Have you ever noticed that when you’re in pain, you feel compelled to keep messing with your injury to see how much it hurts?
For some reason, we tend to focus on pain with an intensity rarely seen elsewhere in our lives. And it’s not just physical pain. We do this with health problems, like tinnitus, too.
In fact, one of the most frustrating aspects of living with tinnitus is the strange, exhausting impulse to constantly measure the sound.
Sometimes, it’s a compulsion to check and see if your tinnitus is louder now than it was before. Other times, it’s an obsession – no matter what you do, you just can’t stop thinking about the sound. The rest of the time, however, it manifests as horrible and intrusive negative thoughts in the form of rumination.
When it happens, our natural instinct is usually to just try and ignore the sound, so we can go back to whatever it was we were doing. But we rarely ever win that battle.
In fact, I believe it’s the wrong approach entirely. It’s almost impossible to think our way out of this kind of intensely negative emotional experience. We’re not thinking rationally in these moments. We just react emotionally, automatically, without thinking at all.
But you always have the power to break these negative thought patterns and take back control in these difficult moments.
It just takes a little bit of work.
1) Stop researching tinnitus on the internet:
Obviously, I understand the irony of this advice – you’re researching tinnitus right now. But it’s important to consider, because there’s a very good chance that Googling tinnitus is making your tinnitus worse.
You see, most people aren’t tortured by tinnitus at first. In those early days, there’s still hope. You don’t understand what’s happening to you, and while it’s scary, most people can handle it when they think it’s a temporary problem. The fear begins when it doesn’t go away.
Let me be very clear: the vicious cycle of tinnitus always starts with fear, and almost nothing will amplify your fear faster than Googling tinnitus.
Because you’ll likely find case after case of the worst suffering imaginable. Your worst fears will be confirmed, panic sets in, and the vicious cycle of suffering begins.
There is always hope, and the very real possibility of relief – you just may not find it right away. So pick a treatment strategy, commit to the process, and stop researching tinnitus.
2) Understand the problem – it’s not the sound
There may not be a cure for tinnitus, but you can get to a place where it stops bothering you. Your brain is fully capable of tuning it out like it does all other meaningless background noise with a mental process called habituation.
But there’s a problem: when it’s bothersome, your brain is interpreting the sound of your tinnitus as something dangerous. And it’s impossible to ignore a dangerous sound. (You would never want to not hear the sound of something actually dangerous)
Our brains simply can’t tell the difference between real danger and an imagined threat like tinnitus. Our fear makes the danger real, whether it’s real or not, so the reaction is the same. We have a stress response that doesn’t end because the tinnitus doesn’t go away.
It just gets worse, because we start to associate the fear, frustration, anguish, depression and anxiety with the sound itself.
But you can change the way you react to the sound emotionally. And when you do, your brain will start to tune it out automatically, more and more of the time.
Whether you are trying to habituate or break negative thought patterns in a difficult moment, you need to understand that this is an emotional and psychological problem. And ignoring these kinds of problems generally makes them worse.
3) You can’t think your way out of an emotional experience – but you can act your way out
When it’s bothering you, don’t just fight to ignore the sound. It’s a losing battle. Most of the time, you won’t be able to think your way out of this kind of intensely negative emotional experience. But you can act your way out by changing the situation.
Anytime you experience any of the following:
- A spike, fluctuation, or change in volume, pitch, or sound
- A moment where it’s more bothersome than usual
- Obsessively noticing, measuring or focusing on your tinnitus
Try the following technique (I call this the Tinnitus Reaction Technique):
- Stop what you’re doing and sit down.
- Think about the hours leading up to this moment, recognize that it wasn’t bothering you as much until right now. Become aware of how long of a good period you had leading up to this moment.
- Close your eyes, feel your body go limp as you relax your muscles, focus on the tinnitus and take several deep breaths.
- Remind yourself that you were okay before this moment and that you will be okay again – your tinnitus will calm back down.
