Don't Try Harder, Try Different!

Simple strategies for handling anxiety and stress.

Silence Can Be Golden

Try to tune in to silence and see what you are missing.

 

Silence:

Most of my friends think that I am crazy because there are times that I go up to my cottage by myself for a weekend and I do not talk to anyone for the whole weekend. No matter what they think, I am still going to do it. To me, there is nothing like silence. I spend my entire week talking to people, and believe me, I really do love what I do, but there are times that I need a break. So, instead of having anyone up or doing a guy's golf weekend, I come up alone and I stay quiet (unless, of course, a neighbor happens to stop by).

In our society, it seems as if we are overwhelmed with always having to be entertained and we are always listening to something - mp3 players, television on in the background, even televisions at the gas station and the supermarket. We have less and less silence in our lives, and in some ways, less and less peace and quiet.

As for me, my silence that I am talking about is mostly about me talking, because I have not heard silence for almost 20 years. Unfortunately, I have tinnitus - a constant ringing of the ears. I am pretty used to it by now, having had it for so long, but it is really bad as I write this because the more you think about it, the worse it seems to get. If I am just sitting around and it is quiet, I do not usually hear it, but if I start to think about how quiet it is, BAM, it pops right on up. Kind of like trying to not think of a pink elephant - the more you try not to, the more you think of one.

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So, I stay quiet, and I get to just sit with my thoughts and actually spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to do with my life, or how to tackle a certain problem at work, or work out any major decisions that need to be addressed. It is actually kind of nice to just be by myself because it also teaches me a lesson - I can be by myself and be comfortable. I also get a ton of work done while being quiet.

I once had a patient call me in tears because his girlfriend broke up with him two days prior to him calling and he was home alone and had nothing to do and it was driving him "crazy," as he stated it. I told him that he would never find happiness with anyone else until he figured out how to be happy with himself, and maybe he kept jumping around in relationships so much because he was just afraid to be alone. The night he called me he kept on saying it was just too quiet at his house.

Even in therapy there are therapists who are afraid to be silent, thinking that they have to always say something. I once did a session with a patient where I asked them a question and then waited in silence with them for 38 minutes before they responded. Turns out to have been one of the best sessions I ever had. So, think about doing this - go to a park or forest preserve or a trail and without any form of entertainment (phone, mp3 player, reading material, etc.) go and sit on a bench for ten minutes and do nothing.

I have given that assignment to some of my patients who are obsessed with filling every minute of their day with something to do and they have broken down in tears just thinking about it. So, give it a try, and see what adding some silence to your day will do for you - I bet a lot.

 

Patrick McGrath, Ph.D., is the Director of the Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital's Center for Anxiety and OCD Program and president of Anxiety Centers of Illinois. more...

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