HealthAgenda

Mental Health

How to relax and clear your mind: The healthy side of silence

In our noisy, daily lives it can be hard to find a moment of silence. Here we explore the benefits of clearing your mind during quiet time.


Karen Burge
October 2019

If you’ve ever found yourself saying, “Shh, I can’t hear myself think!” then you might not be far off the literal mark. For some people, living in a world filled with noise can be a very uncomfortable experience, making it difficult to focus.

From workplace chatter and office music, to construction noise and the sound of traffic, much of what fills your ears in your daily life can be hard to escape.

But what distracts one person may lift another up. Your ability to handle noise, and silence, has a lot to do with your personality.

Do you struggle to get away from the noise?

“There are some personalities that find noise really tough,” explains Elisabeth Shaw, a clinical and counselling psychologist and CEO of Relationships Australia NSW.

“Those who require more introspection will suffer more than those who like noise around them.

“Intrusive noise can also make people feel out of control, because they can’t get away from it. Those feelings of helplessness and overwhelm are very stressful.”

For those people, distracting noise can be hard to tolerate, with many preferring quiet locations to provide a sense of calm and to allow them to concentrate on the task at hand.

Sometimes more favourable noise (like music you enjoy) can be used as a strategy to find quiet time and combat the discomfort of uncontrollable noise. You might put on earphones and your favourite album to help wash away the sound of loud office banter or the whirr of the photocopying machine over your shoulder.

Finding ways to make the best out of the environment you’re in will help you get through the day and maintain your wellbeing.

Or, are you wired to handle noise and hate the sound of silence?

Then there are personalities that thrive on noise, explains Shaw.

“People who are more extroverted can gather energy and positive feelings from being surrounded by others, and being highly engaged with them,” she says. “They can have less need for retreat and for silence.”

If you’ve ever found yourself switching on the radio to fill the void, then you might be someone who finds comfort in having a constant source of noise. These personalities might prefer background noise, the activity of an open-plan office, or studying at a café to perform at their best. When the office dynamic is low, gathering motivation to get the job done can be a greater challenge than for those who work best in quieter environments.

How to practise mindfulness and have quiet time

Whatever your personality, there are benefits in finding quiet time to calm the mind, although Shaw says that silence isn’t necessarily a benchmark for success. Rather, it’s about tuning out.

“So, some might be restored by walking the dog while listening to a podcast; others might really need to retreat into meditation to clear the mind.

“The question is, what are you wanting to clear from your mind? If it’s clearing out work, a good chat with a friend or a trip to a noisy gym might do the trick. If it’s trying to settle anxious ruminations, then a combination of distraction and conscious settling of the mind, such as meditation practice, can assist.”

Silence is golden: Healthy quiet-time benefits

Plenty of health benefits come with this kind of downtime. The American Heart Association says that using quiet time to practise meditation and mindfulness can also help with your heart health.

“Practising mindfulness and meditation may help you manage stress and high blood pressure, sleep better, feel more balanced and connected, and even lower your risk of heart disease.”

There are other mental health benefits of quiet time, too, such as gaining peace from negative or worrying thoughts, Shaw says. As well as allowing yourself space to plan and reflect effectively.

When it comes to stress relief, meditation can help to ease a racing heart and give you time to refresh your focus. This is particularly handy when you’re in a troubling situation, such as a work confrontation or facing a challenging deadline.

Shaw explains that stepping back from frontline obligations, such as work meetings and child commitments, can be very restorative if you’re feeling overwhelmed or under the pump.

“Calming the mind does enable better decision-making, [it] increases emotional intelligence by reducing reactivity and reduces stress.”

Chilling Out: How to make silence work for you

For some people, becoming comfortable with silence isn’t as easy as it sounds.

“The biggest challenge for quiet time is the negativity that can capture us – the worries of the day, that leftover issue with a partner, [or] planning what to do next,” says Shaw.

“Distraction, such as music, can give the mind something else to focus on – a bridge into a different headspace for people whose mind is racing. Sometimes a walking meditation rather than a sitting meditation is good to start with for people who feel they have excess energy or where their body is out of sync with their racing mind.”

The trick, Shaw says, is not to use your quiet time to continue to think things over, but to actively work on switching channels to a different kind of thinking.

But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to chilling out. For some, it will be a structured meditation, yoga, a walk or an exercise class that gets their heads into the right space. For others, finding a quiet space to create arts and crafts, or getting your hands dirty in the garden, is the perfect way to achieve calm and balance.

Then, there are those who need to physically unplug from devices, or who crave a mini-break (like creating your own health retreat at home) or getting out into nature for a long hike for restoration.

Whatever strategies you have, or plan to work on, try to find quiet time to keep your troubles in check and your mind at ease.

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