Silence is defined as “the complete absence of sound,” and believe it or not, there are some major benefits of silence. However, a world in which we’re surrounded by “information overload” and high levels of “noise pollution” — due to constant news streams, phone alerts, social media and more — silence can be pretty hard to come by today.
Unfortunately, psychologists think this is to our detriment, as quiet, reflective time has been shown to be good for overall well-being in a number of ways, especially those related to stress relief.
What is the power of silence? Silence and solitude pretty much go hand in hand, and both are linked to improved mental health when experienced in a balanced, moderate amount (as too much may increase feelings of loneliness).
According to many studies, benefits of silence are similar to those of meditation and include reduced anxiety symptoms, less ruminating thoughts, plus improved focus, creativity and even patience.
What Are the Benefits of Silence?
Silence is all about cultivating an intentional time of quiet stillness. Intentional is key here, since most of us don’t experience much silence these days unless we seek it out.
Even though our culture pushes us to constantly consume information and content (and it’s available 24/7 thanks to modern technology), silence remains an important part of cultivating a calm, focused mindset.
According to experts, here are some of the potential benefits of silence:
1. Improved Mental Clarity
Many studies show that we can think and process our emotions most clearly when we aren’t distracted by noise in our environments. With improved clarity comes the ability to make better decisions.
You might find that you come out of silence better understanding what you want and don’t want, how you feel, what needs your attention and what can be put aside for another day. Some psychologists also recommend contemplating your actions while in silence by asking yourself:
- Who does this benefit?
- Is this kind?
- Do I need to say it?
2. Enhanced Self-Awareness
Sitting in quiet stillness, much like mindfulness meditation, is one of the best known ways to increase awareness of your emotions and to practice self-reflection.
Many people find that solitude and silence allow them to get in touch with their “inner voice” and stop suppressing feelings or thoughts that normally get pushed aside.
Becoming more self-aware gives you numerous advantages in life, such as:
- identifying destructive patterns of your life
- aligning your values with your actions
- strengthening communication and your relationships
- improving overall happiness
3. Help with Productivity
Being calmer and more focused in general often leads to enhanced productivity when it does come time to work and make decisions. The opposite is also true: An overwhelmed and distracted mind finds it harder to concentrate and makes it difficult to make progress.
Some research even shows that silence can stimulate growth of new brain cells in parts of the brain responsible for learning and decision making.
Additionally, there have been links found in children between quiet environments and enhanced abilities to learn and achieve as students. Noisy school environments raise the risk for poor school performance, often due to difficulty concentrating and remembering information.
Children with language or attention disorders and second-language learners are even more impaired by overly noisy classrooms.
4. A Boost in Creativity
Day dreaming and brainstorming silently to yourself can be an important part of a creative process, since these are where ideas are born. It’s no wonder then that many creative individuals throughout history, including writers, artists and inventors, were known to work alone in silence for the majority of their working days.
An article published in Inc. magazine explains, “You can benefit from interacting and brainstorming with others, but awesome creative work can be achieved by shutting out the outside world, whilst you insanely focus on your craft.”
5. Physical Health Benefits Tied to Decreased Stress
Silence has the opposite effect on markers of stress: It naturally helps the body relax by increasing activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us “rest and digest.”
It’s even more impactful when combined with stress relievers like deep breathing, walking, meditating, yoga or visualization.
A peaceful mind and body are in better position to heal and more resilient against developing stress-related health issues, such as high blood pressure, indigestion, headaches and insomnia. Silence is also known to increase your tolerance against burnout, anger and impatience.
6. Better Sleep
While some people claim to fall asleep more easily with noise playing in the background, such as the TV or music, most people unwind and sleep best in silence. Doing a sleep meditation, reading quietly or praying/contemplating are all recommended prior to bedtime to enhance sleep and fight insomnia.
7. Improved Relationships
It might seem counterintuitive, but sitting with someone else in silence actually “speaks volumes.” Studies show that as a caregiving practice, silence is “perceived as being relevant in spiritual and existential dimensions of care when words may fail.”
In other words, it’s a way of offering support and understanding and “holds space for someone” even without the need to say anything,
How to Practice More Silence
Experts who have studied the connection between silence and mental health recommend building “pauses” into your day in order to benefit from silence’s healing effects.
While you can certainly do something like meditate for 15 or 20 minutes daily, if you don’t find this to be very helpful or practical then try slowing down throughout the day and giving yourself quiet breaks to relax instead. These “sacred pauses” have been described by some as “mini-meditations” because that’s essentially what they are.
Here are ways you can practice more silence and experience the benefits of silence:
- Carve out a short period of time each day to be free from interruptions. You might choose to use this time to meditate or just to lay down or sit somewhere comfortable and very quiet. Early in the morning or before bed are ideal times to do this.
- Take a deliberate break from the “noise of technology.” Avoid the temptation to fill silence by turning on the TV, YouTube videos, the radio or music, etc.
- Use your commute or when you’re doing errands to slow down and relax. Drive in silence, turn off music and podcasts, and simply contemplate your day.
- If you’re on an airplane or train, use noise-canceling headphones, close your eyes and focus on your breath.
- Instead of turning on music or other noise while you’re home cleaning and cooking, do these things in silence instead. Cooking or doing chores is the perfect time to let your mind wander and to get in touch with your feelings.
- If you tend to eat alone, such as when having lunch at work, don’t distract yourself with your phone, emails, videos, etc. Instead, enjoy a quiet meal, which also helps encourage mindful eating.
- Sit on the beach or in a park, and listen to just the gentle sounds of nature around you.
- Try a floating meditation in a sensory deprivation tank, which is silent, dark and the same temperature as your body.
Risks and Side Effects
While solitude and quietness can lead to a more peaceful life, too much of either also has some downsides, most notably that they can lead to loneliness and disconnection.
Brief periods of silence, ranging from 10 to 60 minutes at a time, seem to be the sweet spot when it comes to promoting better health.
Hours and hours of silence, on the other hand, may lead to ruminating and potentially worsened depression or anxiety. As one New York Times article put it, “most people can endure about 40 minutes before they start going batty.”
Check in with yourself if you’re regularly exposed to lots of alone time and silence (for example, if you work at home alone most of the time). If you feel the effects of loneliness or find that you’re increasingly worrying about insignificant things, find more social outlets, such as calling a friend, working among others in a public place or even talking with a therapist.
- Does silence have power? You bet. Research suggests that benefits of silence include improving coping skills related to stress, self-awareness, creativity, productivity, focus and relationships.
- Brief periods of silence, ranging from 10 to 60 minutes at a time, seem to be the sweet spot for promoting improved health and achieving the benefits of silence.
- Build quiet stillness into your day by taking breaks from technology, driving without music on, meditating, doing chores quietly or spending unplugged time in nature.