Noise, Silence, and How to Break the Cycle

In my previous post, we looked at the cycle of cluttered noise and deafening silence present in our homes and communities. I made the case for music’s ability to break that cycle by creating soundscapes (all the sounds around you) that breathe joy and life instead of isolation and over-stimulation.

As a board-certified music therapist and a sensitive person, I’m hyper-aware of my sound environment. A loud refrigerator will capture my full attention and the sound of football on TV will send me into an instant state of agitation. My body just does not process these sounds well and it literally changes my mood.

I put a lot of intentional effort to make my own home’s soundscape welcoming and inviting. Sometimes, this means playing energizing music while I clean. Other times, I might turn everything off and allow the silence to soothe my soul. But it takes effort to make sure my sound environment is working for and not against me.

And that’s in my own quiet condo where there are no pets, no kids, just a husband! This can be an even bigger challenge in homes or communities that have many residents, medical equipment, caregivers, and housekeepers that all contribute to the soundscape.

When I worked full time in memory care, I would routinely have to ask staff to move their conversation, turn off daytime television, turn down the country music, and close the door to the laundry room because the residents were sitting unengaged in the midst of a cacophony of noise! It happens quickly, and we may not even notice because we ourselves “block it out.” But when you are living with a neurologic disorder like Autism or Alzheimer’s, your senses are often heightened, leaving you vulnerable to over stimulation.

And that is something we can prevent.

There are some sounds we can turn up, down, off, or on and others we can’t (like road noise). But there are simple steps we can take to check and adjust our environment.

First, listen to your environment! What do you hear? How does it make you feel?

Basic I know, but how often do we stop and take in the sounds around us? You might notice a squeaky fan, an open door, or static from a speaker. All noise cluttering up the soundscape.

Which leads us to step two:

Respond to what you hear! Fix the fan, turn off the speaker, close the door, wait to vacuum.

Now before you go and turn on the music, I’m going to encourage you to leave it there. Give your brain a break from processing sound and enjoy some intentional silence. *

Famous composer John Cage defines music as “organized sound and silence.” This is a cornerstone of my music therapy practice. We couldn’t have symphonies with notes and rests, we can’t paint healthy soundscapes without silence—the absence of sound.

So turn down the sound and hold tight. In my next blog post, I’ll show you how to positively add music back into your soundscape.

Daring enough to try this? Leave a comment and tell us how it goes!

In Song,

Want to fix the soundscape in your community? Check out our consulting services.

* I would define that unsettled, restless feeling we can get when we sit in silence as withdrawal. You might notice agitation in yourself or loved one, adjust appropriately but know we might just be “detoxing” the body from so much sensory input.

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