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The Source of Your Stress

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Occupational noise is annoying, distracting and inhibits productivity, essentially impacting the bottom lin.

Do you ever notice how your entire body sighs in relief when a loud noise source (such as a car stereo or jack hammer) is cut off? Why does turning down the racket have this effect? Noise is a significant contributor to stress. It buzzes around us, enveloping our bodies like a humming second skin.

The dangers of excessive noise extend far beyond hearing impairment and include a variety of physiological and performance-related effects, including:

  • increased muscle tension
  • increased heart rate and respiratory rhythm
  • increased overall stress levels and risk of stomach ulcers
  • increased distractions and decrease in productivity
  • compromised speech intelligibility and reading ability
  • sleep disturbances
  • aggressive behaviour

Where does all of this noise come from? Some noise sources are obvious, such as blaring stereos, but others are more inconspicuous: industrial facilities, traffic, air-conditioning/heating units, recreational activities such as hunting or boating, school cafeterias or gymnasiums.

Noise is especially stressful in a work or school environment. Occupational noise is annoying, distracting and inhibits productivity, essentially impacting the bottom line. A study in the October 2000 issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology demonstrates a direct connection between office noise and elevated stress levels. Researchers studied two groups of office workers, one exposed to low-intensity noise, the other in a quiet environment. Those in the former group experienced increased levels of adrenaline, a hormone released in fight-or-flight situations. Because elevated stress hormones can aggravate existing conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, the stress our bodies experience can impact our health.

Education is key in protecting ourselves from noise-related illness and stress. Many experts acknowledge the dangers of noise. Doctors and audiologists see patients with impaired hearing due to noise exposure. Teachers frequently struggle to gain students' attention over classroom noise. Psychologists can often associate stress and anxiety to excessive noise. Neonatal nurses walk gently through the intensive care unit, knowing that noise can drain a preemie's limited strength. Architects and designers are starting to realize that their designs must account for acoustics to protect their clients and ensure safe spaces. Resources such as the acoustics.com Web site even offer education, advice and information on hearing- and acoustic-related topics and products.

For every person aware of the risks of excessive noise exposure, a handful of others are not. It is important for parents to educate their children and encourage them to avoid potentially hazardous environments. Share with your kids (and adhere to them yourself) the following tips:

  • Never shout in a friend's ear.
  • Don't stand next to a speaker or sit too close to the television.
  • Avoid excessively loud music.
  • Take breaks from loud activities.
  • Schedule "quiet time" each day.
  • Don't take recreational noise (such as noise from boat motors, guns at a firing range, sporting events, concerts) for granted. It too can be dangerous.

The next time you find yourself in a stressful environment, try escaping the noise around you. When you opt for a deep breath of relief, your body will thank you.

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