Written for Loop by Magali De Reu (bio at bottom blogpost)
The past two years have had a huge impact on our lives. For those who are triggered by noise, whether hypersensitive, neurodivergent or suffering from an auditory disorder, it has been a calmer time. Now that we’re once again free to go outside and be exposed to auditory stimuli, our brains are more likely to be overloaded. For many people this means a lot of anxiety and overwhelm, putting a damper on their daily lives. So how do we deal with noise sensitivity post-lockdown? Here are five useful tips on how to deal with noise sensitivity:
#1 Start by giving it a name: is it hyperacusis, misophonia or something else?
Overwhelmed by noises to the point where it stops you from doing things or going out? Do certain sounds trigger anxiety or panic? Or perhaps you find they make it difficult to focus on conversations? You’re not alone, and we feel you. There are many conditions that cause sensitive hearing. It helps to give the problem a name. Maybe you suffer from misophonia and have a strong reaction to specific sounds, like chewing or yawning. This can cause a strong emotional response like irritation, rage or panic. Or perhaps you find many noises painfully loud, the hallmark of hyperacusis. Then you might feel completely overwhelmed by the sound of lawnmowers or ambulances.
Hyperacusis often goes hand in hand with other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you are a highly sensitive person (HSP), have ADHD, sensory processing disorder or autism or are suffering from a concussion you could also have a heightened sensitivity to sound. Behavioral experts can give you strategies to cope with this sensitivity, some of which overlap with strategies for other sound perception disorders like tinnitus.
Can’t define your relationship with noise sensitivity? Let’s call it “complicated” then! It could be an idea to make a list of auditory issues that disturb your daily life. Simply something to hold on to so you get to know yourself a little better.
#2 Call in the support troops for your noise sensitivity issues
Once you’ve gotten all the information you need about your condition and how to cope with it, it’s time to surround yourself with good support. Having professionals such as psychologists at hand is one thing, but being able to rely on friends and family is just as important. They can support you emotionally and help you practice ways to cope. Again, you’re not alone in this.
There’s lots of great information resources online, as well as supportive communities on Reddit, Quora and mental health forums. You can reach out to online groups of people suffering from similar noise sensitivity issues. Be careful though: it’s important to make sure these groups are constructive and objective. The idea isn’t to find comfort in isolation together, but rather to support each other in finding ways to take on the world.
Whether online or in person, it helps to tell people what is bothering you about going out and facing noises. Do you have a social activity on the calendar? Great, let’s help you put up that game face! Practice having conversations with a friend or partner with noise playing in the background, gradually building up the noise level. Or maybe a trusted friend or family member wants to accompany you when you go out. Discuss beforehand how they can help you. For example by reassuring you or agreeing to a signal that your limit has been reached. What a great reason to come up with a new stop word, huh?
#3 Practice builds resistance to fear of loud noises
If you’re sensitive to loud noises, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. To the contrary: building up noise exposure slowly is more effective in the long run. People who fill their agenda with tons of activities don’t always realize that their brain is going into fight or flight mode. Psychologists agree that it’s important to gradually build up “normal” activities. Step by step. Rest and breaks are extremely important to help you process and recharge.
You can start with small steps at home: putting the television or music on softly in the background. You can search for sounds online that simulate real-life sounds: even those annoying restaurant noises! Try playing these sounds while doing something you enjoy, like reading or knitting. Slowly extend the length of time and raise the volume to desensitize you to these sounds. You can keep a journal to note down your reactions and keep track of your progress.
#4 Build up a stress tool kit against your sensitivity to sound
Anxiety, irritation and stress are going to kick your noise sensitivity into high gear. So anything you can do to address your overall stress level is going to help with your sensitivity to sound as well. Since we can’t get rid of everything that stresses us out, we have to start with ourselves.
Breathing exercises can help lower our stress levels and make us feel more zen. They help you learn to breathe in and out slowly and calmly, slowing down your heart rate and quieting restless thoughts. You can find a ton of these exercises online. Practice doing them at home: first in silence, then slowly building up the sound level to ramp up your ability to cope with noise triggers in the moment.
There are lots of other strategies to help counteract noise overwhelm. One is to focus your attention on something else, like playing with a ring or bracelet. Another is pleasant tastes or smells: sucking on a peppermint, or smelling a handkerchief with a pleasant smell. Mindfulness and other relaxation techniques can be very effective in reducing anxiety, and there are plenty of tips and exercises online and via apps. Others rely on cognitive behavior therapy techniques (CBT), which recognizes emotions while providing tools to manage negative thoughts. Try a few things and see what works for you!
#5 Don’t overprotect your ears
One thing is clear: the more you protect your hearing, the more sounds can keep causing anxiety. Fear of loud or triggering sounds causes people to isolate and can actually increase the likelihood of being triggered by them. This can keep them in a state of being overly sensitive and unable to cope. The good news is that you can help reduce noise without shutting out the world.
Ear defenders and traditional earplugs can be helpful in some situations, when mowing the lawn for example. But relying on them all the time will make your ears even more sensitive to loud sounds & noises. The best thing is to reduce the noise without isolating yourself. By lowering the volume of sounds without eliminating them completely, you can avoid triggering your fight or flight response.
Loop earplugs don’t block noise, instead filtering a bit to decrease the intensity without putting you in a sound-proof bubble. Loop Experience combines an acoustic channel, filter and membrane to reduce noise by up to 20 decibels while sounds and speech remain clear. Many users have reported that Loop Experience helps them manage their noise sensitivity, making a positive impact on their daily lives.
About the author:
Magali De Reu is a 32-year old copywriter serving the tech and startup community in Belgium, Western Europe, and the US. Living with autism spectrum disorder, she is particularly passionate about examining and delving into the ways in which people communicate.