Advanced Recovery Skill: Silence

Accepting silence is an advanced recovery skill. Learning how to be happy with silence and maintain your focus in silence takes practice. That’s because silence leaves our brains unoccupied, and when unhealthy brains are unoccupied, they fall back on all of the compulsions that have become so easy for them, like ruminating and catastrophising. Your brain is just trying to help you fill the silence (with imaginary horror movies starring you and your loved ones)!

One reason things like music and other sounds can help distract you from anxieties is because they eat up cognitive load, which is basically the amount of stuff you’re processing with your brain at any given time. If some of your brain is listening to music, then that’s a little piece of your brain that’s not going to run off and ruminate on what went wrong with your last relationship, or how the hell you’re going to get caught up on all of the work you’re procrastinating on, or why you should really stop what you’re doing and check whether you just got an email.

If you believe you need to meditate or exercise with music because you find it more difficult to focus when it’s silent, you’ve seen how increasing cognitive load can help. But that’s why I call silence an advanced mental health skill: because avoiding silence is like using training wheels. Maybe the training wheels help you get started with learning how to ride a bike, but making the jump to riding without them can open up all sorts of new possibilities. When we can’t function in silence, or we can’t function without constantly filling that space with some form of media, we close off part of the world. It’s like there’s a territory we can’t enter. We limit ourselves. Learning to accept silence enables you to do more with fewer supports.

Like with anything, learn how to accept silence by starting out with experiencing tiny bits of silence and working your way up to big heavy chunks of silence.

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