Background Noise

I’ve been thinking more than usual about background noise.

Some background noise needs to be created, like the fake ocean sounds in a baby’s nursery that help her go to sleep.

Some background noise needs to be moved from the background to the foreground of our attention so that we can consciously listen to it and actually appreciate it, like insects on a summer evening or construction noise that may seem like a nuisance but represents renovation and renewal.

Some background noise needs to be turned off, like the fan in a yoga class I recently attended. When the fan was switched off, we realized how much noise had been carrying on in the background without us even noticing. Extinguishing it brought deeper peace, even when we thought we were already peaceful.

COVID-19 feels somewhat like that fan to me. For the past couple of months, I have been living with a sense that something is slightly off. Most of the time, it feels like a disruption that is just beyond my conscious awareness. Every so often it comes into very sharp focus, such as when it comes to making or cancelling travel plans. I wish it had an off switch.

Chronic stress can be like that — so ubiquitous that we don’t even notice it most of the time, but such a relief when we get a reprieve.

Emily and Amelia Nagoski talk about practical ways to “break the stress cycle” in their excellent book Burnout. I was glad to return to it during Wiser by Choice this past week. They explain why the things we know to be helpful to our wellness do actually help us. So, when the noise in the background is getting a bit loud and I can’t turn it off, I’m going to remember their advice to move, connect with others, laugh, sing, rage, rest — something to remind my body that stress is a cycle rather than a constant state.

Perhaps you’ve been living in a chronic state of stress as part of a team? I wonder if we can apply these reminders there too. Bring the stress humming in the background explicitly to the foreground. Then either appreciate it, address it, or turn it off. And if you can’t do any of those things, could you physically burn off some steam together? (Walking meetings? Funny videos? Axe throwing? Or my personal favourite discovered recently in Melbourne: a “break room” where you pay to smash things to bits?)

Part of making wiser decisions faster involves noticing what is happening in your environment and choosing whether and how to respond. Even if the answer is to do nothing, do so “out loud and on purpose” so that your team knows you’re not oblivious to the buzz.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *