It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the sound of silence. I’m not sure I even remember what it’s like at this point. It wasn’t always bad, but 5 years ago, a diagnosis of a rare inner ear disorder called Meniere’s disease made it a lot worse. It’s strange to think I might never hear the sound of silence ever again.
To the uninitiated, tinnitus is a strange phenomenon in which a person hears sounds where there are none. Think “phantom sounds,” usually occurring as ringing, buzzing, clicking, or a wide variety of other annoying noises. The constant cacophony in your ears can drive you crazy. It’s not generally as debilitating as vertigo, but it’s usually there even if you get your other symptoms under control.
Unfortunately, there has been not nearly enough research conducted in recent years to explore potential treatments for tinnitus. This is extremely surprising considering recent studies have estimated that tinnitus affects nearly 50 million Americans. The true number might be much higher.
Currently there are no medications available for treating tinnitus. Most treatment involves either managing your psychological response or attempting to mask the sound with background noise; a white noise machine for example. Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of counseling, is well known for reducing the stress caused by tinnitus. Personally, I find meditation to be quite helpful as well. Learning to quiet my thoughts has helped me to ignore my tinnitus. That seems to be the common thread among the widely accepted treatment strategies, learning to ignore it.
However, a while back, I had an interesting idea. Knowing that everyone tries to ignore it, I thought, what if I did the opposite? I had a feeling that people are bothered by tinnitus the most when they are actively trying to ignore it, but can’t. So instead of trying to block it out, I wondered, why not face it head on? To consciously and intentionally focus on the sound. I was surprised to find that this is actually quite difficult. As soon as I would try to sit and focus on the noise, my mind would wander, quickly forgetting about the high pitched whine in my ears. I immediately realized something profound. If meditation typically involves concentrating your awareness onto a single point of focus, such as a repeated mantra, why not try focusing on the ringing instead? And by extension, if I learned to focus on the sound by choice, maybe it would bother me less when I chose not to.
Much to my delight, I found that by choosing to focus intensely on the ringing, it was indeed much easier to ignore. It seemed to steadily lose its power to bother me. It seems counterintuitive but it’s helped me a great deal. Stress, especially physiological stress (muscle tension), can make your tinnitus worse. So any practice that combines meditation as well as directly managing tinnitus is a winning combination in my book. My strategy slowly evolved into a meditation technique I refer to as “The Tinnitus Meditation.” It’s easy to learn, but like all meditation, will require practice and effort. Here’s how it works:
The Tinnitus Meditation Technique:
You don’t need to know how to meditate to learn and practice this technique. It will help both beginners and experts alike. It can be done sitting or lying down. First, get comfortable and make sure you will have no distractions. If you have never meditated before I suggest setting a timer for 5-10 minutes. If you are an experienced meditator, you can do this for as long as you’d like, but set a timer. Close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths into your diaphragm (lower abdomen). Consciously relax your whole body, starting with your feet, working your way up to your head.
Focus your entire attention on the sound of your tinnitus. For the first several minutes, just maintain this focus. If you find your mind drifting, gently bring it back to the sound. Hopefully, you will slowly find yourself deeply relaxed into a meditative state. See if you can find variations in the sound. If you listen carefully, you may find there are multiple tones or noises. Explore this with a mindset of genuine curiosity.
Next, while still focusing on the sound, imagine that there is a large volume knob in front of you that controls the volume of the sound. Imagine yourself playing with the volume knob, turning it up and down. You may be as surprised as I was to find, that the volume of the sound can be affected. Sometimes I imagine a large on/off switch as well and mentally flip it up and down. Now imagine that there is a second knob right next to the volume that controls the tone of the sound. Imagine yourself turning this knob as well. I was amazed to find that I can temporarily lower and raise the frequency of the tones of my tinnitus by doing this. Continue to focus on the sound until your timer goes off.
I noticed while practicing this, that if I catch my mind drifting, for that brief bit of time my tinnitus wasn’t bothering me at all. This gave me hope initially and I’ve now found that after practicing this technique for a while, my tinnitus seems to barely ever bother me. Remember though, like all meditation techniques though, it will take practice. I hope this approach can help you as much as it has helped me!
Going to try this tonight for the first time and then every night.
Thank you for posting this
You’re welcome! Also be sure to check out my new site for all things Tinnitus: https://www.rewiringtinnitus.com
You don’t have to cope with hearing problems! Nowadays troubles of people with hearing trouble entirely addressed and it is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearing_aid hearing aids. Initially I really did not wish to use a listening device because I hesitated that it would be as well obvious. When I was recouping at the health center the physician recommended me to brand-new practically invisible hearing aids Siemens Listening device on http://www.audiologyisland.com/ or Oticon Haring at http// m.hear.com I’m much more inclined to the Siemens company, what do you advise?
Hi Patrick! If your Tinnitus is caused by hearing loss, than hearing aids can definitely help. Increasing the actual amount of noise reaching your ears can reduce Tinnitus quite a bit. As to which brand is better, I’m not really sure. I would try reading as many reviews as you can and talking to people who have both. There are a ton of groups on Facebook for people with hearing loss, I would start there.
Hi ,great info .
I find that often extra noise means louder Tinnitus so it’s difficult to mask .
I have tried listening too it with headphones on to cut external noise and I was less bothered by it .
I have hearing loss and use aids but they don’t make much difference to the T .
My very negative attitude is what causes the main problem and of course frustration
Thanks! Glad you liked this. And you hit the nail on the head. It’s our frustration that fuels the problem. It’s not so much attitude though, because it’s our reaction to the sound that’s problematic. Our attitude does shape our reaction to some degree, but more direct action is needed to rewire our response to the sound.
My T is noisy now as I watch the Olympics but will sleep ok .
Been 2 yrs now ,hummy buzz like a computer fan or distant traffic at times .
Your blogs make a great deal of sense 🙂
I am in the UK so sleep soon !
I’ve had T now for over 20 years. It has shown no signs of improving. I have learned to cope with it, and use the method you describe. This was taught to me by a very good chiropractor as part of a migraine therapy.
My main difficulty now is the 30% hearing loss I have in the affected ear. I also have moderate hearing loss and T in the ‘good’ ear as well. Sound simply gets lost in the noise. I have hearing aids in both ears, but still have difficulty hearing.
I do not understand why there isnt more research into the neurological aspect of T. It seems that since the noise is caused by nerves, there should be some way to change the signal from the nerve to the brain.
Thanks for your column. I read it whenever I have time.
I couldn’t agree with you more Jim. There is not nearly enough research happening. Though hopefully that will start to change.
There is a saying in metaphysics that what you resists persists, and what you look at disappears. That might explain your (wonderful) success in reducing the stress from the tinnitus. I’m a sufferer myself, though I’m million miles away from the despair I felt when mine started 2 years ago, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I found it very helpful. Paula
You’re welcome Paula! And I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad you are doing so much better than you were.
My Tinnitus starts usually at 12:30 pm and lasts for an or two.
When it first comes on at night (only) it is a bit scary and some what distressing.
It is very hard to get to sleep and get a good restful night’s sleep.
I try to meditate using breathe and hear the high pitched ringing until it softens and then I feel
more relaxed and can try to get to sleep.
So far I have to get up and make hot milk with honey which makes me tired
enough to fall asleep.
Sometimes I use earplugs if T is too loud and listen to soft musicat the same time.
I also use sleeping tablets if nothing else works, just so I stop hearing the noise and stop the torture, so to speak.
In the morning around 6 am T comes back but not as harsh.
It dies down once I am vertical.
I used to get relief with Vitamin Mega B-complex but lately they do not work, it seems.
Maybe it is just a stage I’m going through and things will be better again.
I live in hope.
Best wishes to all.
Nobody, nobody is talking about all ultrasound pet repellent devices! Those need to be investigated! Nobody, nobody tested them! Mfg have an big, juicy business and make us suffer! Any lawyers with enough courage?
Hi Glenn: Constant ringing noise in both ears for 35 years. When first diagnosed I nearly went insane. But seemed to do fine with noise machine right off the bat, Always have enjoyed that constant lulling sound of a white noise generator if properly pitched.I understand hearing aids can be tuned to help alleviate tinnitus, as Ronnie Reagan used his for that as well, so the legend goes. Remember his hand cupped behind ears move? So I don’t know about that one. Level of noise in both my ears has never seemed to increase (always my biggest fear) so I can relax and go about life quite normally.One technique I’ve used over the years to “block” ringing is to listen OUTSIDE your head. This works well, even in an ultra quiet environment like a patient exam room at a physician’s office. I’m excited to now confront tinnitus with your within the ear method as described above. Thank you.