A Surprising Source of Stress and What to Do About It
We all have a lot of stress that we get exposed to all the time. When we usually talk about stress, we mean the kind that involves planning dinners for the whole family, getting your finances in order, showing up for you loved ones, and getting time in a day to exercise a bit.
This stress is ubiquitous and we mostly talk about it in the inevitable sense. Those are all things we’re going to be exposed to, right? In a way that’s true, if you plan to be part of the modern day world.
But today, we’re going to expand our meaning of stress a bit. But before you panic about all that extra stress, there’s going to be an exercise that helps you deal with any and all type of stress. It’s simple but in our modern day lives, it’s nearly revolutionary.
A type of stress that we don’t often think about it is the stress that our body interprets from the constant barrage of noise around us, self imposed or otherwise. (That’s what podcasts are for, right?)
Human beings evolved in a natural setting where our ability to pick out minute sounds in the environment could be the difference between life and death. To this day, the animal world around us (I say that like we’re removed from it though clearly we’re not) depends on the presence of appropriate sound cues.
Unfortunately, between our jet engines, lawn mowers, and people who insist that taking their muffler off is cool (what can I say, I’m an old soul), us humans often disrupt this delicate and incredibly complex natural soundscape.
What’s we’re disrupting, however, isn’t just some matters-to-the-frogs problem that doesn’t involve us. That constant wave of different sounds that come at us, and often at really high decibel levels, is all data that has to be broken down, interpreted, and reconstituted by our minds. Sure, our minds are busy all the time anyways but nonetheless, content, as seen by the brain, also matters.
In turns out, constant exposure to low level, and not-so-low-level, sounds in our modern environment can be interpreted as stress in the body. It can leave us constantly primed for that flght-and-flight response that is so vitally important in the short-term and so completely detrimental in the long run. Like I talked about in this post, what happens in the brain has real and physiologic implications for the entire body system and comes in the form of neurotransmitters, hormones, and signaling processes.
Think back to the last time the fire alarm went off in your house when you burned your dinner (that’s not just me, right?). You probably found yourself the immediate owner of a racing, pounding heart and prickly skin.
Just like low levels of stress in our lives thanks to finances or marriage woes can leave us depleted in the long run, constant low levels of artificial noise can actually trigger some of the same responses in the body.
So am I saying you put in ear plugs or go to live in a log cabin in the woods?
No, though that last one might be kind of nice in the spring.
What I am saying is that it’s important for us humans to take ourselves out of our self-constructed noisy environments and get some honest-to-goodness peace and quiet.
My challenge for us all is to find time to get out in a quiet environment, without your headphones, and connect with the quieter side of your state. (Bonus points for going barefoot!) If you’re going with kids, it can be fun turn it into a game where each person tries to listen for certain prominent sounds in nature. (And now you can cross off, “do educational activity with the kids” off your list.) If you can, going alone can be incredibly fulfilling and actually positively enlightening.
Not only will this exercise give you a chance to escape your traditional stressors, you’ll be giving your body and mind a much needed break for the stressors we don’t think so much about. Oh and that work out you had on your mile long to-do list? You can cross that off as well.
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