Is Silence Golden? On Entrepreneurial Well-being

Today I’m launching my newly rebranded business, “Storytelling Communications,” with a blog posting on the importance of silence. It might seem odd to do so for a company that focuses on written and spoken communication! I distinctly remember (some 20+ years ago) a professor of Victorian literature joking that 19th century prose writers typically could (and did) devote “23 volumes to the importance of silence.” The irony is not lost on me that as I launch my business today, I’m also potentially adding to the “chatter” of our noisy, digital world . . .

But on this New Year’s Day, I’m reflecting on the importance silence holds from science, not sales. In an article on, writer Azriel ReShel argues that “Noise Hurts and Silence Heals.” Noise in contemporary life has been linked to such health problems as high blood pressure, heart disease, insomnia, depression and anxiety.

Studies have also shown that noise causes our brains to produce stress hormones, when sound travels in electrical signals through our ears to our brains. Cortisol, for example, is released when we hear sound waves that activate the amydala (the portion of our brains that is connected to memory and emotion).

ReShel finds silence to be “comforting, nourishing and cozy,” in a high tech world where noise “drowns out our creativity, our inner connection and hampers our resilience.” While many people commute daily (whether by vehicle or on foot) listening to music, radio or podcasts, more people than ever also report being highly sensitive to noise and losing some of their hearing, when they encounter noisy environments.

In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that among 340 million of the population in Western Europe were losing “a million years of healthy life every year, due to noise.” There is no shortage of evidence on the detrimental effects of noise—recently, the slow progress of inefficient and very loud jackhammering through the concrete balconies of my workplace has seen tenants leave in droves. Most of us have sought daily refuge away from our once peaceful home offices.

When our brains and bodies are exhausted or overwhelmed, science tells us that silence can restore them. In 2006, Italian medical doctor Luciano Bernardi discovered that when patients were exposed to silence in between episodes of noise and music, the silent “pauses were far more relaxing for the brain” than calming music, or even more than longer periods of silence. Duke University biologist Imke Kirste connected two hours of silence daily with cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory and sensory functioning.

“When we spend time alone in silence,” ReShel writes, “our brains are able to relax” and so recover some of their cognitive functioning. The prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that makes decisions and solves problems) gets overworked in noisy environments, but can relax when that overstimulation ends. (Remember too that our apparently “silent” digital devices bombard us with texts and social media to read or answered.) When the human brain relaxes, we can better understand our environments and gain the perspective needed for us to function well in the world.

ReShel reminds us that ancient spiritual masters have known the reparative effects of silence that science is now confirming.  Buddha  said, millennia ago: “Silence is an empty space. Space is the home of the awakened mind.”

Having just emerged from the noise that  the holiday season brings, I hope that you find these insights helpful. As we start a new year, do you expect to experience the healing effects of silence on your brain? If not, when can you schedule some quiet back into your life?

Please drop me line on my “contact” page. And Happy 2019 to you all!