It’s Not Just Noise…: How Sound Effects Your Health

Since the 1970’s the field of psychology has been studying links between health and the environment. One area, chronic noise exposure, explores long-term effects on adults and children. When I have friends and family visit me in Gilpin County, the breakfast table conversation turns to how quiet our house is at night. Some people love it, “It’s the best sleep I’ve ever had!” Others find they toss and turn, anxious without the familiar city sounds to lull them to sleep.

Interestingly, researchers discovered exposure to chronic noise is linked to some pretty serious health concerns. Over time adults can experience degraded complex task performance, increased stress, and poor long-term memory. Complex tasks are an integral part of employment, particularly in this economy with such high unemployment rates. Increased stress is associated with compromised immune systems and increases in the likelihood of all sorts of physical illnesses. And our long-term memories give us history and context for where we’ve been and who we are, a critical component of our emotional health.

Children exposed to chronic noise face more challenging consequences: reading deficits, diminished quality of life, and a vulnerability to learned helplessness. A child struggling to read will begin to see decreased success at school, which could lead to feeling as if he has little control over his life, which can result in an overall diminished quality of life. Taking these experiences over time, it’s easy to see potential long-term consequences effecting education, employment, relationships, physical and emotional health.

I believe our mountain community offers a cure for these chronic noise symptoms. Gary Paul Nabhan in his book Coming Home to Eat writes, “I remembered how the O’odham words for ‘healing,’ ‘wildness,’ and ‘wholeness’ came from the same root: doa, ‘to be wildly alive and healthy.’” The O’odham, a Native American tribe in Southwestern Arizona, remind us that quiet, stillness and healing can be found in the wilderness surrounding us. So this week take some time to turn off that television, take out your ear buds, leave the ATV at home and head out your backdoor for some healing wilderness time.