In an increasingly loud and stressful world, more people are discovering the benefits and power of silence. Quiet pauses throughout the day can connect us, ease our minds and put us in touch with ourselves. Experts agree that we need to choose to make silence a part of our lives. Maybe it’s by taking a moment to remember a loved one, waking up before the sun rises or replacing a noisy time of day with a calming break.
“Silence can benefit us if we use it wisely,” says Julie Potiker, a mindfulness expert and author of the new book, Life Falls Apart, But You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos. “If we allow the quiet to slow us down and open us up to what is there in our environment—a dog barking, a bird chirping—it means focusing attention on what you are hearing, which can stop your mind from ruminating and worrying.”
Give Your Brain a Break
Too much stimulation and noise coming at us without a break can be overwhelming. Make a conscious choice to put your phone down and decide how you will use the silence, Julie says. “It’s hard to make the time to enjoy quiet. We need to carve out quiet time for our mental health. Use the quiet to allow your mind to slow down,” Julie says. “If you are using the quiet time to worry and ruminate—which is what the primate brain is wired to do when we are not engaged in a task—that’s not helpful and it will make things worse.” Choose something positive to direct your attention and stop any negative loop, she suggests.
Julie recommends trying a technology blackout for an hour or two on a specific day of the weekend. “See how it feels and if you love it—and I bet you will—you can extend the time until you eventually have a day without technology.” For parents with small kids, Julie suggests taking some quiet time when the kids are asleep. She also recommends guided meditation. While it’s not silence, a guided meditation is especially helpful for those who struggle with negative monkey mind. “Pop in the earbuds and follow the voice for a beautiful break for your brain.”
Sukey and Elizabeth Novogratz, authors of the book Just Sit: A Meditation Guide for People Who Know They Should But Don’t, encourage people to take time each day for reflection. Silence isn’t just about the absence of noise, it’s about getting yourself to slow down. “We know the world would be a kinder place if we all slowed down and sat each day, and everyone on this planet could benefit from meditation,” Elizabeth says. Meditation doesn’t have to be a complicated practice, and their book gives straightforward tips to make it easy for everyone.
Five Benefits of Silence
It helps us live consciously. According to psychologists and philosophers alike, silence can wake us up and provide meaningful answers in our lives. Silence can give us a gentle nudge to let us know if something doesn’t feel right by putting us in touch with our body and our emotions. The psychological benefits of experiencing silence—even when it makes us uncomfortable—can mean more purposeful living. Silence can increase self-awareness, self-compassion and improve decision-making skills with improved mental clarity.
Use it to become more mindful and self-compassionate. “Mindfulness is the first step in emotional healing,” Julie says. “It’s being able to turn toward and acknowledge our difficult thoughts and feelings—such as inadequacy, sadness, anger or confusion—with a spirit of openness and curiosity. Self-compassion involves responding to these difficult thoughts and feelings with kindness, sympathy and understanding so that we soothe and comfort ourselves when we’re hurting. Research has shown that self-compassion greatly enhances emotional well-being. It boosts happiness, reduces anxiety and depression, and can even help maintain healthy lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise. Being both mindful and compassionate leads to greater ease and well-being in our daily lives.”
It can enhance conversations. By choosing silence, you will naturally listen more and others have the opportunity to share more—enhancing your relationships.
It’s a tool for increased emotional regulation. Silence can be the space between a feeling and a response. Take a silent pause and choose your response calmly and wisely.
It gets better with practice. If silence is something you rarely get or even fear it a little—lean toward activities that help you practice. Try a yoga class. Listen to nature radio. Drive with the radio off. Sit on your deck or porch in the morning and take in the quiet and stillness. When you go to bed, use the silence to get calm or listen to it raining outside. Let silence help you wander through happy memories or list what you are grateful for in your life right now. Buy some noise-canceling headphones. Ask your family to support you with a 15-minute break for silence.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “Silence is a source of great strength.” Taking the time for silence sends yourself the message that you are worth hearing. Honor your life by practicing silence regularly.