Ever suspect that the annoying din of everyday life may be causing you to be more than merely annoyed? Increasing evidence, outlined in this article in yesterday’s Washington Post, suggests that noise may be activating the natural stress response in humans:
As a result of that hormonal activation, children near the working Munich airports had significantly higher blood pressure than children in quieter neighborhoods — adding to their risk of having a heart attack or stroke later in life. Similar impacts have been documented among adults near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, where chronic noise as low as 55 decibels correlated with more doctor visits, high blood pressure and treatments for heart troubles.
Whether traffic noise actually increases one’s chances of having heart disease or a heart attack has been harder to determine, because such studies require large numbers of people. But the evidence for at least a modest effect is growing.
This would be consistent with evolutionary psychology theory and the “fight or flight” response. A loud noise is a unique event in nature — and usually is a sign of something dangerous (think “tree falling” or “waterfall” or “thunder and lightening”). While man went ahead and made all kinds of devices that make a lot of noise (airplanes, leaf blowers, etc.) and serve a useful purpose, we never stopped to consider what these innovations do for our well-being.
We just assume, “Well, we’ll adapt.” I guess some people do. But research such as this suggests a lot of people also don’t adapt very well (even decades after the introduction of the jet engine). Maybe it’s time to take a second, serious look at how much noise we allow in our everyday environments.
Noise may be the tip of a very large stress iceberg.