Everywhere you go, there is noise. Be it in New York City or Gnawbone, Indiana, on the plateau of Africa or the Grand Himalayas of Asia, in the heavily wooded areas of Washington State, or the Great Plains of the Midwest, on the British Isles or in the turbulent North Sea, by the Great Lakes of North America or in a pond behind your grandpa’s house, upon the vast Amazon River, or wading in Dry Comal Creek in South Central Texas, at the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea, to the highest peak, Mount Everest.
Some noises are calming, while other noises are agitating. I love to sit in the woods before dawn, far away from human produced sounds, and listen as the forest comes alive. The scurry of ground squirrels rushing through the leaves, the chirping of red or grey squirrels calling one another as they jump from limb to limb in the treetops, the snort of a white-tailed deer warning others of an unfamiliar scent, and the call of the birds communicating their messages. I listen with contentment at the gentle breeze rustling through the trees, the creaks and cracks of trees settling or dropping branches, and the babble of a brook making its way over the pebbles and around the rocks. Oh, and let there be a pitter-patter of rain making glorious music as drops fall on the melodious note-makers that nature provides. For me, that is peaceful and satisfying.
However, put me in a city with all the cacophonous racket and it does not take long for me to get tense. Over 50 percent of the people living with severe depression are sensitive to noise. I have learned in my nearly 18 years of living with a mood disorder that the indecipherable chatter of large crowds, people raising the volume of their voices near or at me, blaring music, TV, or the like, loud noise making toys or objects, and monotonous sounds make me want to run and hide in a quieter place. Sudden, unexpected noises produce an exaggerated startle reflex in me, which is common among the sound-sensitive. In a 2014 published study from Germany, nearly fifteen percent of the severely depressed participants found airplane noise to be the worst among the five choices offered.
It is unknown if the irritating sounds cause people to experience deeper depression, or if severe depression causes people to be more sensitive to noise. What is known is the clear connection between the two in some sufferers. Noise can interfere with our activities of daily living such as resting or sleeping, mealtimes, social occasions, and concentrated thoughts. You might want to say, “Well, duh! We all experience that,” but with the severely depressed population it creates exaggerated and anxious responses. To put It more succinctly it causes a heightened response times 100, and very negative and irritated feelings. We are distressed and exhausted by, sensitive to, and have a lower tolerance for the louder sounding noises.
So, what do we do with these annoying sounds? I wish I knew. The literature I consulted was long on problems and short on solutions. It is not healthy for us to isolate from social functions or crowded spaces, and wearing earplugs or headphones everywhere may be a bit awkward, to understate it. For me, I have found that I may not be able to control the noise levels in the places I go, but I can mostly control where I stand, sit, or otherwise settle myself in public places. Usually, that is away from the push of the crowd and a reasonable distance from the noise makers. Intimate settings are preferred over crowded places. Large, expansive rooms with high ceilings and lots of doors and windows are better than small, enclosed ones. Almost subconsciously now, I look for escape routes, if other things fail. Relaxation techniques are also quite helpful. Whatever you do, I am confident that with some forethought, we can win, or at least mitigate, our battle with noise.