- Choose a coping strategy or coping tool and use it immediately. Remember, the goal is to break the rumination and negative thought patterns by doing something else entirely. Coping techniques include anything that masks the sound, relaxes you mentally or physically, or distracts you from the sound.
You just need to do something else long enough for your nervous system to calm down a bit. The spike will pass eventually, they always do.
This technique won’t necessarily reduce the volume of your tinnitus, but it can help you to cope far more effectively in a moment of suffering. It will take practice, but over time, this technique becomes more and more powerful.
Plus, if you’re actively working to habituate, distractions, masking, and relaxation techniques become more than simple coping tools. Because the more relaxed you are, more of the time, the faster you will be able to stop reacting to the sound emotionally.
4) Preventative coping
For some reason, when people are bothered by tinnitus, they often find it difficult to get up and actually use the tools that help them better cope.
For example, sound masking is a simple way to cope with difficult tinnitus moments. Just put on some background noise. Easy, right? Well maybe not, because you won’t always think to do it right away.
Remember, this is an emotional problem. If you’re having obsessive thoughts, can’t stop focusing on the sound, or even if you’re just having a difficult moment, you’re caught up in an intensely negative emotional experience. You’re reacting to the sound automatically and acting out the behavioral patterns of the vicious cycle on auto pilot.
Becoming aware that it’s happening, and mindful enough to actually make a conscious decision to do something about it, is a much bigger challenge than most people realize. But you can make it a lot easier with a simple strategy I call preventative coping.
All you have to do is practice using the coping tools that help you deal with tinnitus, every day, even when your tinnitus isn’t bothering you. The repetition makes it far more likely that you’ll remember to actually use the tools and techniques that help you when you need them most.
Just to give you an idea, here are some of the helpful coping tools I recommend practicing on a regular basis:
- Sound masking / Music
- Relaxation Audio (from my Tinnitus Relief Audio Program)
- Tinnitus Focused Meditation (the basis of my habituation strategy)
- Relaxing activities and fun hobbies
- Spending time with friends and family
- Breathing techniques (especially the Quick Coherence Breathing technique)
- The Tinnitus Reaction Technique (See Step 4)
- Physically relaxing activities (hot baths, saunas, self-massage, etc.)
5) Use helpful routines to prevent morning rumination:
Mornings are often a difficult time for tinnitus sufferers. When you wake up and the first thing you hear is the sound, negative thoughts can quickly bubble up to the surface.
It’s also hard to sleep with tinnitus. You may be waking up early in the morning – earlier than you wanted to wake up. A lot people end up tossing and turning in bed, thinking negative thoughts and ruminating over the sound.
The easiest way to deal with this is to plan out the first 20 minutes of your morning routine. When you wake up (even if it’s early) get out of bed right away and put on some music, background noise, or better yet, an inspirational podcast or entertaining radio show. And once you’re up, start your morning routine immediately. Don’t even give your brain the chance to start ruminating or thinking negative thoughts.
This technique won’t prevent rumination later in the day, but it will help you start the day off on the right foot. The less you ruminate throughout the day, the better off you’ll be.
The compulsion to constantly focus on the sound is a frustratingly difficult challenge for many tinnitus sufferers. Even if you’ve started to habituate, the smallest fluctuation or spike can often bring you right back to the sound.
At times, the obsessive thinking and rumination can be worse than the tinnitus itself.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, at least not forever. You can build resilience by learning to stop these negative thought patterns in their tracks. And as a result, you can improve your quality of life and accelerate the process of habituation.
Until there’s a cure for tinnitus, that’s what matters most.
Fantastic A real solution and understanding
Thanks Wendy! I’m just glad you found it helpful!
Thank you and god bless
I’m been trying to learn about tinnitus since mine started back in June of 2016.
Thanks Glenn for putting together so much useful information on this.
