Acceptance is the emotional outcome of habituation.
When I talk to tinnitus sufferers, people often tell me, “If I could just accept my tinnitus, it wouldn’t be so bad.”
I know exactly what they’re trying to say, but it’s not helpful to think about tinnitus in those terms, because severe tinnitus isn’t something you can just magically accept.
To be clear, I’m not saying that acceptance isn’t possible – it definitely is – and it’s important.
It’s just not something that you can force. Acceptance happens automatically as you habituate. You could even say that acceptance is the emotional state of habituation.
How you think about tinnitus matters:
Part of the problem here is that many people habituate naturally over time but don’t understand why or what actually happened.
When you hear someone say, “I just accepted my tinnitus and it isn’t so bad anymore”, they most likely habituated naturally but don’t understand what happened well enough to explain it in those terms.
And when you’re suffering, it doesn’t help to hear people speak like this. It can make you feel like you’re failing in some way, like you’re struggling to grasp some obvious answer.
But these people didn’t figure something out that you haven’t discovered yet. They habituated naturally, possibly without trying. They’re the lucky ones. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for everyone. It wasn’t for me. I had to work very hard to habituate.
Acceptance happens automatically:
The other problem with this type of acceptance-oriented thinking is that conscious control of tinnitus is impossible, even for someone who has fully habituated.
People who habituate naturally often believe that their acceptance was a deliberate choice – one that resulted in relief. But this type of thinking is usually based on a misunderstanding of what has actually occurred.
They didn’t simply choose to accept their tinnitus. They habituated somehow, their nervous system stopped reacting to the sound so it stopped bothering them, and their brain started tuning it out. Acceptance was the result of the process, not the process itself.
This is important, because spikes are possible even after you habituate. And if you don’t understand how you actually found relief, you are going to have a much tougher time.
When my tinnitus fluctuates in some way, whether because of stress or if I accidentally expose myself to loud noise, I can’t just flip a mental “acceptance” switch in my brain to turn the volume back down or force my attention away.
Acceptance can be fleeting:
The experience of habituation is a lot like happiness or the feeling of being in the zone – that feeling when you’re enjoying yourself so much that time speeds up or slows down, where you are totally immersed in the present moment, enjoying some activity to the fullest extent possible.
When you’re experiencing that level of happiness or enjoyment, it’s happening automatically. You can’t choose to feel that way. And more often than not, as soon as you start thinking about how good you feel, you lose the feeling because you’re no longer in the present moment, just going with the flow.
Habituation is similar in the sense that you can’t simply choose to accept your tinnitus and tune out the sound. That happens as your nervous system stops reacting to your tinnitus as the sound of something dangerous. You just start tuning it out automatically, more and more of the time.
And when it spikes, or starts bothering you again, you won’t be able to flip a switch in your brain to instantly tune it out. There are many things you can do to create the environment necessary for this to happen quickly, but you need to understand what is actually happening for this to work.
Otherwise, you will feel powerless when it spikes because acceptance alone is a bad strategy for relief.
If you’re suffering and struggling to accept your tinnitus, you’re not doing it wrong. Acceptance will happen automatically when you’re on the right track with habituation. It can’t be forced.
And just because you haven’t habituated yet, doesn’t mean that it’s not possible for you. Habituation is entirely possible with the right strategy, a bit of hard work, and time.
That’s all from me for today. Thanks everyone!
To learn more about how I habituated:
How I Found Relief from Tinnitus
Treating Tinnitus: It’s not about the noise
My interview with the American Tinnitus Association
I’ve had tinnitus for 43 years, since I went deaf from meningitis. It’s pretty much background noise and doesn’t bother me too much. About eight years ago (and after sinus surgery) there was a perfect-storm interaction of my genetic ongoing sinus issues, inner-ear structural changes from the meningitis, vasomotor/allergic rhinitis and living by the coast of a Great Lake (wind, moisture, etc.). It kicked off with a strong vertigo attack that sent me to the ER, and I’ve gotten the dizzies on and off since then particularly when atmospheric pressure is changing. Barometric changes affect the tinnitus – it can get louder and weirder when I’m congested and the pressure is moving. I’m not sure if I have Meniere’s (I have the symptoms) or my own personal brand of vestibular disorder. 🙂
Robin, I live 6000 feet above sea level. The high elevation, coupled with radical pressure changes, affects my tinnitus and Meniere’s disease. I can no longer drive up to the mountains and hike the trails I used to love. It’s not worth the plugged ears or the dizziness that ensues. Sounds like you could have developed Meniere’s. What does your ENT think?
