“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.” Chaim Potok
Let’s get one thing straight. Silence and nature immersion are good for everyone! While some people claim to be more comfortable in bustling, busy, noisy urban environments, there are scientifically proven physical factors that indicate otherwise. Even if you enjoy the city for many reasons and feel more psychologically at ease, your body still needs the occasional immersion in quieter, greener spaces. In other words, you might not think you need time out, but your nervous system does. Here’s why, if you’re not already convinced, plus some ideas on how you can integrate more silence and nature time into your life
38.1. Negative Effects of Noise
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” William S. Burroughs
As mentioned, there’s a lot of research out there showing the negative impact of noise on our systems. The main issue is that noise causes the body to secrete higher levels of stress hormones As Azriel ReShel synthesizes in his article on noise and the brain, “sound travels to the brain as electrical signals via the ear. Even when we are sleeping these sound waves cause the body to react and activate the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with memory and emotion, leading to the release of stress hormones.
So, living in a consistently noisy environment will cause you to experience extremely high levels of these harmful hormones.” This increased level of stress hormones can lead to such things as high blood pressure, heart disease, tinnitus and, most commonly, loss of sleep (everything from insomnia to the inability to reach or stay in deep sleep mode, or simply never feeling fully rested…).
Tests have also been done showing the way that these same stress hormones can cause us to essentially “adapt” or begin to ignore the noise that’s stressing our bodies out. One study, performed by Professor Gary W. Evans from Cornell University and published in Psychological Science, charted the effects of airport noise on school children in Munich. The study showed that children exposed to noise developed a stress response which actually caused them to ignore the noise. He found that the children not only ignored the harmful noise of the airport, but also other everyday noises, such as speech. As professor Evans puts it “this study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that don’t cause hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans.”
Studies performed by the World Health Organization in Europe also concluded that noise was responsible for 340 million residents of Western Europe (about the population of the United States) losing a cumulative million years of healthy life every year, as well as being at the root of around 3,000 heart disease deaths per year due to excessive noise. They also emphasize the vulnerability of certain groups such as children and the elderly, as well as people in income brackets who can’t afford to live in quieter neighbourhoods. They state that for children “Impairment of early childhood development and education caused by noise may have lifelong effects on academic achievement and health.” Needless to say, the effects of noise should not be taken lightly!
38.2 Silence Allows Your Brain and Body To Regenerate and Process Information Better
“Silence is a source of Great Strength.” Lao Tzu
Research by a Duke University regenerative biologist, Imke Kirste, discovered that two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory, involving the senses. They concluded that conditions like dementia, depression and others that have been linked to decreasing rates of neurogenesis in the hippocampus, could be treated through exposure to silence.
A 2013 study by Joseph Moran that when the brain is able to rest quietly it integrates external and internal information into “a conscious workspace.”  In other words, when we’re in silence and not occupied with other tasks is when our brain is able to process our experiences and the information garnered from the world around us and the people in it. It allows us to access deeper levels of self-reflection, which in turn allows for us to adapt to changing conditions, to observe and integrate whatever feedback we’ve been getting and, essentially, to evolve as people and maintain our overall well-being.
On a similar note, psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory states that when you’re in an environment with lower levels of sensory input, the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In the current digital age, our brains get less time to switch off. We’re constantly processing enormous amounts of information. The constant attention demands of modern life place a lot of stress on our prefrontal cortex–the part of the brain responsible for making decisions, solving problems and more. When we spend time alone in silence, our brains are able to relax and release this constant focus.
38.3 Positive Effects of Nature Connection
“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” Rachel Carson
It goes without saying that you’re more likely to find silence in contexts where you’re immersed in nature. That in and of itself has huge benefits, as you’ve seen above. Aside from that there’s the basic fact of the way better air quality you get when in a nature immersion situation. There’s also a slough of different types of research showing the myriad benefits of exposure to natural environments on every aspect of human health, from physical to psychological. Research performed by the University of California showed the restorative effects of experiences in nature and demonstrated that patients heal more quickly when exposed to natural environments. Being in sight of natural features has been shown to improve self-discipline in inner-city girls. And the list goes on.
Studies conducted at the University of Delaware on stress recovery during exposure to urban versus natural environments showed, unsurprisingly, huge positive impacts in being exposed to nature. The study states that “recovery was faster and more complete when subjects were exposed to natural rather than urban environments…responses to nature had a salient parasympathetic nervous system component…restorative influences of nature involve a shift towards a more positively-toned emotional state, positive changes in physiological activity levels, and that these changes are accompanied by sustained attention/intake. Content differences in terms of natural vs human-made properties appeared decisive in accounting for the differences in recuperation and perceptual intake.”  Need we say more?
38.4 So How Do You Get More Silence and More Nature?
“Living as we do in an age of noise and bluster, success is now measured accordingly. We must all be seen, and heard, and on the air.” Daphne du Maurier
Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein
Leave it to Einstein to put it so well! Aside from all the awesome physical and psychological benefits of spending more time in silence and in natural environments, there’s also the simple fact that silence and nature help us reconnect to something “bigger” than ourselves, which in turn allows us to make a lot more sense out of life.