How to Cope When Noise Stresses You Out

Living with irritating sounds is unavoidable — especially in urban environments — but your response is within your control.

By Sara Auster
small speaker on a desk

Urban and rural soundscapes can be a cacophony of nature sounds, heavy machinery, personal appliances and more. Perhaps you've have tried earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, soothing music or white-noise machines (or all of them!) to drown out the sounds. 

While these methods might help a bit, here's another option: Try shifting your relationship to the sound. When you start to really notice and accept all the sounds around you, you might find they don't grate on your nerves as much. Keep reading for insights on how you can open your mind and start to accept — or even embrace — the audio-packed world around you.

1

Sirens

Whether they are from a fire truck, ambulance or police car, screeching sirens have a tendency to put us on high alert. But that’s partially a good thing. Those people are working hard to get to someone in need or distress, and they have to get through the streets as fast as possible.

Reframe the relationship: Instead of hardening to the sirens, remind yourself, ”Help is on the way!” Wish the people in need well in your mind and hope that the person or situation gets the assistance they require. Notice how your body softens as your heart softens.

2

Construction

Jackhammers, cranes, lifts, drills... not the most pleasant sounds. Whether you’re in the city, the suburbs or a more rural setting, structures inevitably need repairing, remodeling and maintenance. Cue the pneumatic nail guns, electric saws and the sounds of materials being unloaded from trucks.

Reframe the relationship: Or in this case, avoid it. If you come up against one of those situations on your daily commute, challenge yourself to find a new, quieter route. If the construction is happening on your own street, see if you can shift your schedule to be out of the house at the height of the noise (exercise in the morning when the clamor starts, for example).

3

Traffic

Car horns. The roar of an eight-lane highway. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s loud and annoying, whether you’re behind the wheel or listening from a distance.

Reframe the relationship: If you’re in the car and feeling trapped, take a few deep breaths and turn on your favorite song. If you’re listening to this commuter symphony from the comfort of your living room or patio, think of the hum of traffic as waves breaking on a shore.

4

Subway

It’s rush hour. So many potential stressors: packed train cars, crowded escalators, people running past you on the stairs. The steel-drum band is ten feet from the saw player, who is ten feet from the break dancers.

Reframe the relationship: This is a perfect time to throw on your headphones. Masking is a process of using sound to cover up other sounds that are disturbing. Noise-canceling headphones can be a great solution. (If that doesn’t work, slide over to the steel drum player and have a dance party.)

5

Lawn Mowers and Leaf Blowers

It’s a catch-22: Everyone loves a well-manicured property, but nobody loves the soul-piercing sound of the power tools that help make it a reality. Especially when you’re working from your home office, trying to get a baby down for a nap or practicing your daily meditation.

Reframe the relationship: This too shall pass. If you have the opportunity to take a break or run an errand during grass-trimming time, that’s a great excuse to get out of the house and give the landscapers a chance to finish their work. Otherwise try investing in a small white noise machine to help diffuse the sound.

Sara Auster is a New York City–based sound therapist and meditation teacher. The text above is excerpted from SOUND BATH by Sara Auster, published by Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2019 by Sara Auster. All rights reserved.


YOU CAN'T ALWAYS AVOID STRESS COMPLETELY, BUT YOU CAN HELP OFFSET ITS EFFECTS. CLICK THE TAG ABOVE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR PROPRIETARY STRESS COMPLEX.

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