#032 - Welcome to OUR NOISY WORLD, the noise pollution in our daily lives and some of the effects noise has on our lives and on our health. Noise takes a toll on our well-being -- yours, mine, your family and friends, your pets and your house plants.
Hello and welcome to Keys for New Leaders, a podcast Serving Leaders Serving Others. This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, but my friends call me Charlie, and that’s most certainly YOU, my friend. Welcome! I’m so glad you’ve joined us for this podcast. Serving Leaders Serving Others is what we’re all about. In this series of podcasts, my goal is to serve you, the leader, helping you serve others through sharing ideas, helpful hints, suggestions, inspiration, insights, encouragement and sometimes a laugh or two to lighten the load along the way.
This is Episode #32, and welcome to OUR NOISY WORLD! We’re going to talk about noise pollution – no, not the kind that comes from politicians. That’s a “whole ‘nother conversation” as the saying goes, and best left for another time. This is about the noise pollution in our daily lives and some of the effects noise has on our lives and on our health. Whether you realize it or not, we live in a very noisy world, and that noise takes a toll on our well-being – my well-being, your well-being, members of your family, your friends, your pets, your house plants, the team of people you lead. Well, we could go on and on. The point is that the noise we live with everyday affects everyone in some good and some not-so-good ways.
Now, as a musician, I’ve lived with all kinds of sounds – loud, soft and all points in between – for many years. I’ve been lucky that I’ve managed to keep my hearing, or most of it, through the years. But there are some hazards: stand in front of a drum line or the piccolo section of a marching band and see if your ears ring for a bit afterwards.
Musical sounds, though, vary a lot in how loud they are and how long they last. Musical sounds are generally more acceptable to our ears than just plain industrial or environmental noise. That kind of persistent noise can be damaging and downright dangerous. And the awful part of it is that we can get so accustomed to noise that we can “tune it out” so to speak. But be careful. The truth is that our ears are still picking up that noise and sending it to our brain, and it is affecting us negatively in many ways that we may not realize. We can easily become victims of the noise pollution that is all around us.
Here are some of the ways noise pollution has affected us:
1. We can become de-sensitized to noise. Noise is an irritant and can affect our hearing and also our brains. Some studies have estimated that 3 out of 4 people in industrialized cities have some hearing loss.
2. Persistent noise can affect stress levels, blood pressure, heart rhythms, as well as levels of discomfort, irritability, and sleep.
3. One study found that 12% of the children tested had measurable hearing loss caused by persistent loud sounds while using headphones.
4. Higher sound volume can also affect children’s reading comprehension, standardized test scores, and long-term memory.
5. Bars and restaurants have reported more alcohol consumption with higher sound volume. More volume begets more noise and louder conversations. How many times have you had to yell across the table just to make yourself heard? When the background music and other noise was quieter, people tended to purchase healthier foods and stay longer and talk in a normal speaking voice.
6. In other places, background music – sometimes called elevator music – is meant to be helpful but often is more annoying than helpful. Grocery store music sometimes makes me want to abandon the cart and head for the nearest exit. Make a phone call and you get put on hold with some obnoxious sound loop. And country western music at the dentist’s office? Puh – leeze!
7. Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. What’s that you say? Are you listening – YOU, the leader who serves others? How is your team doing on this one?
Well, we’ve all seen – and heard – many of the noisy things people do and complain about. Here are a few examples I’ve heard, heard about and wondered about lately:
1. A car pulled up next to me at a traffic light, and even though the windows were closed, the bumpa-thumpa coming from that car was so loud that I could hear it clearly – and feel the vibrations! I wonder how much hearing that person has left?
2. In one neighborhood, a group of people complained about the noise, so a pickleball court was shut down. I wonder what comes next – the lawnmower or the leaf blower?
3. More than 25 years ago, Denver built a new airport way out of town. It seemed like it was about halfway to Kansas. Now, they’re building lots of new houses near the airport. I wonder when the people who bought those homes will begin to complain about the airport noise?
4. Then there are the TV commercials. Do you notice that when the commercials come on, they’re LOUDER? And something else I’ve noticed is that they often have an annoying rhythm track or obnoxious jingle playing in the background while the announcer is shouting at us. Talk about noise pollution! I love my MUTE button on the TV remote.
