Writing this now, with my Spotify Peaceful Piano Playlist gently playing soothing background music, I can still hear a high-pitched hissing noise in both of my ears. It's there all of the time; never goes away. Usually, it's a single, constant whirring noise. At other times it changes pitch or other sounds pop in and fade out again. And while the ringing in my ears often varies, currently my ability to cope with tinnitus largely remains unchanged. But it wasn't always like this. Rewind one year ago and things were very different.
I'd had temporary bursts over tinnitus over the past decade: high-pitched noises would suddenly be heard but then dial down to zero again within a few seconds. However, one day, that familiarly shrill noise came in but didn't fade away again: I was now living with chronic tinnitus and would have to learn how to cope with it for the rest of my life.
I can clearly still recall the fresh hell of developing chronic tinnitus after a period of extended stress: the realization it will probably never go away; trying everything to drown out the sound; the sleepless nights, trying (yet failing) to focus on work. Unfortunately, in addition to developing tinnitus I also experienced hyperacusis, a condition in which your ears become super sensitive to sound. Listening to someone putting cutlery or plates away was enough to send me over the edge!
When tinnitus first becomes chronic, your brain immediately switches into alarm mode, imaging the internal noise as harmful or dangerous. Furthermore, focusing on anything else apart from the ringing seems like an impossible task. Like me, you may experience panic, anxiety, depression and anger trying to cope with tinnitus symptoms. You may think to yourself: ’why me?’ And you will probably ask yourself many other questions about your tinnitus too: ‘Will it ever stop?’ ‘Will it get louder?’ ‘Am I going deaf?’ ‘Am I stuck with this for the rest of my life?’
While it all feels pretty dark in the beginning, I'm here to tell you that there is hope on the horizon and coping with tinnitus is possible. Indeed, if you've recently been struck down with tinnitus and are struggling to cope, please be assured: you will see improvements with time and start to feel better mentally about it. However, if you're currently feeling like it’s an emergency or having dark/suicidal thoughts, please seek help ASAP from your healthcare provider.
The hyper-alert state you experience with tinnitus can last many weeks or months. However, day by day your brain begins to get used to the strange new sounds you're hearing and will gradually begin to get used to them. This process is called 'habituation' and just knowing that it can happen naturally can help you to learn to deal with your tinnitus.
Indeed, I – and millions others across the world – are proof of that. A year after being diagnosed with chronic tinnitus I am coping with it much better. Of course, like everyone else I have good and bad days (so-called tinnitus 'spikes' can be a challenge), but my condition currently doesn’t impact on my happiness to a great extent.
I'm aware that the internal sounds us people living with tinnitus experience are all different. Although the level of my tinnitus is bothersome, it is not unbearable. This may change in the future. I've read stories of people that experience ringing at extremely high sound levels: that, of course, must make the condition more challenging and impact on a person's ability to cope with tinnitus.
However, whatever type of tinnitus you are experiencing, there are many practical steps you can take to cope with tinnitus and make it less intrusive in your life. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.
The first step in coping with tinnitus lies in acceptance of the condition. However, this is often easier said than done in the beginning. As much as you may want to fight against the ringing in your ears – especially during those first traumatic weeks or months – doing so will only lead to disappointment and frustration. While some people experience temporary tinnitus because of trauma to the head or an ear infection, those of us with chronic tinnitus are usually stuck with the noises for life. Saying that, there have been cases where people's tinnitus appears to have vanished, so never give up hope.
Accepting your condition is essential for you to be able to deal with tinnitus. Essentially, you first need to know if your tinnitus is temporary or chronic and if you have any hearing damage. Visit a high street ophthalmologist or ask your GP to refer you to an ENT specialist.
The anxiety you feel when first getting tinnitus is to be expected but it will only make you feel more stressed, and, in turn, exacerbate tinnitus symptoms. Indeed, it's believed that stress really impacts on tinnitus, so it’s important that you reduce any stressors in your life to keep tinnitus levels in check. In fact, many people coping with tinnitus use their condition as a barometer of their stress levels – if their tinnitus appears to be worsening, it’s a signal something in their life is out of balance.
