When you hear the world ‘pollution’, you probably think of the kind we can see: smog in the air, oil on the water, litter thrown out the window.
But there’s another kind you might not be aware of, and it’s probably having a serious effect on your health.
Noise pollution is more than irritating; it might be slowing down cognitive function and having a detrimental effect on your mental health.
To get a gauge of the effects of noise pollution, it’s a good idea to take it back to a New York school in 1974, where one of the most famous studies on noise pollution was conducted.
Business Insider reports that when trains passed, noise pollution in the classroom went from an average of 59 decibels to 89, with teachers having to shout over the racket.
Researchers compared test scores and reading levels of students on the east versus the west side of the building. While students on the west side weren’t affected, students on the east were, on average, four months behind on reading level and performed worse on achievement tests.
Fast forward to 2018 and Sony has done its own noise pollution study in Australia. The report reveals that almost all residents are affected by unwanted noise, but less than half realise the significant impact that has on their wellbeing.
With 95 percent of Australians admitting to feeling irritated by everyday sounds, the top three offenders are people talking loudly on the phone (52 percent), loud music nearby (49 percent) and construction (48 percent). Over half of women (52 percent) are irritated by snoring, more so than their male counterparts (34 percent).
While these may seem more annoying than seriously harmful, psychologist and mindfulness expert Tahnee Schulz says it’s having more of an effect than we might think.
Schulz, who has previously worked with victims of trauma and natural disasters, says she’s seeing major consequences to permanent noise pollution.
“The brain can only focus on five to nine pieces of information at any second, so in high density cities with constant sound, you don’t realise how much it impacts your concentration and mood,” she told Newshub.
“We’re losing 1,000,000 years of life every year to noise pollution.”
That may seem bizarre, but it’s apparently true. The World Health Organisation has calculated that at least 1 million healthy life years are lost annually in western European countries because of environmental noise, with cardiovascular disease contributing to the vast majority of these deaths, especially high blood pressure, heart attacks and coronary heart disease.
“In the hustle and bustle of modern life, where we’re constantly being overstimulated by both natural and man-made sounds, it’s more important than ever for us to be aware of the epidemic of noise pollution and the effects that it can have on us physically and mentally,” Schulz says.
“By taking proactive steps to minimise your exposure to disruptive noise, you will start to feel more centred and at peace. The flow-on effects to your health are likely to surprise you.”
Schulz offered some ways to combat the effects of noise pollution.
- Double glazed windows and concrete buildings help block out some of the ever-present city sounds
- Ear plugs and noise cancelling headphones
She recommends people use ear plugs and noise cancelling headphones to embrace mindfulness – close your eyes and shut down your brain to remove all other distractions. Often at times we block out sounds with more sounds, “so turn off those whale sound machines”.
Schulz says that quiet time is so important for our physical health.
“The problem is we don’t stop,” she said.
“So we smash ourselves at the gym and smash ourselves at work and go out afterwards. We feel like a legend, but our body can’t tell the difference between physical stress and emotional stress.”
So basically, while your yoga class may be doing you good – pop some ear plugs in or thow on some headphones to drown out city noise and you’ll definitely be helping both body and mind.