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How To Recapture Peace and Quiet In a Noisy World

Our noisy world could be hurting your health.

Clang. Ping! Buzzzzz. Roaaaar. Rumble rumble. Clang. Boom!

No matter where you are right now, chances are you’re surrounded by noise. Maybe you’re in your backyard and the kids next door are yelling, someone down the block has revved up a super-loud lawn mower, and there goes a plane overhead. Or maybe you’re sitting in your living room in what should be pure quiet, but what you hear is a constant high-tech hum emanating from your fridge or your smart TV.

Yes, any of these scenarios may be a little annoying or downright crazy-making, but it’s having an impact on more than your mood, says Rick Neitzel, Ph.D., director of the Environmental Health Promotion and Policy Master of Public Health program at the University of Michigan. For starters, it may be affecting your hearing: The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association estimates that 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous noise levels on a regular basis—up 10 million from just a few years ago.

Then there’s the other toll of all this constant racket. One study in the journal PLOS One found that being strongly annoyed by noise is associated with increased depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, additional research has shown that exposure to noise can spike blood pressure, heart rate, and the release of stress hormones. “Even though from a mental perspective we’ve adapted to our loud world and become remarkably good at screening out certain noises, our nervous systems are still responding,” says Neitzel. That means the near-constant buzzing, humming, pinging, clunking, roaring, and banging around you affects you on a deep level—whether you’re consciously bothered by it or not.

What Happens to Your Body on Noise

If the brain perceives a sound as alarming or even just annoying, it sets off a surge of cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones that help you run from a threat, explains Amanda Edwards, Au.D., a clinical audiologist at Vanderbilt University. The problem? This hormonal response also tends to happen when you are startled by sounds that aren’t life-threatening (think car alarms, jackhammers, or loud laughter at a restaurant) and can elicit potentially unhealthy physiological responses, says Paul Salmon, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

A growing number of researchers say the impact noise has on your body, mind, and mood is too great to ignore. Chronic noise—like frequent exposure to road traffic and planes flying overhead—causes small injuries to the hair cells in your ear, which transmit sound signals to the brain. Those hair cells can recover if you give them the chance.“Think of them like a patch of grass,” says Edwards. “If you trample on grass, it’ll lie down and eventually spring back up. In the same way, exposure to loud noise knocks the hair cells down temporarily, and they pop back up within a matter of days. But if you don’t give them a break, they may never pop back up—and your hearing will be impaired.”

While the noise most people are exposed to regularly isn’t likely to lead to significant hearing loss, it is disturbing your sleep, affecting your ability to focus, and messing with your stress hormones, all of which can contribute to heart disease, says Neitzel. Research has even found that loud music can drive unhealthy food choices, and the chronic stress reaction from constant noise has been linked to diabetes, respiratory disorders, and cancer.

How to Increase the Peace

The good news is experts say there’s a lot you can do to combat the effects of your so-loud life. Follow these smart strategies.

1. Get out into nature and listen.

The sounds you hear when you take a walk in the woods or sit on a beach—birds chirping, leaves rustling, waves lapping—produce the opposite effect of the noise you’re exposed to in cities and suburbs, says Rachel Buxton, Ph.D., a Colorado State University postdoctoral researcher who studies the impact of noise pollution. “A growing body of evidence shows that when you go into a natural area, it makes you more focused, boosts mood, improves memory, and lowers stress levels,” Buxton says.

2. Fight noise with white noise, especially at night.

Research shows that even when people think they’ve slept through certain sounds, they’ve had cardiovascular responses that activated their fight-or-flight responses. A sound machine, a humidifier, or another form of white noise can help.

3. Load up your diet with produce.

Studies show a specific connection between eating and hearing. Produce is rich in antioxidants, which can help prevent damage to hair cells in the inner ear.

4. Start meditating.

Once you become aware of the sounds you’re exposed to, you may realize just how noisy your life is—and you may feel even more annoyed by the constant clamoring. One good antidote is meditation. “You learn to say, OK, that’s just sound rather than get into this elaborate story about the annoying car horn or the oblivious coworker,” says Salmon. The result? You won’t feel so riled up by what’s causing the ruckus—and at least some of the impact of our clattering, buzzing, banging world will roll right off you.

5. Upgrade to noise-canceling headphones.

They’re worth the price if you can swing it. “They block background sounds well enough that you’ll be able to listen to something at a quieter level,” says Colleen Le Prell, Au.D., head of the audiology degree program at the University of Texas at Dallas School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.


This article by Meghan Rabbitt was originally published here:

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