“Many people coping with tinnitus use it as a barometer of stress – if their tinnitus appears to be worsening, it’s a signal something is out of balance.”
Relaxation is obviously a key way to combat stress and therefore improve how you deal with tinnitus. Practising meditation and conscious breathing exercises are practical and simple tools you can use to immediately reduce anxiety and stress. Incorporate both into your daily routine to feel the benefits.
Also, be sure to spend as much time in nature as possible. As well as the relaxation and proven mental health benefits of forest bathing, the sounds of nature can help to soothe that pesky tinnitus ringing. The crashing of waves; the rustling of branches and leaves, bird song – the many noises of nature offer your ears and brain a calming distraction.
Sea sound helps to mask tinnitus noises shutterstock/Monkey Business Images
Making mindfulness a part of your daily routine is also one of the best things you can do when it comes to coping with tinnitus. Mindfulness won't make tinnitus go away, but aims to make it less intrusive, so the ringing sounds are not such a problem. Indeed, mindfulness teaches us how to live with difficulties such as tinnitus, without having to fight or change them. Practising mindfulness can help us help us to develop a better relationship with our tinnitus, aiding the habituation process.
In 2017 the British Tinnitus Assoctiation published two research papers that showed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is an effective treatment for those people living with distressing tinnitus. The results showed that tinnitus patients undergoing MBCT were associated with significant, reliable and ongoing improvements in their tinnitus-related and emotional distress.
Luckily, mindfulness is something we can all practise by ourselves and for free. It involves paying complete and mindful attention to whatever we are doing in the moment: breathing, eating, showering, walking or noticing the physical sensations in our body, for example. We have some great mindfulness tips you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you to become less focused on your tinnitus.
Personally, experiencing ‘flow’ is the most efficient way to cope with my own tinnitus. When I’m in the zone I can almost completely ignore those pesky high-pitched tones. Flow is a state in which you are so totally absorbed in something with enjoyment and focus that time stands still and nothing else matters.
RELATED: Flow state and happiness
For me, finding my flow means losing myself in creating an artwork. My mind is fully focused on the task itself, diverting all stimuli and attention to it. Sometimes my attention is so involved when in the state of flow that it can even seem like my tinnitus has disappeared (for a while at least!). Flow is really an act of mindfulness, and as outlined above, mindfulness is one of the scientifically-proven best ways to deal with tinnitus.
Finding your flow is one of the best ways to deal with your tinnitus as it helps to shift your awareness to something other than the internal noises you are dealing with. Similarly, I find that staying busy – in a non-stressful way of course – keeps my focus away from tinnitus so it’s easier to cope with. Sitting around in silence is when tinnitus may start to bother you the most, so staying active and on-the-go helps to keep it staying dominant in your mind.
OK, we all know the drill about exercise: it boosts your physical and mental health, helping to lift depression and anxiety (which you could be more vulnerable to if tinnitus is part of your life). Exercise also combats against stress which, as explained above, is a major influencing factor that influences tinnitus levels.
Yoga, in particular, has been found to help people cope better with tinnitus. A small 2018 study from Mersin University in Turkey indicated that practising yoga may reduce life stress and symptoms of tinnitus. Researchers followed 12 participants who practised guided yoga over three months involving poses, breathing exercises and meditations. The researchers hypothesized that because tinnitus symptoms are often linked to stress, and because yoga is stress-relieving, yoga may help decrease symptoms for patients living with chronic tinnitus.
“Good sleep is essential when it comes to coping with tinnitus. Our bodies need sleep to heal and recover. When I have a bad night’s rest my tinnitus always seems louder the following day.”
Elsewhere, Polish researchers conducted a similar study in 2019. It followed 25 patients with chronic tinnitus through 12 weeks of yoga training. The researchers identified that participants benefitted most from improved sense of control over tinnitus, lessened intrusiveness, improved quality of life and better sleep.
The last point of improved sleep is important (as we shall see next). Importantly, whatever exercise you choose to do, working out will help to tire your body and lead to an increased chance of falling asleep quickly.
Yoga is a perfect way to shift awareness shutterstock/Ulza
Good sleep is essential when it comes to coping with tinnitus. Our bodies need sleep to heal and recover. When I have a bad night’s rest my tinnitus always seems louder the following day.
