Stop for a second. Listen. What do you hear? The mechanical hum of the refrigerator? The whir of the clothes dryer? The digital ding of an incoming email? The ubiquitous, persistent, nerve-splitting, never-ending drone of a leaf blower?
And, that’s if you live in the suburbs. You city dwellers are most likely hearing a cacophony of wailing sirens and car horns, delivery truck back-up beeps, upstairs neighbors, slamming doors, jack hammers, and engine and braking noise from motorcycles, autos, and city transit.
These common noises are so woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, we have become accustomed to them. We hardly even notice them. But, as mounting evidence shows, our bodies do notice these auditory assaults and they respond in a way that’s not making us any healthier or happier.
Before this ruckus of our modern lives—that is, before industrialization—the loudest sound that humans heard was thunder. Booming, jarring, ear-splitting sounds were signals of danger that our ancestors responded to with the fight-or-flight reaction. This now-popular term, fight-or-flight response, is a physiological reaction that happens with the onset of a perceived threat to survival. It places the endocrine system on high alert, which triggers cardiovascular, digestive, and immune system changes that today we simply call “stress,” but years ago was in response to life-threatening dangers in the wild.
Fast forward to the present day, and the immediate and mortal prehistoric dangers associated with unwelcome sounds have given way to more stealthy harms linked to our bodies’ ancestral reaction to chronic noise: sleeplessness, increased anxiety, high blood pressure, and increased risk of heart disease, among others. There’s an emotional toll, too: Studies show that chronic noise can make people anxious, angry, dissatisfied, and exhausted.
How Your Home Might Be Raising Its Voice
While there’s little we can do to alter the flight patterns of nearby jet aircraft or damper the shrill blast of a passing police siren, we can maximize the quiet in our own homes.
Floor Plans: The popularity of open floor plans has given us homes that are visually spacious, airy, and bright. But, the tradeoff has been an increase in noise as sounds bounce from the kitchen to the family room and off into the rest of the house with few walls or doors to filter them. And so it goes with our preference in flooring: where carpets once dampened sound, the now-common hardwood, stone, and tile floors amplify the already increased domestic noise.
Furniture: The more soft furnishings you have in your home, the quieter it will be. Upholstered furniture, draperies, rugs, pillows, and decorative throws absorb sound resulting in lower noise levels. And soft deep-cushioned upholstered furniture is more conducive to quiet than bare wood or sleek leather and metal furniture common to modern homes.
Decorations: Consider the decorative touches you choose. Book-filled bookcases will dampen sound far better than bare shelves displaying a few vases or art pieces. For a more ambitious project, consider covering bare walls in grass or fabric wallpaper, or even super-absorbing cork. You can even dampen the reverberation of sound waves off of walls by covering them with fabric wall hangings or canvas paintings.
A good rule to follow is to cover at least 25 percent of each room in sound-absorbing materials.
5 Shortcuts to Quiet
For a quick fix right now, you can start creating more peace and quiet within your home without rearranging a single pillow. Quieting down can begin by simply altering your habits. Here’s a short list to get you started:
Shut down electronic devices that are not in use. This will eliminate the low-level hum of computers, external hard drives, and other electronics operating in standby mode.
Turn off the TV when you’re not really watching it. And consider making your home a TV-free zone at least one or two nights a week.
Consider silence instead of background music. Even easy listening and classical music can become irritating rather than relaxing when it is part of your everyday clamor.
Turn off your ringer and notifications as long as you’re not expecting an important call. Eliminating the constant flow of pinging alerts, incoming calls, emails, texts, voicemails, and other e-notifications can cut down on unnecessary noise and interruption. If you miss a call, chances are it’s not the end of the world.
Actively seek silence by including mindfulness and meditative moments throughout your day. A few minutes of mindful meditation when you wake up and before you go to bed is a simple way to start. Setting aside some quiet time to enjoy a book, a crossword puzzle, a craft project—or just good, ole’ fashioned silence—is a “sound” way to beat the noise.