Losing sleep, worrying, irritable, having difficulty focusing? Life’s pressures have you feeling overwhelmed? You may be stressed, but you’re not alone. All of us experience times when our cup is too full, overflowing with more than we feel we can manage.
A little stress is healthy. It keeps us alert and ready to take on a challenge, and then we return to a normal state, ready to respond when we need to. But chronic stress can put us into survival mode, an autonomic nervous system reaction called the fight or flight response.
Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system regulates a person’s ability to adapt to environmental changes through modulation of sensory, motor, visceral, and neuroendocrine functions through the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches. These branches function together to promote adaptation and self regulation in response to internal and external environmental demands.
The sympathetic system alerts us to danger, and the parasympathetic helps us regain control so the fight/flight instinct does not override reason.
Sound is everywhere, it is as much a part of our lives as the air we breathe, and the food we eat. But, have you ever considered the impact of sound on your mental and physical health?
Many of us become stressed or uncomfortable with sounds in our own home, school, work, and public places, and aren’t even aware we are in survival mode.
Noise is a biological stressor, a pervasive pollutant that can trigger fight/flight responses. A recent report from the World Health Organization and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre states that noise like this is second only to air pollution as an environmental cause of ill health.
How often does your telephone ring, or a text message alert sound? Is loud music bleeding out of your teenager’s headphones? Do members of your family shout to each other from room to room? How much noise enters your home through the windows? Do you hear the neighbor’s lawnmower, or dogs barking, or a garbage truck driving down the street? It all adds up, sounds layered one over the other, their decibels combining, and their sound waves colliding, we can start to grind our teeth, snap at our partners, and lose our tempers without even knowing why.
Ask yourself this question. What are your personal sound stressors? Take inventory, and make steps to remove them from your life.
Acoustic signals which can negatively affect the physiological or psychological well- being of someone are considered noise. Noise is one of the most pervasive pollutants and presents a significant threat to human health. Not only can it affect your hearing with over exposure; as a rule the longer and louder you listen the greater the chance of hearing loss. But at certain levels it can increase blood pressure, change the way your heart beats, increase your breathing rate, disturb your digestion, interfere with sleep, lower attention, and have a negative impact on learning.
It really is amazing how much noise we put up with and we shouldn’t. The toll on our physical, mental, and emotional health is too great.
So, what do you do? How do you combat the noise and move toward healthy sound to reduce stress and improve your health?
Sound Strategies for Stress Regulation
Here are a few sound strategies you can employ to manage noise induced stress.
A common sound stressor is excessive headphone use. Here are three tips for safe headphone listening.
Tip 1. Keep volume low when listening through headphones.
Why? The lower the volume, the less likely you are to damage your hearing.
Tip 2. Limit headphone listening to no more than one hour at a time.
Why? The longer you listen through headphones the more fatigued the middle ear muscles become. Auditory fatigue reduces the ear’s ability to protect the delicate inner ear hair cells from becoming damaged by loud sound.
Tip 3. Use high-quality headphones that cover the ear.
Why? They sound better at lower volume allowing you to enjoy all the details of your favorite music without the risk of hearing loss. Over the ear headphones provide a more natural form of listening than an in ear headphone inserted in the ear canal. Over the ear headphones also reduce background noise allowing for lower and safer listening volumes.
Step away from noise – If it’s too loud, move away. Keep earplugs with you to block the noise, especially in movie theaters and live music events. Ride the subway? Consider wearing noise cancelling headphones. Work or study in quiet areas without sonic distractions that break focus.
Not sure how loud is too loud? Download a decibel meter app for your mobile phone. Sounds under 75dB are generally considered safe, but over 60 db impair attention, and greater than 30dB can disturb sleep.
Move toward healthy sound – Create your own daily soundtrack, build playlists for relaxation, focus, motivation, and creativity.
What music? Whatever feels good to you…Your brain and body will entrain to the external rhythms of music.
Slower tempos below 60 beats per minute (BPM) with low frequencies will calm; like what you hear during a massage. Faster rhythms and tempos from 90 – 150 BPM will energize; what would you listen to during an aerobic workout? Instrumental music like Baroque in the midrange of tempo at 50-70 BPM in mid to high frequencies facilitates attention.
Make sound – Hum, tone, chant, sing, play an instrument. Try toning now.
Listen to this demonstration from Don Campbell which we offered in our book Healing at the Speed of Sound®. He will teach you how to tone the stress away!
Spend time with wind, water and birds – A walk in nature can quiet your mental chatter, connect you to the beauty of the natural world, and provide an abundance of healing sounds to wash stress away. Where is your closest park, meadow, forest or beach? Treat yourself to a mini break from the noise of modern society.
Adopt a daily listening practice – The Listening Program® will help you find comfort in your environment, filter out unwanted noise, reduce stress, improve your auditory processing, and support cognitive performance. It only takes 15-30 minutes a day.
Take sound breaks – For just five to ten minutes in the morning, afternoon, and evening; turn off your phone, meditate, rest your body, quiet your mind and refresh, away from all the hustle and bustle.
Remember you can manage the sound stressors in your life by being a mindful sound consumer.
About the Author
Alex Doman, an author, producer, and public speaker has focused his career on sound, music, and technology and their capacity to improve brain health and performance. He started Advanced Brain Technologies in 1998 with a vision to transform the life of every person by making sound brain fitness universally attainable. Alex leads the team behind The Listening Program®, the innovative acoustically-modified music method practiced worldwide.
He is co-author of the bestselling Healing at the Speed of Sound®; lectures internationally, and has trained thousands of allied health, education and music professionals in brain based applications of sound and music. Alex lives with his family in Ogden, Utah.