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Practicing Intermittent Silence Reduces Stress and Prevents Burnout

Talking is a bridge that connects us to others, silence is a bridge that connects us with our inner self. A simple ten-minute practice of silence a day, intermittent silence, can make a huge difference in our lives. Connecting better with our inner self also enables us to connect better with others.

We love to talk. Silence, even intermittent silence is not a regular part of our life. We start learning the value of talking as soon as we are born. Everyone starts teaching a baby how to talk. When we grow up, we learn how to talk better. There are several areas of the brain that play a critical role in speech and language. Broca’s area, located in the left hemisphere, is associated with speech production and articulation. Wernicke’s area is a critical language area in the posterior superior temporal lobe connects to Broca’s area via a neural pathway.

The brain is busy in processing our thoughts and the speech. A ten-minute interval of intermittent silence can give the brain a rest from its processing functions for those few minutes, while providing us a tool to relax, reduce stress, and prevent burnout.

Burnout and stress remain a major challenge for our society. The leading cause is said to be outside elements i.e. administrative burden, as driven by the workplace and organizational culture. I feel that how we understand and handle the problems is also important. I live in Maine and expect snow on the roads and in my driveway in winter. I have learned to live with snow in Maine winter and I, as a physician may have to learn to adapt with healthcare changes as and when they appear.

How does intermittent silence help apart from providing some rest to the brain? A period of silence allows us to journey inwards. This journey can lead us to our individual consciousness, the flame, which in my view is the source of our sustaining energy. My hypothesis is that we are born with certain levels, opportunities, and potentials of body, mind and the flame (of consciousness). It’s our inherent duty to grow all these elements. We have generally excelled in the growth of body and the mind while ignoring the growth of the flame of consciousness (which provides the core strength).

This is also a good way to prepare for meditation. Meditation is the act of spending quality time with yourself and meditation does not have to be complex—it can be as simple as committing to spend 10 minutes a day with yourself; a practice of intermittent silence. The obvious question, given how busy we all are is:

Which 10 minutes?

We should include those 10 minutes into our routine of life. We have to, otherwise it won’t happen. The most obvious time is when we first wake up or right before we go to sleep. But even when life gets busy—waiting at the airport or on the plane or sitting quietly in a bus or a train—we can find pockets of time when we can focus on our inner journey. In fact, the busy times are the times we should try and focus on a moment for ourselves. And the next follow up question that comes up is:

What do I do in those 10 minutes?

The question makes a lot of sense.

When given the opportunity to be with ourselves, we often do quite the opposite. Maybe it’s that we don’t like to spend time with ourselves, or maybe we just don’t know what to do, or, if we did know what to do, we don’t know how. We check our emails, scroll through social media posts, text or call friends, browse online shopping sights, watch videos on loop, the list goes on.

And, I get it. spending time with yourself can be tough. When we are alone with just our thoughts, it’s easy to sometimes get sad and/or feel down and depressed.  

The best way to spend those valuable ten minutes of intermittent silence is to:

Conserve energy.

Yes, even ten minutes is enough to help you conserve energy. Every day, we spend energy doing what seem like simple things, and as we do those simple things, like checking our email, over and over, we are like a faucet with a very slow leak—energy drip, drip, drips out of us, until one day, all of a sudden, we don’t feel as if we have any energy left. It might be days, weeks, or even years. This is

burnout. It doesn’t happen overnight—it’s a result of a slow loss of energy day in and day out. That’s why it is so important to actively work every day to restore that energy, and the best way to start is to spend 10 minutes a day, conserving some of that energy. There are three things you can do in those 10 minutes:

Close your mouth

Close your eyes

Watch your thoughts

We spend energy through our eyes, through speaking, and in processing our thoughts. The best way to start conserving energy is to look inwards without any disturbances and to not spend outward energy. Part of this is achieved simply by being silent.

Intermittent Silence: Most meditation retreats want you to stay silent and not speak, express, or communicate during your time there. Oddly enough, this silence can actually be disturbing, and some participants even leave the course before completion.

What does silence for an extended period of time do to you or me?

If you just observe the silence for a period of time and you accept it rather than resist or resent it, you can start to feel the growth of silence and the relaxing effect it can bring to your body and mind.

Apart from conserving energy, there is another added benefit that comes with staying silent. Let me introduce an acronym TEA.

T – Thoughts

E – Expression

A – Act

Most of our thoughts are expressed through our speech and our eyes (or face). When we stop expressing thoughts through speaking, even if only for a short period of ten minutes, it teaches us to take a pause before we decide which thoughts to express and when. This is a term I’ve coined—called Intermittent Silence—and it can be applied when talking to a family member, a friend, or the boss, or even before replying to an email. Practicing intermittent silence provides us the opportunity to utilizing a simple yet powerful tool–a little pause between T (thoughts) and E (Expression). However, it is important to remember while practicing intermittent silence that you are silent, not absent.

There is more to this intermittent silence than covered here. We will address the art of silent listening in those 10 minutes in the next column.