When you have free time, do you frequently turn on the television, scroll through social media or listen to podcasts? If so, you may be missing out on the excellent health benefits of silence and solitude.
“If you look at what is and isn’t working in your life, what’s not working is often because of blind spots or unconscious patterns and habits,” says Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “When you’re still, you’ll start to discern these habits and blind spots.”
By taking a break from the noise of technology and content consumption, you’ll give yourself a chance to experience greater clarity. With clarity comes better choices that lead to a more fulfilling life.
“I’ve had people tell me that after cultivating time of quiet and stillness, some things that used to upset them don’t bother them anymore,” says Buttimer. “They say they feel clear on what they do and don’t want to do.”
Why are silence and solitude so difficult to come by?
The prevalence of technology and our cultural mindset of task orientation can make silence and solitude an afterthought.
“Although technology has so many rich benefits, it’s one of the main things that causes distress in people,” he explains. “They can’t have time in solitude unless they go to real lengths to make sure they’re not interrupted.”
In our culture, we’re task-oriented and efficiency-focused, Buttimer adds. Ironically, the more time you spend in stillness and quiet, the more productive you’ll become.
“The more skilled you become at mindfulness, the more you can produce,” he says. “Practicing mindfulness can help you bring your best self to each situation in life so you can make better decisions.”
What are the mental and emotional benefits of silence and solitude?
Clarity. The No. 1 mental and emotional benefit of silence and solitude is clarity. Buttimer uses a snow globe analogy. Think about the snow globe when you shake it upside down, then turn it right side up and see the particles start to settle. This settling is similar to what happens in our minds when we are quiet. “When we’re constantly running around in life, we won’t be able to get clear on anything,” he says.
Time to process your emotions. When you practice solitude and silence, you allow your brain to process your emotions, rather than suppressing them and remaining on autopilot. You may feel some uncomfortable emotions through this process, but the sooner you recognize and address your feelings, the sooner you can move forward in health and freedom.
Better decision-making. “Brain scans show that many people’s brains are overactive and hardly ever at rest these days,” says Buttimer. “If the brain is hardly ever at rest, it cannot restore and regenerate, and therefore, you can’t think straight.” Having silence allows you to have clarity and make intentional choices that can improve your life.
The physical health benefits of silence and solitude
When you cultivate silence and solitude, your whole body will relax, which can lead to physical healing.
“Relaxation is a primary mechanism for healing,” says Buttimer. “When you are under stress, your body’s natural repair mechanisms are disabled. When you can cultivate silence and stillness, clarity develops in your mind and has a settling effect. Your body is not independent of your brain, so it will relax as well.”
When you’re relaxed, your body’s natural repair mechanisms are enabled and you’ll heal faster.
“You’re allowing yourself to directly intervene on the physical concerns you have and prevent some issues,” he adds.
Practical ways to enjoy silence and solitude
You don’t have to meditate for 20 minutes a day to reap the benefits of stillness and silence. Buttimer recommends incorporating “sacred pauses” into your day. Sacred pauses are mini-meditations.
“Instead of saving up all of your perceived rest and relaxation for one or two weeks a year, you can take just two minutes in your day to stop, do nothing and be unfocused, tuning into the silence,” he says. “This is really key to making your best decisions.”
Sacred pauses are especially beneficial upon awakening and just before bedtime.
For even more silence and stillness, you could turn off the radio and drive in silence, turn off the television while cooking or doing chores, or enjoy a mindful, social-media free lunch break.
While it may feel strange at first to practice solitude and silence, soon you’ll reap the mental and physical benefits.
“Almost every spiritual tradition points to the small, still voice within, and you can’t get your best intuition or access your best higher thinking if you don’t stop and be quiet,” he says. “You won’t find clarity in your smartphone, television or video game.”
Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.