by KRISTEN DOLD
(Emily was interviewed for this article that originally appeared on Vogue.com.)
Hip meditation circles aside, it’s not always fashionable, or feasible, to live a quiet and contemplative life. For many, thriving in the modern world requires listening to NPR over the screech of subway rails while sending seven emails. But should it? A growing number of researchers argue that dialing down stimulation and decibel levels—at least some of the time, like during your morning commute—is one of the most effective ways to clear out stress and clutter in the brain.
“We live in a 24/7 culture that expects everyone to be on all the time, but quiet time is immensely restorative,” says Susan Cain, cofounder of the for-profit company Quiet Revolution, which educates individuals and companies on the lifestyles of introverts, and author of the 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. “You’ll be more present when you are with others, become more productive, and even show more power and control in work settings.” As the world gets louder, shutting off is easier said (or screamed) than done. Here’s how to live better now:
The conscious brain may get used to the daily roar of trains, planes, and Spin classes (which was found to have the potential to cause serious ear damage), but the body has a harder time forgetting. Everyday noise pollution can leave the body in fight-or-flight mode, ramping up stress hormones like cortisol and elevating blood pressure, according to the World Health Organization. Silence, on the other hand, truly is golden: studies show that just two minutes of silence a day can better relax the body than classical Bach, and two hours of quiet can generate brand new cells in the brain linked to learning and emotion. “Every moment does not need to be filled with listening, speaking, or doing,” says Emily Fletcher, founder of Ziva Meditation in New York City. “Silence is when we can finally listen to our intuition, think creatively, and reflect on our emotions, which isn’t just important for your work performance but your enjoyment of life.” And while there is a surge of silent retreats and spa offerings meant to recalibrate the mind quickly—look to the Quiet Mind massage at L’Auberge de Sedona, which offers calming breathing techniques as well as facial acupuncture, or the silent meditation hikes at The Ranch Malibu (also known as forest bathing, because you are meant to truly take in the atmosphere with no distractions)—scheduling smaller doses of silence can also positively impact the course of your week, says Fletcher. And if you can’t find a quiet moment away, try a phone-free bath, podcast-less commute, or a solo dinner sans background TV.
Take a lesson on stillness from Game of Thrones’s Cersei Lannister, or, for the softer-hearted, Salma Hayek’s portrayal of a kind, animal-loving massage therapist in this year’s film, Beatriz at Dinner. “There’s immense power in stillness, or being able to communicate without words and gestures,” says Fletcher. For some, stationary exercise can be harder to master than memorizing a full page of dialogue, but it can also be more effective when conveying a point, she continues. At the crux of stillness is teaching yourself to take an extra beat of silence before responding—whether it’s when you’re communicating with your mother-in-law over the holidays or a client during long stretches of business negotiations. The extra moment not only gives you more control over what you want to say but changes your overall energy, says Fletcher. She recommends daily mindfulness and meditative practices, which can widen the gap between a stimulus and your response. “If you have the bravery to sit in the discomfort of silence, or be the person who only speaks when they truly have something to say, oftentimes, people will reveal their deeper intentions to you first.”
Revel In Solitude
A far cry from loneliness—which can leave one feeling anxious, bored, or alienated—solitude, or choosing to spend time alone and recharge, can calm down that hyper-activated nervous system, boost focus, benefit relationships by preventing social burnout, and help unravel problems, says Cain. She recommends scheduling alone time into your calendar and protecting the appointment as fiercely as you would a one-on-one meeting with your boss. As for extroverts who sometimes dip into feelings of loneliness when they’re solo: “I tell people to seek solitude in places you know are going to uplift you,” says Cain. “For some, that’s inside the home or with a walk through a beautiful natural setting. For others, it’s in a café where you don’t know anyone.”