Although we often consider stressors as being our reaction to situations, a good deal of stress management may come under the umbrella of monitoring and being mindful to our physical surroundings. Take sound for example.
We all are listening to sound, all of the time. Stop for a moment and survey the sounds about you. The whirr of the computer hard drive, hum of the air conditioner or heat pump, the rumble of an auto passing on a nearby road. All familiar sounds, and for the most part, not stressful. White noise, we say. And yet is it?
The relationship of sound to optimal health is like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Too little, too much, and ahhh! Just right. Not enough of the right kinds of sound, and we humans sink into a sluggish apathy. Too much of the wrong kind and we turn into a jittery bundle of nerves.
Although 80% of what we pay attention to is visual, sound is always with us, constantly being monitored subliminally. Witness a classroom teacher who can be mentoring a youngster with her back to the class. When the principal walks in the door, she will immediately know it, simply by the change in verbalizations of her students.
A trained mechanic can listen to an engine and tell which piston is malfunctioning, the extent to which it is unhappy, and what he needs to do to remedy the situation.
Compare mechanical noises to those from nature, and you find that the former are, well, boring. The very essence of mechanical sounds is a repetition of the same sound, over and over. That’s what mechanical engines do.
Higher sounds are more discordant that lower pitches. Consider the wail of a young baby or the oscillations of a police siren. By their very nature these are distressing and stressful.
Unpredictability seems to be the key. Car alarms in a apartment parking lot can be very stressful. They are mechanical, shrill and high pitched, and unpredictable. Just when you think they have stopped, they start up through the whole routine again!
Dilbert cartoons have made a fortune making fun of cubicle farms. They are stressful for good reason. The human voice demands above all other sounds that we pay attention. And when two or three conversations are going on at the same time, and we are privy to all of them, chaos reigns in our mind and stress occurs.
Pacing and volume can cause stress as well. Consider the average TV commercial: It is higher pitched than the show, faster paced, and broadcast at a higher volume for a reason: To cause you to pay attention! Switch channels and you may find exactly the same commercial running on a different channel! Talk about stress.
Leaf blowers running next door on an early weekend morning when you are trying to sleep in raise stress to yet another dimension: not only are they high in pitch as well as volume, there is the question of attribution: doesn’t your neighbor know you didn’t sleep at all and only this minute drifted off. Can’t they be more considerate? High, higher, highest stress!
Given that you may not be able to change your environment overnight, what can you do to reduce sound stressors? Try these simple solutions:
1. Be mindful of what you are hearing. Every so often during the day, aurally survey your immediate surroundings. What do you hear?
2. Identify discord such as human disagreements and label as such. If you hear a ambulance siren in the distance, note how you feel, and then, let it go.
3. Seek out quiet places for a respite during the day. In a large office, spend a few moments in a quiet corredore or conference room. Let your spirit expand and breathe before re-entering your world.
4. Spend some time each day in the out of doors, listening to nature. We find this relaxing, for a number of reasons: Nature on the other hand, is an infinite variety within a relatively narrow range: predictable (which to our hardwired primitive brains means safety) yet varied enough to create interest.
5. If you are unable to go to nature, try having nature come to you through visualization or nature CDs.
Consider the peaceful murmur of a creek over a rocky bed, the sigh of wind through pine boughs, the first big drops of rain promising a good shower. Ahhh! Just right!