Whenever I go visit my mother who lives far out on the countryside, I feel very calm. I remember that I've always felt this way when returning there, ever since I moved to Stockholm many years ago. I usually sleep better as well. The reason? I think it is the absolute, deep silence on the countryside. No cars, except for the occasional one passing by on the dusty road a kilometer away. No noise, except on windy days. But the sound of the wind is quite soothing, not disturbing or stress-inducing like the sounds in a city.
I have learned over the years, that silence is worth a lot to my well-being. It makes me calm. It makes me feel de-stressed. It makes me think creative thoughts. I personally think that the sensation of tranquility that we enjoy when going out into a forest, has silence as a major building block. When I moved out from Stockholm city to a quieter suburb some years ago, I felt the difference in my body. I felt less stressed. I also feel that I am able to focus much better on deep work and deep thinking whenever I am in a silent environment.
So over the years I have collected a few neat tricks and tactics, to be able to enjoy more silence.
1. Get good headphones
At the very least, you should have a pair of headphones that are tight-fitting, so that they isolate some of the ambient sounds around you when you try to read or get work done. What you want is sealed over-ear headphones. I started out with a pair of Sennheisers which were sealed over-ear headphones when I was working in open office landscapes, in cafes or on trains. I turned on some calm music, and I could sink into my own world, without getting interrupted or stressed by ambient noises. But there is a problem with listening to music while thinking. For me it is hard to do. The music is not neutral enough, you start thinking about the song too often, and the song becomes the interruptor of your thoughts instead of the ambient sounds. Not good.
2. Use noise generators
The solution to the music problem is to use a noise generator. If you are old enough to have experienced the sound the radio or TV makes when you aren't tuned in to a channel, you know what white noise sounds like. It is a quite loud and disturbing sound, not ideal for relaxing or working if you ask me. It is ideal for blocking out other sounds however. There are however variants that are much more calming and relaxing than white noise. A long time I used the site simplynoise.com as my go-to noise generator (I still use their iPhone app on the go). They have something called "brown noise", which is lower in frequency and not as intense as white noise. It almost sounds like an ocean. Now however, that site requires you to have flash installed, which I no longer have. So instead I'm using the noise generator at White Noise & Co, where you can design your very own variant of noise, to suite your tastes. When you put on tight-fitting headphones and some high quality noise, it is very, very relaxing, and it is very effective at shutting out outside sounds. I highly recommend you to try it when working or when you just want to relax for a while.
3. Get even better headphones
The next step, if you enjoy noise generators and sealed headphones, is noise cancelling headphones. They are becoming more and more popular. And they are great. The principle these headphones work by, is that they contain a small microphone, which records incoming sound waves from your environment. Then they create inversed sound waves, and beam these into your ears in real time. The result is that they cancel out all the sound waves coming from your environment. This works surprisingly well in many situations. I got myself a pair of Bose QuietComfort 25 a couple of years ago and I absolutely love them. They work best with fairly static sounds, like a refrigerator or to cancel out the loud noise in an airplane. But they do a decent job even with more dynamic sounds, like someone talking. Combine noise-cancelling headphones with a noise-generator, and you have a pretty awesome way of escaping any distracting sounds around you.
4. Use earplugs when needed
The first time I tried sleeping with earplugs, I was quite astounded the morning after. I was astounded by how much better I had been sleeping, and how much more well-rested I felt than any normal morning. Nowadays I have the luxury of living somewhere where it is very quiet in the nights, so I don't have a need for earplugs. But if you are living in a city, or if you for some reason have any degree of noise at all around your bedroom, I suggest that you try sleeping with earplugs. Even a small sound that you might not even think about, like your neighbour's AC unit, or a ventilation exhaust somewhere close by, can be a big enough influence to ruin your sleep quality. I like the kind of earplugs that are made of gooey foam-like material, and you can find them for cheap. Just make sure to get them in far enough into the ear so that they really have an effect.
Reading stuff online is great and all. But both you and me know, that to make some actual changes in your life, to leverage what you have just learned, you must act. This is why I'm including these small homework sections in my blog posts. And I'm trying to make them as simple as possible to carry out, just to make you take the first step to more well-being and a happier life. Below are two extremely simple things that you can try, that take almost no effort at all. But they can be the first step to a great improvement in your quality of life.
Try sleeping one night with earplugs, just to see what it does to your sleep quality. If you are afraid of not waking up from the ringing of your alarm clock, try it on the weekend. Just as an experiment.
Spend 15 minutes with tight-fitting headphones and a noise generator turned on. Design a noise that you find pleasing at White Noise & Co, and just leave it on for at least 15 minutes. Just to see what it does to your mind and your thoughts. I know this isn't for everyone, but I also know how great I find it when I want to concentrate or relax.