Causes: "Researchers have found one of the reasons we feel so negatively affected by noise today is that it's become nearly impossible to escape the din," says George Prochnik, author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise. We listen to televisions with surround sound and talk on mobile phones when walking. Even our nights are noisier: Since 1973, when Federal Express launched expedited delivery, planes have zoomed overhead even in the wee hours. Last year, the World Health Organization estimated that at least 1 million years of healthy living are lost each year due to noise pollution.
Treatment: Prochnik recommends a "sound diet" in which you balance annoying noise with silent breaks or healthier sounds. For instance, urban designers in Europe have found that water fountains can make people feel more tranquil. Resist the urge to fight noise with yet more noise (turning the car radio up while surrounded by honking cars), and consider sound-canceling headphones. Most important, seek out quiet spaces for 10 minutes a day: pocket parks, wooded trails, libraries, cemeteries or an empty room—but one with a good door (a city planner told Prochnik that even a 5 percent gap in an enclosure will let through 80 percent of the noise).