However, sometimes falling asleep can be difficult for those of us with chronic tinnitus. That’s because tinnitus appears to sound worse at night – there are fewer external noises to mask the internal sounds so we are often in silence with just our internal
One thing I do to help shift awareness from my tinnitus when going to bed is follow a body scan meditation script. By gradually tensing and releasing different body parts and feeling the sensations you take your brain away from your tinnitus and to those other places in your body.
Externally you can find ways to ‘mask’ your tinnitus sounds at night to help you drift off more easily. In my first few months of living with chronic tinnitus, I used mobile apps such as the excellent T-Minus app to play rain sound which works with with balancing out my high-pitched tinnitus. There are also plenty of great YouTube videos of rain sounds that you can have in the background.
Sound-masking devices such as the apps mentioned above provide an external noise that partially drowns out the internal ringing of tinnitus. As well as using apps you can also try:
Furthermore, if you have hearing loss in addition to tinnitus, there are now hearing aids with inbuilt white noise generators which help many with the condition cope with tinnitus symptoms.
Whatever masking method you choose, always the volume of the device a notch lower than the actual sound of your tinnitus. You don’t want to drown out the sound completely or you will find harder to habituate.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to cope with tinnitus alone. As the number of people who live with persistent tinnitus is around 13 per cent, there’s a chance someone in your close circle is going through the same thing as you – you just might not know it. Open up to family members and friends or put your thoughts out on social media if you feel comfortable sharing your tinnitus story: you may be surprised by the responses.
However, friends and family may not be able to support you unless they have experienced tinnitus themselves as they may not realise how distressing tinnitus can be or even know what it is. So, additionally, do try and connect with someone who has dealt with tinnitus themselves in order to get the help and advice you really need. In the UK there are tinnitus support groups up and down the country where you can meet in person (COVID restrictions meeting) to discuss living well with tinnitus.
“Tinnitus can dramatically impact on your quality of life and can be hard to adapt too. However, as with everything in life, we can choose how we react to it.”
The internet is also full of tinnitus support groups and forums such as the excellent TinnitusTalk forum which is full of useful and insightful threads. Do be careful when browsing for tinnitus help online as you will come across many dubious ads for methods or items claiming to stop or cure tinnitus. Unfortunately there is no cure for tinnitus so don’t spend on things.
Finally, if you prefer a friendly voice in real time, the British Tinnitus Association offers a confidential tinnitus helpline. You can call its team for support.
This final suggestion may seem like the last thing you want to do but it actually brings us right back to the first tinnitus coping tip of acceptance. Depending on your personal tinnitus noise level, you may find it beneficial to employ some mindfulness and simply sit with your tinnitus for a while and listen to it with curiosity and without judgement.
Take some time to just sit, listen and observe your tinnitus and ask some questions. Does your tinnitus stay the same or does it get louder or quieter? Does it stay the same pitch or do you new sound levels come in? Does it sound the same in your left or right side? Where are the sounds coming from? If you feel comfortable and ready for this type of exercise you can even sit and meditate on your tinnitus, bringing all your attention to the sounds and your breath.
Exploring your tinnitus in this way may seem difficult if you are recently diagnosed, but realising that tinnitus is just there and cannot harm can really help you to cope with its day-to-day symptoms.
Tinnitus can dramatically impact on your quality of life and can be hard to adapt too. However, as with everything in life, we can choose how we react to it. If we fight our tinnitus and try to deny it, we will struggle. If we learnt to accept and live with it, habituation to tinnitus will become easier. Whatever type of sounds your experience – hissing, whistling, humming or buzzing – by following the ten tips above, coping with tinnitus should become easier and it will just become another part of your life, not a dominating factor. •
Main image: shutterstock/aleks333
Are you a happiness.com member yet? Sign up for free now to:Resilience | Gratitude | Self-care
In the new year many of us resolve to break bad habits and replace them with healthy ones. However, we often relapse quickly back into our old
After struggling with body confidence issues for years, Sienna Saint-Cyr improved her self-view after becoming a life model. She gained body
When a society or culture treat your grief as insignificant, this is known as disenfranchised grief. And, as Dee Marques explains, in these cases you