I don’t remember ever truly craving quiet until I had kids. But then, before I had kids, quiet wasn’t a luxury — for the most part, it was something I could have whenever I wanted it. I could close the door, put in earplugs, go for a walk by myself in nature, or go sit in my car without having to make sure someone was holding down the fort.
I’m sure this is why now, with kids at home, any small moment of quiet feels like heaven. Any small moment of quiet, and my shoulders relax, I breathe deeper, and I feel more in touch with God and my own inner voice. It’s a transformation.
What is it about silence that is so transformational, though? In essence, silence is simply the absence of noise — but somehow, it can change everything.
In her book We Need to Talk, Celeste Headlee talks about the power of silence in conversation. The human brain is alert to a response from our conversation partner, and when it doesn’t come, we want to fill the silence because it’s deeply uncomfortable. What causes this discomfort is a shift in how your brain is engaging. When the person you’re talking to doesn’t respond quickly enough, the emotional centers in your brain begin to get triggered. In other words, your brain goes from passive (waiting for response) to active (looking for signals).
In silence, your mind engages.
If you need to think through a challenge or make a decision, it’s easy to see how silence can get your mind more engaged in the thinking process. But as with all things, it’s best in moderation. Too much silence can actually impair cognitive function. In fact, research has shown that sensory deprivation can cause depression, paranoid thoughts, and even hallucinations. As humans, we need a baseline of sensory stimulation to be healthy.
This makes me think of silence like chocolate. It’s a treat, it’s good for you in small doses, and it can perk you up — but too much is bad for your health.