If your day is spent among screaming children, honking traffic, yapping coworkers, blowhard bosses and fitful sleep, this thought has almost certainly crossed your mind: Why is it so hard to find some peace and quiet — even for just an hour? Now, a handful of apps are trying to help you do just that, by helping you find — and sometimes purchase — nearby silence.
Breather, which was launched last year and boasts the tagline “peace and quiet, on demand,” lets you rent quiet spaces by the hour in Manhattan, San Francisco and Montreal (for about $25 an hour); you unlock the spaces with your phone and can use them for resting, working or playing. The types of quiet spots vary. Some are tiny rooms in an artist’s loft space, some are meeting spaces in office buildings, but all are zoned commercial, so the user can conduct business in there.
A similar app, LiquidSpace, which launched three years ago, connects people with private workspaces like meeting rooms and small offices that can be rented by the hour; some of these are free (like a room in a library that you can use the app to book) and others come with a price tag set by the space provider that can be more than $100 an hour. And with the Stereopublic app, which began as a TED project a couple years back, users walk through a city and geo-tag quiet spots, essentially creating a crowd-sourced map that others can then look at to find peace in bustling cities.
By some measures, these apps are gaining traction. LiquidSpace, which launched in the San Francisco market, is now in more than 600 cities in the U.S., Canada and Australia, with plans to expand into other countries. Breather, which now has twelve spaces in Manhattan, plans to open a total of 100 spaces in the city within about a year, due to the popularity of the service, the company’s co-founder and CEO Julien Smith says. And Stereopublic, which began as a project in Australia, now has crowd-sourced information in cities throughout the globe, including New York City.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why some people are saying yes to silence: many of us are starved for quiet time, thanks to our increasingly hectic lives. According to a 2013 report by the Economic Policy Institute, the average American worker works 181 more hours in a year than he did in 1979, which represents a nearly 11 percent increase in work hours over roughly 30 years. That’s the equivalent of every worker working an additional 4.5 weeks per year.
Americans also don’t take all the vacation time they’re given — a Glassdoor survey from this year found that American workers used only about half of their eligible vacation time during the past year — and even when they’re are on vacation, they’re working. The survey found that 61 percent of people who take vacation time are working during that time.
This may partly explain of why Americans say they feel more stressed than they have in years. Forty-two percent of adults say their stress level has increased in the past five years, while just 22 percent say it has decreased, according to a study from 2013 by the American Psychological Association. Nowadays, 43 percent of Americans say that their stress is so severe that it has caused them to lie awake at night at least once in the past month.
But will finding an hour or two to contemplate life in silence solve all that? Some experts say it can help. “Spending time in a silent space is a spectacular way to reduce stress — especially if you do it on a regular basis,” says Dr. Lyssa Menard, an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University. “In the silence, external distractions are removed so you can work on the deepest stressors — what’s happening internally.”
But, as Deborah Rozman, the CEO of heart research and education organization HeartMath, points out, you have to use this time in a silent space well. “The quiet space has to be the space in your head,” she says — meaning that you can’t just assume that sitting in silence will calm you down. Instead, you should use this quiet space to practice meditation, prayer, mindful breathing or other relaxation techniques.
Catey Hill covers personal finance and travel for MarketWatch in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CateyHill. This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.