On Friday, our power went out.
And I marveled.
I marveled at the lack of sound, and when the power returned, I marveled at the grating drone of the refrigerator, the whir of the fans, the hum of our air purifier, the whoosh of the furnace, and the buzz of all the other appliances that form the backdrop of my everyday life.
What surprised me was how very loud and pronounced that backdrop actually is — how much noise I have to be used to just to go through a day without spiraling into lunacy. What didn’t surprise me was the ringing relief in my ears at the relative silence when they all vanished. Sure, I could hear the occasional train and some of the nearby traffic, but my ears might have wept with joy if they could have.
Our world is noisy.
When I wake up, it’s noisy. When I go to work, it’s really noisy. When I come home, it’s noisy. When I go to bed, I have to make more noise in order to not hear the other noise. In short, life is really noisy.
I don’t think I realized how grating it is to be constantly surrounded by noise until it disappeared for several hours. No neighbors blasting music, no electronics, nothing. Just the occasional sound of the wind in the trees and my own breathing.
For me, at least, quiet is vital to my sanity. I am not a heavy sleeper — the tiniest whistling whine from my puppy snaps me out of dreamland. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I even dreamed. The muted bassline of the neighbors’ horrendous version of reggaeton tickles me awake. Without quiet, I am tired, grouchy, and tend to recede into myself even more than normal.
Why am I telling you all this?
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that our world has become overstimulating. There are so many things competing for our attention and so many others we have to subsume into the depths of our consciousness in order to focus on those many competitors that I wonder how our minds manage to cope. The noise that I thought I was used to bothers me lately. It’s like a dangling stray hair that’s just out of reach. It tickles so much that eventually you just want to claw at everything to get rid of it, and I realize that sounds a bit mad.
I’m a pretty focused individual, but lately I’ve been so distracted that I’ve had trouble forming coherent sentences. I think a lot of it has to do with the amount of noise in my life.
How does one declutter one’s brain? How is it possible to cut down the noise when so many things making it are simply a part of modernity and living in a city?
Noise is both physical and metaphorical, and both have to be dealt with if they’re causing distraction to the point of frustration or anger — which in my case, they sadly are.
Metaphorical noise stems from stress, anxiety, and worry. It comes from fretting about how the bills will get paid and struggling to cope with a new job or troubles at home. It happens when your brain is so full of obligations, commitments, debts, past-due appointments and bills that when you try to focus on something you want to do, you can’t enjoy it or get in the zone.
There are many ways to deal with metaphorical noise, but none is a quick fix. To quiet down the stress, anxiety, and worry it can take not only a dogged and longitudinal approach to remedying the problems that cause them but also the mental coherency to know what needs to be accepted for the time being.
Here are a few ways that can help:
1. Write out a list of stressors and things causing noise in your brain. Sometimes just getting them out in the open helps. (When you’re done, you’re welcome to tear it up if it would help.)
2. Talk to a friend. Again, opening a window into your brain can help let some of the noise out, even if physics wouldn’t agree.
3. Take a break. Take a personal day, call in sick, whatever you need to do. If you’re stressing enough that you can’t focus, maybe you need some space. Do something you enjoy, something that soothes you. Put problems on the shelf for a day.
4. Ask for help. This isn’t easy for adults sometimes. But there are often community counselors available to speak to who might be able to offer some advice. Or you could ask a family member for advice or insights. Or simply ask someone to help you complete a task that’s been weighing on you.
We live in an extraordinary world. Technology has made it possible for us to cut what was a six month sea voyage into an 18 hour flight. We can chat face-to-face with someone on the other side of the planet, and robots perform surgery with lasers. In spite of all the amazing things technology has given us, our world today is teeming with sound. Far more sound than one hundred years ago, and exponentially more than two hundred years ago.
Some people can’t bear silence. If that’s you, that’s fine. But if you’re like me and find the incessant honk, honk, rattle-rattle-rattle, crash, beep-beep of everyday life draining, here are a few things you can do to help minimize its impact, if not its existence.
1. Unplug appliances that are not in use. You might be surprised at the sounds even a television on standby makes. Plus, you’ll save electricity for a go green bonus.
2. Skimp on the climate control. I’m someone who would rather be cold than hot, so while I’ll crank the air in the summer, I’m happy to maintain a cool home in the winter. Fans, furnaces, and central climate control contribute a lot of decibels to your home.
3. Skip the background music. If you have guests over, listen to them instead of whatever’s on your iPod. Last night I went over to the home of a couple we know, and for a while there was a conversation competing with a loud television — I got so distracted I must have looked completely aloof. In reality I was overstimulated and couldn’t focus.
4. Buy some earplugs. These little things irritate my ears, but I’ve resorted to them in the past when I desperately needed quiet. They can help if you have trouble focusing when there’s noise, which is always.
5. Get outta Dodge. This is the stage I’m visiting at the moment. Sometimes you just need to find somewhere away from people, away from traffic, away from electricity and just be.
How do you respond to noise? Does it bother you, build up on you, or make you anxious? How do you deal with metaphorical noise?
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