by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady explained:
I find that my tinnitus is worse if I am stressed about something. Sometimes the pitch changes and sometimes I can hear more than one sound at a time. My tinnitus is always worse when I’m trying to get to sleep and that’s when I get anxious. I can hear it in the day too, so it’s there all the time. When I wake up in the morning it can be very loud and I have to get up straight away or I can become panicky. I have always been noise phobic from when I was a small child. I just can’t handle fireworks or loud noises. When I was very young I became very upset by the scratching of the needle on a record. Is this part of the profile of someone with tinnitus?
Very much so. Stress and anxiety are two triggers of tinnitus. If you are a high-strung, anxious type of person, often you will find that not only do you hear tinnitus, but you also may have hyperacusis—where you hear some/all sounds louder and more intrusive than normal.
I was helping a lady recently that had much the same experiences as you—she was high-strung, anxious and had just gone through a very stressful situation. Her tinnitus was now much louder than normal, and she was worried that it would stay that way. In the past when she would stress over something, her tinnitus would get louder, but subside in a day or two. This time it wasn’t—hence her call to me for help.
I explained to her that when we are anxious, this puts our bodies in the “fight or flight” mode. Extra adrenaline surges through our arteries giving us more strength to fight or flee. At the same time, our senses become more acute. Thus we actually hear better than normal during such events—especially fainter sounds.
When you are anxious all the time, your body becomes stuck in this fight or flight mode, which includes the increased acute hearing. The result is that you perceive certain sounds to be annoyingly loud such as your phonograph needle. At the same time, loud sounds are then much too loud (such as fireworks).
The usual reaction to this increased sensitivity to sound is to avoid all noisy places and wear ear protectors most of the time. This actually proves counterproductive because when you wear ear protectors all the time, you brain becomes “starved” for normal sounds. As a result, it cranks up its internal volume control. This just makes the situation even worse—because when you take the noise protectors off, sounds are louder and even more annoying than before.
On top of this, your tinnitus is also louder because, with the increased internal volume, your brain is now hearing more of the random firings of the neurons in your auditory system—which some researchers think we hear as tinnitus.
The way to resolve this problem is not to overprotect your ears. Yes, clap your hands to your ears if there is a sudden loud sound around you (a siren going past you, or a truck blasting his air horn), but otherwise do not overprotect your ears so your auditory system will always have adequate stimulation. This will cause your brain to turn down the internal volume.
At the same time, you need to learn how not to be so anxious. You need to learn to be calm and “hang loose”. That will get you out of the “fight or flight” mode. This alone will let your brain turn down its internal volume.
When you do this, you will find that your tinnitus often becomes less intrusive and fades into the background. You will also find hat those sounds you found annoying before now don’t bother you much, or at all.
I’m not saying this is easy to accomplish, but it is necessary. There are a number of books available that teach you how to relax and calm down. If you need further help, see a therapist that specializes in helping people work through their anxiety problems without using drugs.
The end result will be reduced tinnitus, reduced hyperacusis and more enjoyment in your life. That makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it?
If you have tinnitus, my book, “When Your Ears Ring—Cope with Your Tinnitus—Here’s How” teaches you a number of things you can do to help yourself successfully live with your tinnitus.