5 Strategies to Help You Cope with Tinnitus-Induced Anxiety
Tinnitus is a common physical condition that is estimated to affect two in three Australians at some point in their life. Considering these numbers, it’s likely you or a loved one might already be experiencing the condition. Although the condition isn’t dangerous, it can induce psychological effects such as anxiety and depression.
Capable of causing distress and a loss of quality of life, being aware of coping strategies, treatment options and understanding the condition can help people adapt to living with tinnitus more comfortably. To help new and existing tinnitus patients best deal with the emotional impacts of the condition, we’ve put together five coping strategies that may be of help to you.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is defined as a sound heard in one or both ears without the presence of external sound. Everyone has a unique experience with tinnitus, with some describing their tinnitus as whooshing, ringing or buzzing. The commonality between these sounds is their high-pitched ringing, but people have reported music or voices in some rare cases.
- Tinnitus may be heard all the time or only sometimes.
- It can be present in just one ear, both ears, or as if it is coming from ‘inside your head’.
People with normal reported hearing can still experience tinnitus, making hearing loss one of the many underlying reasons for the condition. Since everyone’s experience with tinnitus is different, some people may not experience many or any differences in their day to day life. On the other hand, some people live with more intrusive tinnitus, which can require masking noises to help the patient ignore their tinnitus more easily. If you live with intrusive tinnitus that impacts your sleep, relationships, and social life, know there are resources available to help you cope.
How is Tinnitus Caused?
The human ears are an extremely complex mechanism, with the root cause of tinnitus still being unknown today. Some people with hearing loss may never experience tinnitus, and some may, but until this is uncovered, coping with the effects of tinnitus is the best solution to learning to live with the condition most effectively. What we do know about tinnitus is that it is an underlying symptom and not a disease.
Some issues that are known to cause tinnitus are:
- Hearing loss (either from ageing or traumatic noises)
- Exposure to loud noise
- Impacted wax in the ears
- Middle ear infections
- Head injuries
- TMJ and jaw or dental issues
- Whiplash after an accident
- Stress or anxiety caused by life situations
Even with this information, it’s still estimated that in 40 per cent of tinnitus sufferers, the cause remains unknown, so it’s important to not blame yourself for your tinnitus.
How Anxiety and Tinnitus are Connected
We still have a lot to learn about tinnitus, but what we know so far is that it can be caused by more than just changes in the ear. Stress is one of the leading causes of various health conditions, including tinnitus. In fact, some people notice their tinnitus onset or increase during a stressful period in their lives. Out of these people, 80 per cent of their tinnitus subsided after the stressful period had passed. Some may experience their tinnitus remaining and increasing or decreasing over time.
One revolution around tinnitus and stress is that a person’s anxiety depends on whether the limbic and autonomic systems are activated. This means that if your brain views tinnitus as a threat, you will naturally focus more on your tinnitus. This leads to the ringing in your ears increasing in volume and beginning a cycle that leads to debilitating tinnitus.
How to Cope with Tinnitus and Reduce Your Anxiety
Currently, there are no cures for tinnitus, but there are multiple treatment options. These are designed to help you manage your response to tinnitus by reducing the intensity and its associated annoyance. Learning to cope with your tinnitus can significantly decrease your stress and anxiety levels. Some of these coping strategies include:
1. Receive medical advice
When someone is first experiencing tinnitus, it may be an overwhelming and distressing experience. For these reasons, seeking our medical advice to uncover why you are experiencing tinnitus in the hope of resolving the underlying issue should be the first treatment step.
After undoing a diagnostic hearing test, you may receive a diagnosis of hearing loss that could indicate the cause of your tinnitus. Following this step, your hearing specialist may suggest hearing aids to improve your ability to hear. They also amplify environmental sounds helping to mask your tinnitus by enabling your brain to focus on those sounds rather than the ringing in your ears.
If the amplification from your hearing aid is not enough, your Audiologist can use a tinnitus masker, which is built into most hearing aids. The tinnitus masker generates noise in your ear. By exposing your ears to a louder noise than your tinnitus, your brain will focus on the masking noise and not the ringing in your ears.
What if I already have tinnitus?
If you already have tinnitus which has recently spiked, is in one ear only, or is impacting your ability to sleep, work and socialise, you should visit a trusted GP. Your GP will refer you to either an Audiologist or Ear Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT) and a Dentist in some cases.
An Audiologist will conduct a full diagnostic assessment and determine whether you have any hearing loss and if there are underlying medical issues that need further investigation by an ENT Specialist.
Your ENT specialist will investigate the ringing in your ears and may request additional medical testing such as an MRI. If your GP suspects an issue with your jaw, a visit to your dentist or neuromuscular dentist will be recommended.
2. Receive counselling
For some tinnitus sufferers, tinnitus can make falling asleep, working and socialising more challenging. If you are in this situation, a psychologist specialising in tinnitus counselling is a great step towards coping with the condition and taking back control and enjoyment of your life.
The psychologist will typically use Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to teach you how to cope with the ringing in your ears by replacing negative thinking with more positive thinking. Counselling can be used in conjunction with the other treatment strategies outlined. Talk to your GP, Audiologist or ENT Specialist for psychologist recommendations.
3. Explore sound therapy
Tinnitus is most noticeable in quiet rooms, which often interferes with the ability to sleep, work or study. Adding different sounds to your listening environment, whether a tinnitus app, relax app, or even the radio in the background can help mask your tinnitus. If you have a partner who prefers a quiet environment while sleeping, you might need to consider a sound generator pillow.
4. Mindfulness and relaxation
Mindfulness and relaxation techniques are all important elements that help others live a less stressful life. For tinnitus sufferers, these techniques may also be beneficial for you in reducing your stress levels.
In doing any of these practices, your tinnitus volume may decrease and become less noticeable. Methods of relaxation that you could try include muscle relaxation, visualisation exercises or even meditation. There are apps, such as Headspace, that provide guided meditation to listeners for mindfulness.
5. Adopt lifestyle changes
Improvements in your sleep habits, diet and exercise regime will also reduce the anxiety associated with your tinnitus. Dietary changes may assist you, particularly if you suspect certain food choices make your tinnitus louder. For coffee lovers, the latest evidence shows that caffeine does not affect your tinnitus.
Unless you feel that the ringing in your ears increases when you consume, you can continue to enjoy your daily cup of coffee. Daily exercise will assist you to feel better, sleep better and achieve an improved feeling of wellness, therefore, helping to reduce the anxiety associated with tinnitus. Ensure that you check with your GP before starting any exercise regime and start gently first.
How Attune Hearing Can Help You
Tinnitus is a common issue for many people, and for most, there is no impact on their daily life. However, for the small percentage of people suffering from debilitating ringing in the ears, appropriate medical advice and treatment and utilising different coping strategies will reduce tinnitus volume, anxiety and annoyance with the ringing in your ears.
To take back control of your tinnitus today and learn to cope with anxiety, get in touch with your local Attune Hearing clinic and make an appointment with one of our qualified audiologists and tinnitus specialists.
As the ringing in the ears and the associated anxiety reduces, tinnitus sufferers will be able to sleep better, work and socialise more, leading to an improved quality of life.