When you’re home alone, do you:
a) Relish the silence, enjoying a long-awaited opportunity for some peace and quiet?; or
b) Turn on music, the TV or the radio and immediately fill the space with noise?
If you fall into the second category, don’t worry! Enjoying noise, music and talking doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. These are all great things to appreciate and, for many of us, they enhance our lives. But if you’re aware that you’re actually uncomfortable with silence, it’s worth considering why.
Our minds naturally crave stimulation and noise is an easy way to get that. When we experience noise input, it gives us something to focus on and tune into. Noise can alleviate boredom, entertain us and even help to lift our mood.
Another reason we may find noise reassuring is that it can help to relieve loneliness. Some people even say they turn on the TV not because they want to watch it, but “for company.” If we are alone, and have tendencies to experience loneliness, silence can heighten feelings of isolation. Hearing other voices, while not the same as having someone else in the room, can provide a comforting illusion of companionship. It can also remind us that there are other people out there, and potentially help us to feel more connected with the outside world. (Learn more in Overcoming Loneliness.)
We may seek noise out of habit and a sense of the familiar. If you grew up in a busy household and are more used to volume than quiet, silence might have become something quite alien. For some, silence may be such an unaccustomed phenomenon that they even prefer to fall asleep to noise.
Finally, noise might be a reassuring distraction from the internal noise of our minds. If you are struggling with anxiety, obsessive thoughts or worries, noise can be one way to drown this out. When we provide our minds with external stimuli, it can break our fixations on our own thoughts. If nothing else, the noise outside can simply seem preferable to the noise inside.
Again it’s worth reiterating that there’s not necessarily anything wrong with any of these things! Noise can undoubtedly be reassuring and serves many functions in our lives, but it’s worth remembering that silence can be tremendously healing, soothing and beneficial. If you are a person who always avoids silence, see whether you can gently coax yourself out of your comfort zone, perhaps going for a short walk without music, or resisting turning the TV on for the first 10 minutes when you get home from work. See whether you can find a reassurance in quiet, rather than noise. (Learn more about silence in What Will Silence Teach Me?)