
This was, in part, because I’m what is known as an HSP or Highly Sensitive Person.
This is a recognised physiological condition that occurs in about 20% of us humans. There are several different characteristics that can be associated with the condition, but basically being an HSP means that a person has “an increased or deeper central nervous system sensitivity to certain physical, emotional, or social stimuli.”
If an HSP regularly encounters these triggers, this sensitivity can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression.
For me, I’m particularly sensitive to bright lights, loud or high-pitched noises, the energy of too many people in a confined space, and certain textiles and textures. These things make me agitated.
But it doesn’t matter whether you’re an HSP or not, it’s increasingly apparent that our tech-heavy world has become far too wearing on our senses in general.
Studies have found that lots of noise in our environment can be linked to elevated cortisol levels, high blood pressure, poor sleep and heart disease. And the level of noise in our environments has increased radically over the years as our spaces have become more urbanised and more digitised.
Very few places are still naturally silent and sacred. Even in natural surroundings, with natural noises that can be soothing to the central nervous system, it’s also highly likely that in the background you may hear distant rumbles from a nearby highway or the droning of a plane overhead.
It’s not just the big noises, such as loud trucks passing by, alarming ambulance sirens and hammering construction work that play a role in elevating our stress. It’s also the constant little background noises in our day-to-day that can affect us.
I began to notice this more, when I started my podcast last year. I discovered that even in what I thought was a quiet room, on playback my microphone was picking up all kinds of aural interference.
Our appliances can have a continuous soft but high pitched ring. The boiler vibrates when it starts up and creates a hum in the pipes as it heats our rooms in winter. Our TVs, computers and other digital devices have a low key electrical buzz (and they also give off radiation which affects our energy field).
Our work tools can beep and ding and ping with all our reminders, notifications, chats and emails, not to mention that their blue lights also affect our hormone production, contributing to the issues of poor sleep due to lowered serotonin and melatonin, and more stress due to elevated cortisol.
These health issues, in turn, impact on our ability to concentrate and to communicate well, which then affects our relationships and our work performance. So, this continuous assault on our senses has a knock on effect on our wellbeing and productivity.
Supporting our health and performance through silence isn’t just about reducing the noise, to reduce our stress. Silence also elevates beneficial responses in the brain.
In an article for Nautilus from 2016, the journalist Daniel A Gross reports:
The studies suggest that silence is highly beneficial for our brain’s development. Researchers discovered that spending two hours per day in silence, can increase cell development in the part of our brain responsible for our memory and our senses.
How are they affected by our noisy, over-stimulating, fully-loaded environments, and by the imposed isolation resulting from our current pandemic situation?
Visually, our eyes are taking strain as we’re spending too much time in front of screens and devices. Our eyes are dry and they tire as we tend to forget to blink and look away. We know this already, but this doesn’t stop us from putting them through digital hell.
Too much screen time also overstimulates the brain, making it harder to calm our body down in preparation for sleep.
Personally, if I’m not offline by 8pm, it can take 3 or 4 hours for my central nervous system and my brain to feel relaxed enough to contemplate sleep. And this is with night time meditation and sleep supplements.
The lack of physical presence on a video call, forces our eyes and brain to work much harder on understanding communication signals, using only the cues we can see or hear via the screen, which is not the same as having those people in a real room with you, where you can use your other senses to also pick up on stimuli.
Touch is another sense that has been impacted by our isolation. It’s a primitive need, which starts in the womb where we are nestled securely before birth. When we use touch, it can release feel good hormones and amplify our sense of belonging and security.
So it’s no surprise that studies are finding that living in isolation can have a severe impact on our mental health. This is in part due to a lack of hugs, or even the lightweight or casual touches we might engage in, with friends or coworkers.
The good news is that while we are in enforced isolation, there are ways to emulate loving touch without the need of endangering your life by hanging out with other people.
Researchers discovered that stroking a pet creates the same good feelings in your body as if you were being stroked. If you don’t have pets, I suspect that hugging a tree or rubbing the leaves of your pot plant while you talk to it, may help too.
The written word has also been found to trigger good thoughts and memories in our brains and good feelings in our bodies, whether that’s reading a good fiction book or writing your granny a postcard.
Now I want to flag a burning issue related to these fashionable but fatigue-inducing behaviours.
Issues related to burnout aren’t just due to the pandemic. They’ve been brewing for a while.
We’ve been working unsustainably day after day, with unmanageable workloads, for years … not just the past year.
Meeting fatigue has always been a thing, because the reality is that common and typical workplace practices and business goals do not always support our health and performance the way that they are meant to.
With less time and less budget, the pressure to meet higher targets or unreasonable deadlines, it inevitably falls to us humans, to pick up the slack. But we can end up being the weak link in the chain, because we can only stretch so far.
I’m talking from experience, having been pushed to my limit so hard a few years ago, that I crashed and burned badly, and was incapable of working for more than a year.
These detrimental effects of our work styles and workplaces have been ramped up during the pandemic, because of the necessity for a virtual-only element. And we’ve fallen into the trap of staying glued to our screens.
In our current circumstances, many of us are working from home whilst home schooling, caring for family members, and trying to fit in all those other responsibilities into our work day.
There is very little separation and we are essentially “living at work” to borrow a phrase recently used on Instagram by the author, radio personality and flexi-work campaigner, Anna Whitehouse.
It’s not healthy or sustainable over the long term to attempt to be functioning this way, unless we can adapt our habits to support our brains and bodies better.
The Burnout Crisis is real, as Jennifer Moss’s article for The Harvard Business Review reveals. We really cannot continue in this way.
As things start to open up in the world in coming months, and digits crossed that all goes to plan, there is the risk that we will take the noise and the digital clutter and the unsupportive habits that we’ve developed in the past pandemic year, with us into whatever future workplace scenario waits for us.
Now is the time to separate what works from what doesn’t. This is the time to give some long, hard thought to how you want to work going forward.
We need to adapt, because the way that most of us are working now, is just not working.
Let’s go back to the theme of this article – silence – and consider the impact that noise (digital and otherwise) has on our psyche and our sensibilities, our performance and our productivity.
Then let’s give some thought to how we can incorporate more silent moments into our days and more quiet time into how we live and work?
As that’s what will help to support our over-stimulated minds to perform at their best, in the present and in the future.
As Daniel A Gross writes:
I’d like to know what’s happening in your world of work and life.
There’s a Q&A element to my podcast (Creating Cadence) and every few weeks I answer questions or give my thoughts and observations on specific situations.
If you have a question relating to productivity, wellbeing or remote work. Or want to flag the challenges you’re experiencing with your focus, work performance or culture, I’d like to hear from you. Please write in to: hello [at] growthsessions [dot] co
Likewise, if you have found solutions to support your work better in current times, then please do share your experience too. This is a learning platform where we can all learn ways to improve on what we’re doing.
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