This Is Why You're Addicted To Your Headphones

Illustration: Abbie Winters
As a formerly chill human, there comes a time when you're storming down crowded streets, fighting the urge to shout “morons” at total strangers on a daily basis, and you really need to take a step back and ponder: “Why am I so stressed?”
Crowds are anxiety-triggering beasts from the depths of hell, we know this. But most rational people arrive at work having not verbally abused an innocent bystander. I've never known how, but they do. Recently, I realised the thing I love most with my cold, dead heart is exactly what's responsible for my fury and stress.
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Since I was 11 and got my first MP3 player, I've listened to music whenever I'm alone. As I got older, it became a way to escape all that teen BS you have to deal with. Over time, I forged a creepily dependent relationship with my headphones. I couldn't physically go anywhere without the little buggers.
Recently, I left work to walk home and was aghast to realise that I didn't have my ear accessories with me. “That's 90 minutes alone with my horrible brain,” I thought. The only times I could remember having music-less quiet time had ended in me breaking up with someone I actually quite liked, getting my philtrum pierced (it looked like a giant spot) and having my head shaved and dyed leopard print. Pure regret.
Actually, though, after five minutes the fear subsided and my mind cleared. Not consciously so, but I noticed my work and personal woes were all being calmly worked out. By the time I got home, I felt like a zen goddess. Instead of avoiding flatmates and locking myself in my room to stew, I was all processed out and ready to socialise. I didn't feel angry, angsty, stressed or burned out – just chill AF.
I'm certainly not the only headphone addict. Just looking around a Tube carriage at everyone plugged in is a bit unsettling – like you're watching some freaky sci-fi. For 29-year-old Miyo Padi, headphones have also become a crutch: “I hate being approached by strangers so I'll have music, podcasts or audiobooks on from the second I leave home until I get to work, through my lunch break, and from when I leave the office until l reach my front door. It's become a habit I can't break,” she says. “I get panicked if I forget them, so I have a charger and spare pair at work, a pair in every coat and have in the past bought them for a single Tube journey. I just can't face silence alone.” I'm not really sure what it is about silence that we're all so desperately afraid of.
Jess Wilde, 29, used to be the same. But she has now binned her headphones for a noise-free life. “About 18 months ago, I realised how much I was missing out on by being plugged into a music device all day. Now, when I get home after work, I opt for no TV, music, anything. It's like putting my ears into a spa treatment,” she says. “I feel happier and more engaged with the world since giving up headphones and I see, hear and enjoy more of life. Now, I have many lovely interactions with strangers. I feel like part of a community rather than a "girl against the world”.
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It makes total sense. By constantly listening to music, radio, [insert audio vice of choice], we're not giving ourselves any time to process. “Very often we fuel ourselves with noise to keep ourselves busy, because sometimes being alone and looking internally can feel too alienating. It enhances vulnerability and, let’s face it, that can be tough,” says Pandora Paloma, yoga expert and founder of Rooted London. “Connecting to this vulnerability and understanding can be the first hurdle in finding the connection to our deeper sense of self. By letting go of constant distractions, even for short periods, we can find moments of peace in our hectic world. From this we can understand our emotions more, and our decisions.”
Dr. Kate Potter, counselling psychologist and Doctify specialist, agrees: “Taking time to sit in silence enables us to observe the mental chatter and choose to step out of it for a while. Immediately you might notice that as the mind quietens, the body can ‘speak’. You might then notice your body was calling out for water, thereby preventing an impending migraine. Or the twinge in your lower back encouraging you to step away from your desk and take a walk to alleviate the pressure.”
Taking out your headphones can even mean physical feelings, tastes and smells are heightened. “Silence can offer us a choice to let go of being in our heads and bring our physical senses back into the foreground, making that tea taste that much better or our conversations with others that much more meaningful and connected,” adds Dr. Potter.
It seems kind of obvious when you put it like that. I noticed such an awesome change in my mental wellbeing from just one headphone-free night that I've self-imposed a limit. And since I have, I've gone back to being the laid-back and chill human I used to be.
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