As someone who is particularly noise-sensitive and lives in a big city, I’ve had my share of moments where I’ve struggled to focus on work, drift into a restful sleep, or simply find a moment of peace — all because of the clamor around me. From loud ambulance sirens to nearby construction projects, noise pollution can be a serious source of stress, and it affects people worldwide. The World Health Organization named noise pollution a public health issue that has “negative impacts on human health and well-being,” and data shows that more than 30 million workers are affected by the problem in the U.S. alone.
Living or working in a noise-polluted environment can be stressful, but there are ways you can help manage it. Here are four research-backed ways to find quiet without letting your surroundings take a toll on your mental well-being.
Set a volume limit on your phone
Research from the World Health Organization indicates that exposure to noise pollution has increased in recent years, and experts say that this could be because of the way we try to combat the noise around us. In actuality, this strategy could be adding to our internal noise pollution. “A lot of people self-inflict damage by trying to drown out the sounds of the city by listening to loud music on their phones or audio devices,” Mahin Salman, M.M., an associate research scientist at New York University’s Center for Urban Sciences and Progress and Music and Audio Research Lab, tells Well and Good. Instead, Salman suggests setting a volume limit on your smartphone, and recommends listening at around 60 percent of your device’s max volume.
Find a quiet space to clear your mind
Living in a noise-polluted area can feel suffocating, but experts say you don’t have to leave for good to escape from the sound. “Having an opportunity to escape from noise is important for people chronically exposed to it,” Stephen Stansfeld, Ph.D., a noise pollution researcher and psychiatry professor at Queen Mary University in London, tells Thrive. “Being somewhere away from noise is critical for psychological restoration.” Stansfeld suggests finding a quiet place near your home or work that allows you to take breaks from the typical soundscape, whether that’s a local coffee shop, a nearby park, or a library. Simply knowing you have carved out time during your week to clear your head away from your regular space will help you feel less overwhelmed on other days.
Carve out time to unplug
Technology is inevitable in our daily lives, but if you’re trying to find a quiet moment at the end of the day, research suggests that you’re better off taking your extra time to unplug and letting your mind unwind without the distractions from our devices. And if you find that the noises around you prevent you from sleeping, making the effort to escort your devices out of your room before bed is even more critical: Studies show that our devices can suppress the melatonin that our bodies need to fall into a restful sleep, so eliminating that light before bed can help set you up for more restful, high-quality sleep, in spite of any noise around you.
Find a night-time routine that calms your mind
External noise pollution is out of our control, so taking the time to establish a set routine before bed that relaxes your mind is key, and research shows that doing so can help quiet our internal noise. To relieve stress at the end of the day, find a ritual that makes you feel relaxed — whether it includes trying a brief meditation, journalling, writing a to-do list, or curling up with a book that sparks joy. You can’t always shut off the sounds that surround you, but you can do your part to tune into a source of inner quiet that helps you find calm.