August 6, 2020

An Ode to Silence: Why You Need It in Your Life

And how to find more of it

A bearded man with his eyes closed looks up to the sky with a peaceful look on his face

Silence. Some of us welcome it. For others, the thought of sitting in silence is enough to make their skin crawl.

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How much you value silence may depend on where you are on the introvert/extrovert scale. But whether you can work a crowded room with ease or are a self-proclaimed homebody, silence should be a part of your day. Clinical health psychologist Amy Sullivan, PsyD, ABPP, offers reasons why it’s important, plus how to get started.

Why quiet time is healthy for body and mind

Silence offers opportunities for self-reflection and daydreaming, which activates multiple parts of the brain. It gives us time to turn down the inner noise and increase awareness of what matters most. And it cultivates mindfulness — recognition and appreciation of the present moment.

Silence also has physical benefits.

“When we’re frazzled, our fight-or-flight response is on overload causing a host of problems,” says Dr. Sullivan. “We can use calm, quiet moments to tap into a different part of the nervous system that helps shut down our bodies’ physical response to stress.”

That means, being still and silent can help you:

  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Decrease your heart rate.
  • Steady your breathing.
  • Reduce muscle tension.
  • Increase focus and cognition.

Americans tend to struggle with stillness

There are cultural differences when it comes to welcoming silence. In America, FOMO (fear of missing out) runs deep. Americans often use external stimuli — like devices or social media — to distract themselves from personal thoughts or feelings that are uncomfortable. Culturally, we tend to be less adept at managing boredom through creative pursuits or a meditation practice.

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But spacing out creates opportunities to rest, relax and recharge.

“Learning to sit in stillness and self-reflect is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and our kids,” says Dr. Sullivan. “When we look internally and delve deeper into our value system and wants and needs, we can communicate at a deeper level. We have to foster that ability.”

Dr. Sullivan says silence helps us develop the skills to have:

  • More profound thoughts.
  • Stronger relationships.
  • Increased creativity.
  • Improved communication skills.

Introverts may be better adopters of quiet time

“Extroverts can be completely comfortable in boisterous situations, whereas introverts tend to be more reflective. They prefer smaller crowds and often have insightful thoughts,” says Dr. Sullivan.

Because of this, introverts may be better positioned to appreciate still, calm moments. “Society tends to value extroverts because they are more vocal or better presenters,” says Dr. Sullivan. “But we have to recognize that introverts process information in a way that promotes creativity and problem-solving because they talk less and listen more. There is huge value to that.”

How to find room for silence

“Meditation is the practice of sitting in silence and focusing on the present moment. This is one of the best ways to incorporate quiet time into your day,” says Dr. Sullivan. “For you and your children, set a timer for one minute. Spend that time just sitting or lying in silence.”

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She recommends making it a daily practice. “The first minute is quite difficult for many people. It is hard to sit still. Instead, people think about everything they need to get done or want to be doing. Over time, though, you get good at it. You feel calmer, and you end up wanting more.”

As you cultivate a desire for silence, you can slowly increase the time until you’re meditating five to 15 minutes in the morning and at night.

But you don’t need to have a formal meditation practice to find quiet time. Try:

  • Enjoying your morning coffee sans device or magazine.
  • Looking out the window the next time you’re a passenger in the car instead of picking up your phone.
  • Walking by yourself and listening to the natural noises around you instead of music.

It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Just take advantage of those quiet moments throughout the day and your mind and body will thank you for it.

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