Is noise driving you mad?
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Have you ever noticed that when a person gets momentarily lost while driving in the car, the first thing they do is to turn off the radio or CD player? Suddenly even music that is perfectly acceptable becomes a source of overload and the need to concentrate on the problem at hand is best served by shutting off the music. In fact, in this case, the music becomes “noise” and we want to get rid of it.
Never underestimate the power of noise to overstimulate the nervous system and increase arousal and anxiety levels. The human body is highly attuned to noise, since loud noises often signal danger. Together with touch, the sense of hearing is one of the most important senses in a baby’s defense arsenal. The sense of sight is secondary to sound in a young infant. Even in the womb, babies can be seen to register certain noises; either very loud noises which initiate the so-called “startle response” or familiar noises such as the mother singing a well-known song.
Having established that sound plays an enormous role in our lives, it makes sense that noise, unwanted sound, is a source of stress and tension. The constant noise of working in an open-plan office environment makes for chronic, low-grade stress in workers and results in the lowering of work performance. Constant conversations, interruptions, and phone calls lower the concentration ability of an individual and also increase irritability. Throw unreasonable deadlines into the brew and we have a potent mix for work-related stress problems.
Yet it is in our homes that noise has the biggest impact. When we are surrounded by noisy neighbors, unwanted loud music, an arsenal of lawn-taming equipment including mowers, trimmers, and blowers, that disrupt the quiet of the weekend afternoon, we suffer stress to our nervous systems. Sometimes we not aware of this stress, but our bodies are. At other times, we find ourselves with digestive problems, a feeling of being “on-edge”, or irritable with our partner or the children. We are suffering from stress overload.
It has also been documented that children who live in chronically noisy neighborhoods, either through traffic noise or proximity to an airport, exhibit decreased learning skills. This is because part of their brains is constantly being channeled into dealing with the noise conditions under which they must learn. Similarly, there are more admissions to mental hospitals from people who live in noisy environments compared to quiet areas.
So what can we do to combat this racket? We can begin by attempting to lower noise levels in our own home as this is the place we come to regenerate from the outside world. It may be possible to reach an amiable agreement with neighbors over music or garden-related noise. Sometimes people are genuinely unaware of just how much noise they are making.
Of course, neighbors can also be quite difficult to deal with regarding noise issues. If they are breaking the law regarding the noise they produce, then by all means use the law to obtain your peace. However, much of the noise that we experience cannot be controlled by us, so it is up to us to find better ways better deal with it.
Growing tall hedges across the front of your property significantly reduces road noise and pollution, while similar hedges around the boundaries reduces both noise and increases visual privacy. Never underestimate the value of a dense hedge to screen out unwanted noise.
The quickest and cheapest way to cope with either chronic low-grade noise or sudden bursts of short-term intense noise is to buy yourself a box of earplugs. These items are cheap and they work exceptionally well. They are designed to protect the hearing of workers in all sorts of industrial applications, so you’ll find them more than helpful in domestic circumstances.
In fact, they are particularly useful for times when there is no particular noise problem occurring, but you find yourself a little frazzled. Put them in when you are cooking the evening meal and by the time your body has experienced 30 or so minutes of near-silence, you will find your stress levels have dropped, often significantly.
Noise is one of the unfortunate burdens that we must cope with in the
21st century. But there are many steps we can, and should, take to lower
this potent source of stress.