For many people, the stress of living with tinnitus can have a big impact on day-to-day life. But Tracy Henderson, a hearing therapist with Life Unlimited, says it is possible to better manage the stress associated with the condition.
Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the head or ears when there is no corresponding external noise. It’s commonly experienced as a ringing noise, but can also be perceived as many other sounds including hissing, clicking or roaring.
Tracy says the way people respond to tinnitus differs from person to person. “For some people the effects are slight or no big deal. But other people are very stressed by it. It’s loud and intrusive and impacts on every part of their life. So, there’s a huge spectrum.”
Tracy likens it to going to a Barry Manilow concert. “For someone who’s a Barry Manilow fan, it’s wonderful. But a teenager would hate it. We may hear the same music — the same sound — but our response to it is very individual.”
For those who have difficulty living with tinnitus, the stress can create a vicious cycle. “The more they’re stressed out about it, the more they focus on it, which increases their stress level even more” explains Tracy. “So it’s a two way street – tinnitus can cause stress, and stress can often result in the individual perceiving the tinnitus as louder and more distressful.”
There is no cure for tinnitus, so as a hearing therapist, Tracy supports her clients to manage the stress associated with the condition. This may involve using breathing and relaxation techniques as well as visualisation exercises.
“I have a client who likes to visualise that they’re standing at the edge of the sea, and then they imagine using their hands to push the stress out over the sea and across the horizon.”
Tracy says some people feel better when they spend more time focusing on activities they like to do. “Sometimes we try to find something they enjoy doing, like gardening or running or walking. When they garden, for example, the tinnitus drifts away. They’re more focused on doing what they enjoy so they become more relaxed. And the more relaxed they are, the less the brain feels it needs to focus on the tinnitus.”
Another strategy that can be effective for some people is using other sounds to mask the condition. “They might use pleasant sounds such as meditation music or the sound of rain or waves or running water. It gives the brain something else to listen to, and the sounds have more positive connotations.”
Just as each person’s response to tinnitus can be quite different, the best way to manage the stress they experience can also differ for each individual. “It’s really about finding the best strategy for each person.”
Any New Zealander 16 years and over can contact their local Life Unlimited hearing therapist on 0800 008 011 to talk about ways to manage the effects of tinnitus. Consultations are free. And if you’re looking for ways to manage stress and relax, check out these handy smartphone apps.
Read More: Tinnitus affecting more than 200,000 kiwis.
Whether you’re feeling sad, anxious or stressed, Happify has effective tools and programmes to help you take control of your thoughts, with a range of engaging games and activities that you can do anywhere, anytime on your phone, tablet or computer. And you can visit the website for lots of helpful articles and uplifting videos.
Breathing exercises have been shown to decrease the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ response, and help with mood stabilisation, anger control, and anxiety management. Breathe2Relax features include educational videos on the stress response, logs to record stress levels and customisable guided breathing sessions.
Calm is a simple, mindfulness meditation app that features guided meditation sessions as well as a range of relaxing music and soothing sounds to help relieve stress and anxiety and promote sleep.