Silent Solitude: Benefits & Tips For More
We all know life is often noisy. Not just because of the people around us, but also the messages, notifications and advertisements that stimulate and distract us throughout the day. Noise that is fundamentally linked to connection, in contrast to the silence that is found in solitude.
In western cultures silence has become associated with being bored or lonely, and sometimes even unproductive and antisocial. These negative social connotations mean we avoid silence to such an extent that a 2014 study found people would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit in silence alone.
This is strange, because one third to one half of us are introverts: people who get their energy from quiet time by themselves rather than stimulation from other people. And although our societies have rejected the art of solitary silence nurtured by former generations, I think all of us (introverts and extroverts alike) instinctively know that this noise can leave us feeling overwhelmed and washed out. At least, not our best selves.
This has been proven by science, with studies repeatedly finding that voluntary, intentional silence is invaluable to our overall wellbeing. And this is not only important in terms of how we feel as individuals. The knock-on impact on our relationships and contribution also gives this type of silence the potential to make a truly positive impact on our communities and the wider world.
A closer look at the benefits
- Silence reduces stress
Noise physically affects our brains, leading to the release of more stress hormones. This has a negative impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, so much so that in a 2011 report the World Health Organisation described noise pollution as a 'modern plague'.
Silence seems to have the opposite effect, calming the body and the mind. According to a 2006 study by Luciano Bernardi, it's even more relaxing than relaxing music.
- Silence helps you self-reflect
Quiet alone time gives you the chance to discover what you really think and need, without being influenced by the opinions of other people. It allows you to define your own priorities and gives you the mental space to think about long-term projects. In solitary silence, you have the opportunity to reconnect with yourself and explore your place in the world.
Apparently, this self-reflection puts your brain into a 'default mode' where it integrates and evaluates information while resting. This helps you think about things deeper, and come up with great ideas.
- Silence boosts creativity
Incredible creativity and great ideas often happen when people are working by themselves. "From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude" says Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.
- Silence makes you more focused (and productive)
Most of the time we're thinking about more than one thing at once. Distraction is everywhere. But our brains don't work best when they are multitasking. Silence reduces distraction, which makes it so much easier to focus on just one thing. This helps you to get into that magical state of flow, which is when you do your best work.
So, how can we get more silent solitude?
The demands of everyday life can make it seem like silence and solitude are impossible. Even if you wanted to, withdrawing for any significant period of time probably seems unfeasible. But things are changing, as we slowly become more aware of the value of silent solitude and the power of people who embrace it. You can carve out moments for silence and solitude, cultivating it with intention and finding the balance that works best.
- Teach yourself to notice and be present for the quiet moments that we often overlook in a normal day. Parts of your morning routine, your commute to work, or waiting in line can all be experienced as precious opportunities for quiet time.
- Assign a few dedicated minutes for solitary silence every day. Perhaps sit up in bed for a few minutes when you wake up, just to ground and breathe.
- Commit to a longer stretch of solitary silence each week (or however often you need). You could take yourself for lunch, go for a walk alone, relax in the bath...
- In moments of silent solitude, be mindful of your reflex to quell the initial discomfort (by reaching for your phone, for example). Reminding yourself of the long-term benefits might help overcome it.
- When you are working or focusing on a task, turn off notifications (or turn off your devices completely) more regularly.
- Don't apologise (to yourself, close ones or colleagues) for your need to spend time alone and in silence. It's good for you - and that's good for everyone. Likewise, encourage others to take the silent solitary that they need.
- The amount of silent solitude you need is personal and changing. Be aware of your evolving needs and allow yourself to be flexible in responding to them.
Do you have any more tips for embracing silent solitude in our noisy lives? Leave them in the comments below!