We are surrounded by sound. Some of it we notice, but much of it we experience outside of our conscious awareness. All of it can affect our mood and stress levels – for better or worse.
We experience sound through our entire bodies. Sound waves travel through the air and are perceived by nerve cells in our skin as well as our ears. Messages are then sent to the brain, which activates the central nervous system and our response to the stimuli.
When we are bombarded by a lot of noise, such as jackhammers, traffic or people talking around us, we may become over-stimulated. Our reactions may vary from nervousness and agitation to fatigue and even depression. Your body may become stressed from aggravating sounds. It may even react by pulling energy inward to protect itself, leaving you feeling lethargic and tired.
Even unobtrusive sounds can affect us. Listen to the type of music being played in stores, restaurants and public places. How do you react to it? Is it calming? Energizing? Disturbing?
We can’t always control what sounds will be around us. However, many times, we can change the sounds we’re hearing or we can be more proactive about our responses to reduce stress.
Here are some steps for positively affecting your environment:
1. Be intentional about the sounds you put into your environment and pay attention to the sounds that are already there.
2. Consider how you respond to the sounds that surround you. Do they make you feel relaxed, invigorated, tired, angry, anxious, or something else?
3. If you are bothered by the sounds around you, consider what you can do to change them. Can you mask an annoying sound with more pleasing music or white noise? Can you move away from a sound and still accomplish what you need to? Can you take a break from the sound or reschedule what you’re doing when it won’t be there?
4. Be mindful of the music you choose while driving, exercising, dining, relaxing, working, doing household chores, and more. We often breathe and move in time to music and rhythm in our environment.
5. Look for sounds and music that can help you accomplish a given task. We are very rhythmic creatures and respond to rhythms without even being aware of it. Rhythm often makes tasks easier to do because of the way it organizes the body and brain. Physical exercise is a good example of this. Many people find exercise much easier to do with music because it provides an external rhythm which the body will attempt to match. What kind of sound would you choose for quieter activities, like reading or writing?
Music and sound can be healing, invigorating, relaxing and renewing. They can also be energy depleting and cause stress. Be mindful of the sounds around you to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative ones.
Kim Spitz Donley, MT-BC, is a board-certified music therapist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She offers care and support to hospitalized patients.