WE LIVE IN A NOISY WORLD! And it seems to be getting noisier. Chronic noise affects us physically and psychologically. Chronic loud noise stresses plants and animals, too. The danger for all of us is this: repeated exposure to any sound source eventually results in acceptance. Let me repeat that: repeated exposure to ANY sound source eventually results in acceptance. Scary thought, isn’t it?
We can be exposed to a persistent noise for so long that we eventually accept it and aren’t aware of it. However, even though we’ve tuned it out, that noise is still there and it’s being heard by our ears and received by our brain, and – like it or not - it is affecting us in some way, maybe good, maybe not-so-good. Persistent loud noise can lead to permanent hearing loss. Makes me wonder all the more about that guy in the car next to me at the stoplight.
Well, you may ask, what does all this have to do with being a leader? The answer is: plenty, my friend. You, as leader, must be aware of possible effects of noise in your workplace. A noisy work environment can affect you and your team’s productivity and work quality. Chronic noise can increase stress, elevate blood pressure and heart rate. Persistent loud noise can result in permanent hearing loss.
What can you do? Thankfully, there are some things that can help:
· White noise generators, usually small devices, can help counter the effects of persistent noise by masking it. That may sound a bit strange, but it does work. White noise generators produce a steady, calming sound that can help you calm your mind, increase your concentration, and even improve your sleep (well, hopefully, not at work). Some devices simulate gentle rain sounds or gentle waves at the seashore.
· Acoustical sound-absorbing panels on walls and ceilings can quiet a lot of noise. Get a professional to help you treat the workspace for good acoustics. Noise-friendly flooring and furniture can also help quiet a noisy workplace.
· If you must be exposed to persistent loud noises, you must protect your ears with earplugs or headphones that cancel out most of the loudness. A friend of mine is a drummer in a rock band. He wears specially designed earplugs to keep from damaging his hearing. I wear earplugs when I use a noisy piece of equipment, such as a leaf blower. Be careful with the volume level if you use headphones or ear buds to listen to music or TV or podcasts – remember that persistent loudness of any sound can be harmful to your hearing. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.
· Music can help create a less stressful work environment, but the wrong kind of music can be more stressful. Background music should have a more relaxed beat, instruments played in the mid-range, and generally lower volume levels. Loud music with a heavy beat and screaming high pitches will set most people’s teeth on edge.
· Take a quiet break and encourage your team members to do so as well. Find a quiet spot and just relax and enjoy the quiet for a few minutes. Breathe deeply. Relax. It really does help.
· A fun thing to do when you have more time is to practice focused listening. It helps you focus on some sounds as you tend to tune out others. It’s something like this: go to a park on a nice day, away from traffic noise, construction noise, noise noise, any noise. Sit for awhile and enjoy the quiet. Then begin to listen for specific sounds – leaves rustling in the breeze, then children’s voices from the playground, then a bird song, then … well, you get the idea. Focus on one sound at a time, letting other sounds fade into the background. Try it. It’s relaxing, and it’s energizing, too.
WE LIVE IN A NOISY WORLD! But we don’t have to let the noise ruin our health and well-being. Do whatever you can to reduce the noise around you, mask it, and control it as much as you can. Give your ears and your brain and your nerves a break. Build some quiet time into your day – every day. You have a right to choose your acoustical environment! Good luck, and Good listening!
And now, here are three questions to think about. There are no right or wrong answers, only YOUR answers that are right for YOU. Here they are:
1. What are three examples of noise that you find most irritating? How do you notice the noise affecting you?
2. What is one way you have found to tune out irritating noise?
3. Sit in a quiet place for just a few minutes. Then, what do you begin to hear?
And that Special Key for this episode? There is no Key of N for Noise, so let’s focus on the Key of G for Good luck and Good listening and Good Health!
The next episode is called “Beating Burnout.” Burnout – it’s been around for many years and it sure doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Burnout can leave you feeling physically and mentally exhausted, cynical, irritable. Burnout can happen to anyone, but especially to those who lead by serving others. Been there. Done that. Don’t let it happen to you. I look forward to talking with you about some ways you can beat burnout.
Until we meet again, please stay safe and well, my friend, and good luck, good listening, and good health to you!