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White noise: the key to relaxation

Discover why and how white noise can help reduce our stress and increase our relaxation.

Discover why and how white noise can help reduce our stress and increase our relaxation.

Relaxation helps us recuperate and revitalize so we can be happier, healthier, and more productive. But relaxing isn’t so easy these days. We’re constantly bombarded with responsibilities. To make matters worse, we’re often distracted or interrupted while trying to accomplish objectives on our to-do list. We’re stressed out and anxious thinking about all we have to do, then, when we finally get to working, we can’t focus. Now, we’re even more stressed and anxious, and even less productive. Thankfully, science is here to rescue us with methods proven to help us relax amidst stress. Science gives us white noise as one sound-based remedy that can help relax our bodies and our brains.

We’re seriously stressed out

Most of us are stressed. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. Similarly, 73 percent of Americans regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. And one in three people feel they are living with extreme stress. Meanwhile, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America tells us 18.1 percent of the American population are living with anxiety disorders. That’s 40 million adults in the U.S. who suffer from anxiety disorders each year.

Some sounds can stress us out

According to sound expert and author Julian Treasure: “Sound in a space affects us profoundly. It changes our heart rate, breathing, hormone secretion, brain waves. It affects our emotions and our cognition.”

Disturbing or unpleasant sounds – such as a siren or a scream – result in an increased secretion of cortisol (the stress hormone). We might realize sounds like this stress us out, but we might not realize how detrimental even overly loud background noise can be. According to Treasure, you are one third as productive in open-plan offices (or noisy spaces) as in quiet rooms. In a particularly loud, distracting spaces, your productivity decreases by 66 percent.

So one factor that might be contributing to your stress and/or anxiety — maybe without you even realizing it — is your soundscape. Treasure suggests that if you must be in unpleasantly noisy places, put headphones on with soothing sounds. This can cause your productivity to again increase to triple what it would be surrounded by loud, disturbing noises.

Sound like white noise can relax us

Treasure’s suggests we’ll be more relaxed and more productive if we can’t hear the sounds that disturb or divert us, causing us stress and distraction. Whether you’re trying to work (and relax into your work “flow”), trying to sleep, or just trying to get some down time, disruptive sound can greatly inhibit all of the above. One sound science suggests to relax us is white noise.

White noise is a noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities. It draws its name from white light; just as white light contains all wavelengths of visible light, white noise contains all frequencies of audible sound. The static-like sound of white noise is particularly effective at helping mask unwanted background noise. In this way it can help keep us relaxed.

One study showed playing white noise to patients resulted in significantly improved relaxation. The patients showed signs of increased relaxation through measurement of blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature.

Besides blocking out unwanted noises, white noise might also help us quiet our mind. Often, when we are anxious or stressed, we’re playing worrisome scenarios on repeat. If we can stop circular, frantic thinking and calm our mind, we can access relaxation. Enter, white noise.

According to neuroscientist Ben Martynoga of the National Institute for Medical Research in London, “White noise can help you get into an almost meditative state, that state of flow when you are effortlessly moving through the world.”

Image credits: Kenrik Mills, Unsplash

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