Goshen News, Goshen, IN

February 2, 2014

WHOLE FAMILY: Take a second to stop and hear the roses


Goshen News

---- — There’s a reason — or two or five — I like mornings.

Mornings are fresh with promise. They’re calm. They dial up slowly, like someone’s gently turning a dimmer switch from twilight to bright.

And mornings, most times, are quiet.

Quiet.

It’s delicious, this morning quiet time, since most of the rest of my 15 waking hours usually are not.

I got to thinking recently about quiet — or “silence,” maybe, with silence meaning the absence of talking or most artificial noise. I suppose true “silence” is not possible unless one is deaf, for even when it’s quiet, it’s not silent; I can hear evidence of the wind through the trees or the rhythmic tune of the ticking clock cycling on battery power.

But experiencing or demanding quiet or silence — is it useful? Seems so.

First, this week, the flip side: Noise and its problems.

Who knew that noise has such an impact on human health and development that the World Health Organization has, since 1980, addressed problems with “community noise?” Think trains, planes and automobiles. Think televisions. Think, in a hospital, for example, the whirring and beeping and wheeling of carts.

Turns out all that noise can be harmful to us. How? Well, some noise can actually cause hearing loss, though that’s the lesser of the issues, really. Most crucial? All that noise raises our stress levels.

There’s a reason city dwellers are pegged as being irritable and unkind: It’s noisy in the city, and they’re grumpy about it. Oh, I know that’s a simple way to sum up a complex issue, but it’s true that noises can induce stress responses, and sustained stress is hard on our bodies.

To wit: Ever heard ambulance or police sirens? There’s a reason they’re not set to the rhythm of gentle ocean waves. They’re designed to make your sympathetic nervous system respond in a “Get-out-of-the-way!” manner.

Imagine hearing that — and myriad other, as-alarming sounds — all day and night. Might you not be a little nutty?

Consider, too, the problem of sound resilience. You grow so accustomed to hearing noises they do NOT alarm you anymore. I lived in Chicago five years and grew accustomed to the noise. After a while, I didn’t even turn my head when I heard a car alarm. (No one did.) I very well might have ignored altogether a grand larceny or two.

Turns out this is a real problem in health care — called “alarm fatigue.” In 2011, the Boston Globe published results of an investigation that showed that over five years, more than 200 deaths nationwide were attributable to missed alarms in hospitals.

“Monitors help save lives, by alerting doctors and nurses that a patient is — or soon could be — in trouble. But with the use of monitors rising, their beeps can become so relentless, and false alarms so numerous, that nurses become desensitized — sometimes leaving patients to die without anyone rushing to their bedside.” (Boston Globe)

In my limited hospital clinical and city-dwelling experiences, I can see — easily — how this happens.

One other dilemma from all the noise we have? Simply — distraction. I know a lot of people who say they like “background noise” of some kind for tasks like reading, writing or studying. Myself, I enjoy a light classical music accompaniment when studying.

But in life in general, I find too much noise distracts me from what really matters — human interactions. I might have said to my children a time or two or 1,200 something like, “I CANNOT TALK TO TWO PEOPLE AT ONCE” or “I cannot listen to you AND listen to the person on the phone.”

Ever turned down the car radio when the roads are icy and require a little more concentration? Yeah, that’s the point. Noise can distract us from the job at hand.

When I moved from the Windy City back home to Elkhart County, I remember thinking, “It’s so QUIET here.” And I even notice a difference between where I live now — a few miles from a Starbuck’s, so not too rural but out in the county a bit — and so-called Amish Country.

Seems when sunk deep in the middle of LaGrange County, the skies are inkier and in the air there’s just more, well, silence.

Now it is worth noting the good effects of sounds on our bodies and souls. Out there in quiet LaGrange County, for example? I find soothing the clip-clop of a buggy rolling by — a sound I don’t hear every day but find charming and familiar and comforting. And those ocean-waves sounds and white-nose CDs and relaxation radio stations really do calm people. “Noise” can, certainly, be good for us.

But back to silence. Have you tried it?

Next week I’ll tell you the benefits of being quiet and how you might do it. I know a lot of us — with our plethora of noisy devices — have to be purposeful about it. I have a few ideas. But for now, I’m toning down and tuning out.

Shhhhhhhh.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”