If you like to work or play with a radio or TV going in the background, or if you automatically pull out your cellphone when you have nothing particular to do, then you’re not alone. But you might also be making whatever you’re doing a bit more complicated and time-consuming or robbing yourself of a creative burst.
Better concentration and more creativity are just two of the benefits of silence. A 2021 study published in the journal Indoor Air found that people who are doing a task that requires focus do it faster and with less stress when there’s no noise.
Cleveland Clinic’s Amy Sullivan, a clinical health psychologist, noted in a 2020 clinic mental health post that Americans don’t do silence very well. But she said that “learning to sit in stillness and self-reflect is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and our kids. When we look internally and delve deeper into our value system and wants and needs, we can communicate at a deeper level. We have to foster that ability.”
Sullivan says introverts might be a little better at embracing silence than extroverts are. Her verbatim list of the positives that silence provides includes:
- More profound thoughts.
- Stronger relationships.
- Increased creativity.
- Improved communication skills.
Plenty of backing
A number of studies echo the benefits of silence, from better sleep to a more relaxed approach to life.
New Scientist suggests a few minutes of regular silence does more good to the human stress response than less frequent but longer periods of silence. “Silence taken in a natural setting with a guided relaxation technique brings the biggest gains to health,” the article says.
Healthline lists other health benefits of silence, too, including lowering blood pressure, slowing racing thoughts, reducing cortisol, stimulating creativity, tempering insomnia and encouraging mindfulness.
Erik Anderson, from the Department of Philosophy at Drew University, made a more grandiose claim in the Journal of Aesthetics and Culture: “I argue that silence is replete with aesthetic character and that it can be a rewarding object of aesthetic appreciation, assessment and appraisal,” he wrote in 2020.
Scientists have been looking into silence and its impact on people quite seriously in recent years. And the findings suggest silence really may be golden when it comes to personal well-being and health.
Research from 2020 published in Frontiers in Psychology uses a series of studies that included “several minutes of silence” in different contexts, including in social groups and solitude, in a seminar room or a city garden. The researchers, who were from Freiburg, Germany, controlled for personal factors like being prone to impulsivity or a tendency to daydream, among others.
They also removed distractions, like cell phones and books for the studies, always offering a plausible excuse. Rather, study subjects waited in silence for unspecified but carefully controlled amounts of time.
As with other research, the set of studies showed silence is beneficial to people. Specifically, “exposure to silence (was shown) to be effective in therapeutic and educational contexts to promote relaxation and well-being.”
For example, in a seminar room where participants filled out a short form, they were told to occupy themselves with their own thoughts, but to stay awake and seated. Then they were left for 61⁄2 minutes, though they didn't know it would be that long. The researchers found that participants were “significantly more relaxed, in a better mood and less aroused” after the silent time alone than before it. They weren’t bored and the time passed relatively quickly. More than half said that as they waited, they thought about the present, while 19% were thinking of the past and 27% about the future.
“The instruction to wait and occupy oneself with one’s own thoughts apparently led to more self-awareness, but in an emotionally positive way,” the researchers reported.
Experts say one way to get more silence and its benefits is to simply not pick up your cellphone whenever it’s quiet or you’re alone. Just be and see what happens.