Blood pressure up, senses heightened, nerves on edge… not in response to potential danger, or to a deer sighting within shooting range or to too much coffee, but to NOISE, lots of it, ALL THE TIME. Motivation, learning, memory, productivity and problem-solving can also be affected, and not in positive ways, by constant attacks on our brains via our ears.
Two kinds of noise are the culprits: 1) the heightened non-stop backdrop of sound as in a city, a sawmill or a factory and (2) isolated, distracting sounds as those from a clicking pen (there are marathon pen-clickers among us), a phone conversation in the adjacent booth or cubicle, the popping of an electric heater as it warms up or cools down or the random clunks from an ice maker.
Excessive noise creates stress which then contributes to the release of too much cortisol into our bodies. Don’t forget – a brain is a body part. Guess what some of the symptoms of too much cortisol are? (1) Acne, thinning skin, easy bruising and a flushed appearance are some visible potential issues. (2) Excessive fatigue, weak muscles, headaches, elevated blood pressure readings and slowed healing times can be stress-related. (3) Upper body weight gain is another potential effect of too much cortisol. (4) Out-of-sorts lately or frustrated by foggy thoughts? Irritability and decreased concentration caused by high stress/cortisol levels could be at play.
Now you are going to think I mixed up two different column topics here, but stay with me.
The below-level reading performance of more than half of Missouri students has been plastered all over the news recently. The Normandy School District has the misfortune of being the one with the lowest scores. Take a look at a map. Interstates and airplane flight paths could be among factors to consider. Students’ brains can learn to tune out constant background sounds, but in doing so the brains could also be muting the tuning necessary for reading, memory and problem-solving.
I am not a student in a Missouri classroom but I am among a segment of the population that increasingly complains about fragmented focus, words playing hide-and-seek, struggles to learn anything – an all-around diminishing of mental clarity. Could high cortisol levels due to increased stress – of which noise plays a part – be a consideration to address?
Ambient sound machines and certain kinds of music with no lyrics can help brains manage in noisy circumstances. Silence is the best antidote, though. Turns out our brains NEED it, to relax, to replenish, and even to regenerate new cells that can become active integrated neurons! (If that happens in a mouse brain, I believe it happens in mine, too).
As much as I love my classic rock played loudly, my home radio is not on 24/7 now. At times I take a backroads jaunt with the car radio off. I walk without a playlist tormenting my captive ears. I am striving to give them AND my brain a break from constant sound. They are thanking me in surprising ways.
(Written for my 10/23/2019 Close to Home column in The Prospect-News)