I think they call it tinnitus — that (nearly) constant buzzing in my ear. I’ve had it for years. Experts say that it could be caused by prolonged exposure to loud sounds, among other reasons. Apparently, something like 50 million Americans have this condition in some form.
No matter how I got it, or why I have it, it’s my excuse for the noise I have bellowing all around me. It’s to drown out the buzzing, the tinnitus, I like to say. Really, I’m not so sure.
I worked in an office for many years that had a TV constantly broadcasting the news or music or some other background noise. When I sit in a coffee shop to write, I either listen to the music piped through the P.A. system or bring my own mix-tapes (umm… I mean playlists! Did I just age myself?) to listen to in my earbuds.
When I’m not streaming my own background noise, which I prefer to think of as the “soundtrack of my life,” other sounds fill the void. From the time the alarm blares at me in the morning until I lay my head on the pillow at night, noises assault me. Even when I sleep, we run a box fan to create white noise in our bedroom. My wife says she can’t sleep without it.
The constant noise does seem to drown out the buzzing in my ears, but it also brings unnecessary stress. Whether it’s self-induced noise or not, scientists have associated noise (like the noises of living and working in a big city) with brain fatigue. A recent article from the New York Times points out the impact of this kind of stress: “With brain fatigue, you are easily distracted, forgetful and mentally flighty.”
Not only can the TV or background music add extra strain on my brain, but so can some of the little sounds and alerts I have vying for my attention all day. Even as I write this, the “ding” of a new Facebook alert sounds off. I look up at the tab on my browser trying to ignore the message counter so I can focus on writing. Then the email alert sounds on my phone telling me there’s something else that I should be paying attention to as well.Between the brain fatigue from the constant noise, and the distraction of intermittent alerts throughout the day, it’s remarkable that I get anything done at all!
Think about this: hearing is one sense we really can’t turn off. I can close my eyes and stop visual stimulus. I can avoid putting something in my mouth so that my taste buds aren’t activated. But without artificially plugging my ears, I can’t stop the sounds entering my brain.
The good news is that the New York Times article indicates that the remedy for too much noise is getting outside for a walk in the park.
“The study suggests that, right about now, you should consider ‘taking a break from work,’ Dr. Roe said, and ‘going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window.’ This is not unproductive lollygagging, Dr. Roe helpfully assured us. ‘It is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.’”
If constant auditory stimuli uses mental energy, creates stress, and induces brain fatigue, then getting to a place with less noise certainly can ease the strain on our mental resources. And just to be clear: going for a walk in the park doesn’t mean plugging in the earbuds to listen to some sweet jams while I’m walking. Even to block out the buzzing in my ears.
Thriving Through Stress
Stress is an inevitability of the 21st century, and opportunities abound for simplifying our lives and changing our circumstances. But for most of us, the better change comes from within. As we deal with the stress in our lives, are we just trying to manage all the variables, mitigate the damage, and survive? Or is there actually a way to thrive through stress? Join us for another High Calling series where we discuss how our faith in Jesus and the resilience that develops through difficulties can help us thrive even in difficult circumstances beyond our control. If you know someone who is going through a particularly stressful time, why not encourage them by emailing or sharing one of the articles in our series.