Thank you so much – both timely and so apt. I have had tinnitus for 5 and half years – a constantly one way trajectory which is louder , hissier , more expansive , and ever more painful and intrusive . Whilst not anxious about it ‘ per say’ , I do find the physical impact ‘ hard work’ not to mention the impact on my employment and social life . However , my major Secondary Suffering is consciously and subconsciously trying to turn it down with my mind as some ‘ experts’ / practitioners on you tube advocate and also trying to force myself to accept it . each morning I wake thinking ‘ today’s the day I won’t let it be heard ‘ . The proverbial mind over matter ! I have many stresses in my life ( noisy neighbours and no income included ) and believe mine is nervous system related . But i stil ‘ just want to accept it’. So this article is spot on. Thanks
Hi, Linda – I hear you on the impact on activities. 🙂 I haven’t been to a doc in a while due to the cost plus I’ve yet to find the right doctor. I personally have found that the more physical activity I do, the better I get. A couple years after the vertigo attack I started shoveling, mowing, walking, etc. again. At first it was difficult and made me dizzy and I couldn’t do much. Over time it got better and better; even bending over to pull weeds didn’t bother me and the lake and pressure changes didn’t make me dizzy much. I thought I was cured, or close to it. Then we sold the house and moved to a condo (still near the lake) – no yard work or shoveling. About a month later, pow – dizzies were back. Ugh! Had a rough winter and now I’m increasing my movement gradually again and doing the reduced salt and sugar plus vitamins thing.
Reminds me of my lifelong battle to manage/control migraine: Just when I thought I was in the groove and things were working well, it was back to square one. For three years, I had my Meniere’s symptoms under good control; then my remission ended and I’m trying to find new ways to adjust again. In truth, I guess our bodies are always changing. Hope you start feeling better soon, Robin!
I hear you, Robin. Just moved from Denver to Chicago, and the fronts are just as nasty by the lake as they were by the mountains. I control my vertigo well with a low sodium diet (less than 1500 mg daily). Unfortunately, I have degenerative disc disease and arthritis in my other joints, which makes movement very painful. I still try to walk and do what I can–but the older I get, the harder it gets. I think I’d be doing much better if I didn’t suffer from migraine, too! Hope you’re “steadily” improving.
“Habituation is entirely possible with the right strategy, a bit of hard work, and time.” – But habituation doesn’t mean that everyone can go back to living a normal life. For some people, it’s just daily suffering with severe chronic tinnitus and hyperacusis. We need to talk more honestly about the brutal tinnitus cases.
I honestly believe that a degree of habituation is possible for everyone, though I don’t believe that everyone will just habituate naturally over time. Debilitating tinnitus, like what you’re describing, like what I experienced when I was first diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, can 100% get worse over time. But that doesn’t mean habituation is impossible. Sometimes, in the worst of the worst cases, the best you can achieve is getting rid of the emotional impact of the sound, where you still hear it all the time, but it stops affecting your quality of life. But that’s still habituation.
I’ve seen too many people habituate to absolutely life ruining levels of tinnitus to ever believe otherwise.
“You just start tuning it out automatically, more and more of the time.” Oh come one, we know that not everyone can tune out their tinnitus! Millions of people have severe tinnitus to the point that it interferes with their daily lives and they hear it every second of the day.
You are completely right that tinnitus can completely devastate your quality of life. I’m not arguing that. But I think you might have misunderstood what I was saying. When you have habituated, you don’t choose to tune it out. You never get that level of control where you can just flip a mental switch and not hear it. It just starts happening more and more of the time and you don’t realize it was even happening until afterward when you notice it again.
Habituation also doesn’t mean that your tinnitus is gone. My tinnitus is still there and still loud, I just don’t notice it most of the time now, and when I do it doesn’t bother me anymore or affect my quality of life.
This is generally what a person experiences (fleeting at first, then more and more over time) as they work to habituate, regardless of the strategy used.
I’ve head tinnitus and it’s progressively getting worse. So while it’s great that you’re helping other people, we’re doing the people who can’t habituate a disservice by saying everyone can. That’s all I wanted to say. There so many people who lose their lives due to tinnitus and they won’t get it back until real treatments come out.
In truth, I have to agree with you, “livingwhilehomebound.” The older I get, the more trouble I have coping with all aspects of the disease. Sound sensitivity, too much stimuli–are difficult to deal with, and the tinnitus seems to get worse with time. It’s easy to understand how many people eventually become social recluses. Wish there were more effective treatments for Meniere’s.