Family life is loud. Even if the family’s not the yelling kind. There’s always someone talking, moving around, microwaving popcorn, playing with the dog, or flushing a toilet. For many moms, the craving for just a minute (okay, an hour or two) of silence and solitude becomes more like a desperate need.
“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence”
Simon & Garfunkel
(But I like this cover by Disturbed way better!)
Especially for introverts who rely on alone time to recharge. We get how the psychological warfare tactic of blasting loud music non-stop could make a human go nuts.
I have no idea how it is for extraverts. (Please let me know!)
Empty Nest, Quiet Nest
It’s those little things that form the soundtrack of life with kids still in the nest. When the kids move out, mid-lifers look forward to being able to eat what we want, watch what we want, resigning from our taxi-driving job, and walking around naked at home (like that really happens – okay, hubby just read that and demonstrated!).
We know we’ll miss seeing and talking with them every day, like, a lot. But for many of us, it’s a bit of a shock to finally have the silence we frequently craved for so many years.
In some ways, it’s a gift – the silence leaves space for deeper concentration, creativity, and sort of a meditative state. But silence can also leave us feeling lonely, anxious, and longing for the old days. Even the introverts among us. We need both. The proportions differ from person to person and time to time, of course. Some of us are naturally better suited to tolerate – even embrace – silence.
But if it’s not in your nature to love a bit of silence, what do you do?
Check Out the Gifts Silence Offers
Silence can do some pretty cool stuff for our health, in the right doses. It lowers blood pressure, boosts our immunity, helps the brain to grow new cells in the hippocampus region (the part that helps us learn, remember, and regulate our emotions), and decreases stress. It doesn’t take a whole lot of time for silence to work its magic. Just a couple of minutes can improve blood circulation and drop blood pressure.
Nice for the body, but how about your mind and mood?
Silence can help you concentrate, create, and calm you down. If you’re into personal development, you may have discovered that silence helps you become more aware of what’s going on in your mind. Some also say that practicing silence helps them be more patient.
Where it gets really interesting is when scientists start experimenting with silence. Some cool findings:
- Noise raises our cortisol and adrenaline levels. Feeling stressed out? Silence may be the answer.
- Silence even beats music when it comes to relaxing.
- If you can’t sleep at night, try adding some silence to your day and kiss insomnia goodnight.
So, maybe there’s something to sitting in silence.
Give Peace a Chance
When I was working out my morning routine, I discovered that spending about an hour outside worked wonders for my mood and focus. It also boosted my creativity for the day. (Kind of important as a writer!) But when I started, I stuck my earpods in my ears and then tackled my outside project of the day.
Sure, the music made mulching feel like dancing, so it was way more fun.
But when I experimented with silence instead, it was even better. Granted, outdoors isn’t silent. There are birds, crickets, dogs, chickens, and traffic sounds filling my ears. But they’re not loud enough to drown out my train of thought.
I enjoyed it so much that I started trying silence on my road trips to see the kids. Before, I’d always have so many podcasts to listen to that I’d put them on 1.5x speed. Or, I’d plow through an audiobook (and take the long way if I needed a few more minutes to finish). But in the silence, I am with me. My thoughts are clear, loud, and easy to capture. (I sometimes scribble in a notebook – eyes still on the road… makes for interesting interpretations later!)
How to Get Comfortable with Silence
Start small. If you feel anxious in silence, it might be because it seems interminable. If you feel trapped or out of control, that’s anything but peaceful. But if you practice silence on purpose, on your own terms, it’s a whole different experience.
- Try silence in your car. Next time you’re out running an errand, turn the music off and just let your mind roam. You don’t have to try to enter some deep meditative state or anything (probably not safe, anyway!). Just let your thoughts go where they want to go.
- Build silence into a routine. Choose a chore, task, or some delightful moment you enjoy every day. Try doing it silently and see what happens. If you forget and slip out of silence, just go back to it when you remember.
- Practice silence with a partner. Ha. No, that doesn’t mean give them the silent treatment! It means both of you agreeing to be silent together. Maybe take a walk, sit and watch the sunrise, or do some yard work near each other.
- Cut back on filler noise. I know a lot of people who say they need background noise all the time. If the TV or Spotify isn’t running constantly, they feel anxious. They don’t have to pay attention to the background sound; they just need it on. I’m sure it’s true – the brain gets used to a certain environment and changing it can lead to feeling really uneasy. But it’s worth experimenting with adding bits of silence in. Again, if you’re cutting the noise on purpose and you’re in control, that should eliminate a lot of the anxiety you might feel.
In Midlife, More than Ever
I suspect our lives may grow quieter and quieter as we get older. Sure, we still cause a ruckus when we’re with friends and family, telling stories and laughing until our sides hurt. But we come home to quieter homes now than we did when the kids were home. Some of us live alone (and I guess, at some point, we all will).
The ultimate in good mental health is to enjoy our own company and to be comfortable in our own skin. That can take some practice. Now’s the time to start. Not only are there huge benefits to reap by enjoying periods of silence now, but having the power to enjoy silence could make a big difference later in our lives.