I started thinking about this topic while I was rocking my youngest son back to sleep this morning (5:50AM). While rocking back and forth in the glider hoping that my son would go back to sleep long enough that I could have a dream, I started to envision all of the things I needed to do today. Church, cleaning, paperwork, taking care of the kids, taxes, mortgage, the nature of string theory and how it could relate to the human mind... In my early 20's this kind of processing would have required two, maybe three, cups of dark-roast coffee. Alas, this was not to be in my morning. Instead, my son looked up at me, eyes wide, as if saying, "I'm ready to go, why aren't you?" The silence we enjoyed together was ended by his near-toddler egging and grunting. "Time to go," it meant.
As much as I would have preferred for my son to have willingly fallen back asleep, there is a silver lining to our quiet time together. I believe it is pretty well accepted that we live in a noisy world. Cars, airplanes, music, construction...all noises most of us experience on a daily basis. This is a modern phenomenon, though. Imagine 100's of years ago when we did not have the same level of noise. What would you experience at night? Silence. Today, when we experience that it can be somewhat uncomfortable and unsettling. Where did the noises go? Why aren't there cars driving down my street, or the noise of my neighbors yelling in excitement? Did something happen?
Some research has linked the experience of noise, or noise pollution, in the office and community, to increased stress, sleep loss, and psychological symptoms, but not with psychiatric disorders. Interestingly, it also leads to increased levels of chatecholemine secretion - this is a hormone that is helps us respond to stress (think fight or flight). Scientists and clinicians have been aware of this for awhile now. The research on this subject is amazing - noise pollution, coming in the form of airplane and jet noise, has an impact on children's neurodevelopment, and can lead lower reading scores and slower development of cognitive and language skills!
Now, I am not saying that you should cancel your plans to visit New York City next summer. Rather, as a psychologist in clinical practice, I would encourage thoughtful exploration of the amount of time you, and your family, spend in quiet thought and exploration. Do you have the television on as soon as you and the kids get home up until dinner, and even during? Try to see what it is like without it on. For a long time I had gotten used to having the news on 24/7 - it helps me focus and provided useful distractions during my years in school. I know it can be hard to make such a shift. The television can become a part of the family, always there when you need it. If this is the case, try a week without it, and instead turn on the radio. "Alexa, play my 'keep my mind off the fact I am not watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones' radio."
Although it may seem small, the importance of adapting to this change is significant. Thanks to advances in technology, any show that I want to watch is available to me. Type it in online, or enter the channel number into my remote, and voila, my desire is satiated. This is also known as instantaneous gratification - the opposite of our childhood archnemesis, delayed gratification (actually a hero). For children especially, the development of the ability to delay gratification can lead to positive outcomes in school and in life. The same can be said for us as adults. Our ability to delay gratification is synonymous with impulse control. Having media and electronic stimuli available nearly everywhere really may not promote the development of impulse control. The practice of sitting with our thoughts, without acting, without avoiding, without judging, even, is tough. Yet, doing so can be good for our health.
As I finish writing and researching this post, the sun is now up. My youngest son has now eaten his way through his breakfast. I have not gotten back to sleep. I am grateful for that. I was given this gift of extra time with my son that I otherwise would not have. I look forward to see what other aspects of my day this will change.
Give it a try, today, tonight or tomorrow. Spend some time in thought. In silence or quiet. One of the shows my oldest son loves is Sarah and Duck. In it, Sarah, the main character, and duck, her pet, spend time in thought. They call it, "sit and think." I would encourage you do the same. Give yourself the time and space to have a sit and think of your own. See what happens.
For some more information and helpful tips on mindfulness, consider scheduling an appointment with us.