Mental Health Monday: Questioning the Quiet

I rarely experience quiet.

And this is by choice. I almost always have a podcast, a TV show, a conversation going on. I wake up and watch YouTube while I make breakfast. I listen to a podcast any time I walk or drive or exercise. Throughout my day I receive video messages from my friends or family. I fall asleep to an audiobook pretty much every night. Even when I shower, I prop up my phone on shelf in the bathroom and have some entertainment going. When I do yoga, I usually do it to a video. When I meditate, even, it’s to a guided meditation track. Chores without a story to listen to feel unbearable.

When I notice silence, I almost always fill it with something. And this habit has only grown during lockdown

For a while I was commuting on a regular basis for a gig, and I would feel a rush of uncontrollable negative thoughts as I drove. Sometimes even music, a podcast, or an audiobook wouldn’t be enough to hold my attention. So I would talk out loud. Speaking my negative thoughts out loud helped a little, but speaking on another topic helped a lot. One of my favorite things to speak aloud to myself about is clothes. I would pick an article of clothing and talk through as many outfits as I could think of to make out of it.

Noise as a coping mechanism

For me, always having something to listen to (I hesitate to refer to this as “noise,” because that word implies chaos and disorganization), is a coping mechanism for anxiety, depression, and negative thoughts. I have a feeling that I should provide myself with more quiet in my life. But why? Is the fact that it’s a coping mechanism a good enough reason to continue the habit?

My inclination is to say, yes, it is. It is a good enough reason. I found something that works, and I don’t see any detriments to my health by using it. I could be engaging in destructive coping mechanisms, but I just listen to podcasts.

Does experiencing quiet have some inherent value to me as a human?

Perhaps. I think in moments where I’m not letting my thoughts be guided by external narratives, I am more open to my own thoughts, ideas, and creativity. I usually play instruments, sing, and rehearse without noise. I’m writing this now without listening to anything. I have, however, played the piano while watching a YouTube video, but usually only when I need a lot of stimulation to combat negative thoughts or heightened anxiety.

Does constantly listening to something, even in the background, have some inherent detriment to me as a human?

Maybe. I find it hard to read books. I used to read constantly as a kid, then about five to ten years ago, I found it almost impossible to concentrate on the words on the page. I can listen to and absorb audiobooks very well. I’m not sure if constant noise is the culprit, or if my attention span has decreased in other areas as well, but I suspect both.

Is my coping mechanism merely a distraction? Is that bad?

Perhaps distracting myself from pain is not as good as healing from pain. However, I also believe that while my mental health can improve, it won’t ever be cured. I don’t mean that in a negative or defeatist way, just in a accepting, realistic way. Healing is a life-long process with good days and bad days. So coping through distraction might be okay.

Is my coping mechanism merely an avoidance? Is that different than a distraction? Is that bad?

Well “avoidance” sounds a lot worse than “distraction,” to me. Especially if I frame coping by listening to something as avoiding my own thoughts. But for someone whose thoughts turn painfully negative outside of her control, maybe that’s okay. Mental health issues are just as real as physical health issues, and if my mind sometimes can’t generate it’s own neutral-to-positive thoughts, maybe it’s okay if I get them from the outside.

Do I need to “face” the thoughts, depression, and anxiety that this saves me from? Why?

I guess I kind of answered this above. But sometimes my negative thoughts may be a symptom of something deeper that I should look at, like a relationship issue to address or guilt that I need to own up to.

Is there a better, healthier coping mechanism? If so, what makes it better?

The only idea I have of something “better” would be to practice cultivating my own positive/creative thoughts. Sometimes as I’m falling asleep and having negative thoughts, I say to myself, “You can think about literally anything you want instead of this negativity. You can imagine you’re riding a unicorn through a rainbow.” Meditation is something that I have always wanted to improve at because I hoped it would give me more control of my own thoughts even when I’m not meditating.

Should I be preparing for the day I can’t generate noise, such as during a loss of electricity, internet, my phone, etc?

This question sounds sort of apocalyptic. Yet, there are times when I’ve wanted to fall asleep in a shared bedroom, and I can’t because I don’t have headphones to listen to my Harry Potter audiobook. Or I’m on the airplane, but my phone battery died. Or I’m in the car, and fully caught up on my podcasts. So sometimes I cope by singing, talking to myself, calling a friend to chat, or trying to make interesting lists in my head. I guess that using a not-unhealthy coping mechanism that works is good, but ultimately, maybe I don’t want to be so fully dependent on only one coping mechanism.


What do you think of living without taking time for quiet?

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