Do you find that your tinnitus is louder when you are stressed? You’re not alone.
Some stress is actually a good thing as it can increase motivation when needed. Chronic stress, however; can cause anxiety and can negatively impact your health. The body experiences stress the same way whether it’s good stress or bad stress, the key difference is how you react to it.
Managing your stress when you have tinnitus is even more important as it can exacerbate your tinnitus. Since the start of this COVID pandemic the number of people who contacted my office for a tinnitus consultation tripled, because of stress. The reason why tinnitus increases when you experience an increase in stress, whether it’s physical or psychological stress, is because of the brain’s heightened awareness, due to the activation of our fight/flight centre of our brain, that in turn reduces our overall tolerance to any stimulation that is perceived as unpleasant.
So how can you manage your stress better? Everyone is different when it comes to what works for them. Spend a moment to think about what helps you destress. Is it running on the treadmill? Sipping a warm cup of camomile tea by the fireplace? Playing your favourite game on your phone? Or maybe it’s attending a yoga class? Whatever you do, make sure you choose a healthy way to manage your stress.
Some of my favourite ways to destress are playing backgammon on my iPhone, reading a book and going for a walk, in nature. However, these things aren’t always possible. I experience stress daily at the office as I’m not only a clinician but the director and owner of the practice. It’s easy to resort to quick fixes like caffeine and sugar, especially this time of year when patients and hearing aid manufacturers send us tempting sweet treats. However, these things are stimulants that provide a short bust of energy and leave you craving more.
The key to managing stress successfully for me has been to become mindful of the signs of stress in my body. When I feel my tolerance is decreasing and my cortisol level is rising, I go to my office for a 10 minute “time out” break. I put my telephone on DND, lock my door, sit at my desk with my eyes closed and focus on controlling my breath. Consciously breathing deeply is known to help control your nervous system, increase alertness and can even boost your immune system. There are many techniques on how to do this.
If your thoughts are affecting your ability to focus on your breath, like it does sometimes for me when I’m upset, you can try a guided meditation. One of my favourite apps is the CALM app. It has relaxing nature music, guided meditations, and so much more. A great website that I often turn to is mindful.org. It has a 6-minute breathing meditation that you can listen to and read along with and a gif image that expands and contracts to help you visualize when to inhale and exhale. It also helps redirect any thoughts gently back to your breath. If you can’t find the meditation let me know and I’ll email you the link. Stress management isn’t only for individuals with tinnitus. It’s important for everyone, even if you don’t think you are stressed.
Ok so you’re probably wondering what I have in my hand in the photo I took for this blog today? It’s a stress ball in the shape of an ear. We purchased these to give to all of our patients who pursue treatment for hearing loss and tinnitus. It’s not only a great way to strengthen your muscles and potentially relieve arthritis pain but it can also reduce anxiety and stress. As a token of appreciation for taking the time to read my second tinnitus blog today, I will be mailing out one of my “ears” (not my real ear!) to the first 10 respondents that reside in Ontario, who have tinnitus and commit today to a daily practice of stress management. Simply email me at email@example.com the words “Lend Me Your Ear” and your address and my team will ensure it’s in the mail before the end of the day tomorrow. Now go on and conquer the day and week. Remember that tinnitus is just a small part of our lives!