A good one. thank oyu
I just read your book. You have given me hope. This tinnitus of mine came about one morning three weeks ago. I went to an audiologist twice to have my hearing evaluated. Everything is fine. Went to an Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor twice, and they are baffled. My tinnitus sounds like cicadas in the summertime. Very loud. Since reading your book, you have given my life back, and I am forever grateful. I strongly feel that I will habituate, and I am using the meditation techniques that you have provided. Thank you….you have given me hope.
I read your book and it made so much sense to me.
I have been doing the meditation and have found relief as well as
Relaxing. I do know that tMy tinnitus does change its sounds, intensity at times
So glad to have theses tools to help when it does. Have had tinnitus for over 3 years now
And am thankful for your book and information
Hi Cyndi, I’m so glad to hear that my meditation techniques have helped your tinnitus, especially considering it changes in sound and intensity, which is obviously a much bigger challenge. I’ve seen these techniques help people to habituate who experience multiple sounds/fluctuating sounds many times, it just sometimes takes a bit longer. Thanks again for sharing this! If you ever have any questions, I’m always around: email@example.com
Thank you, Glenn, for your good, peaceful postings. I’ve had tinnitus for nearly two years, and I’m pretty sure that it dug in because I was in obsessive, freak-out mode for the first six months–including Googling!–and I think this may have helped the tinnitus carve itself into my brain and become chronic. I’ve been meditating every day for a long time now, using the techniques I’ve learned from Jennifer Gans, you, and others, and this has helped (though I haven’t fully habituated). For a long time now I’ve tried to avoid Googling, though I do enjoy UPBEAT postings–postings that present hope rather than hopelessness. That’s why I always open and read your posts; I know that you’ll provide good news rather than despair. Many thanks for that!
You’re welcome John! And I’m glad the meditations have started to help you! I appreciate the kind words.
I have extreme buzzing have depression and feel i have rumination feel dreadful also have bad cataracts that are making me feel totally terrible and terrible thoughts and fears
This article struck me like a lightning bolt. I was in the middle of a particularly bad obsession session (as I’ve taken to calling the times when I can’t stop thinking about the tinnitus) when I finally decided to stop searching for causes and medical treatments and try googling, literally, “how to stop thinking about my tinnitus”. Nearly every sentence in this article fit my experience and was exactly what I needed to hear. I was almost immediately able to stop obsessing and get back to work, and over the following week I was so successful at not worrying about the tinnitus that I barely even heard it, except in the quietest rooms. This was only days after I had held my head in my hands, wailing to my fiancee, “It’s just so loud! And so constant!” I went from that fit of despair into this great relief, just weeks before my wedding and honeymoon, during which my tinnitus barely bothered me at all.
Despite my success, I decided to keep an appointment I had made with a specialist, and when I told my story, she was very pleased to hear what I’d learned, saying it was exactly what they teach as part of their tinnitus retraining therapy. She had me send her this article so she can share it with her other patients.
I know that everybody’s situation is different and the effectiveness of certain advice will vary from person to person, but this article was spot-on for me. The scientifically-plausible connection between fear and perception was particularly helpful to learn about. (A piece by Neil Bauman called “Don’t Focus On Your Tinnitus” paired nicely with this one to send this point home for me.) I had already understood that stressing over it would make the tinnitus worse, but the extent to which this is true has astounded me. And having your technique in my pocket and your book and app available give me hope that when I waver again I’ll be able to recover quickly, even when my usual approach of thinking my way out has failed.
Thank you so, so much.
You’re welcome! So glad to hear this post helped you so much Sean! I’ll let you in on a little secret too – I’m currently working on a guided audio version of the tinnitus reaction technique described in this post that will feature background noise to mask the tinnitus and brainwave entrainment engineered to put you in a state of relaxation automatically to start the coping process! Initial reports back from my testers have been incredibly positive and the final tracks should be ready in the next week or two!
I have extreme tinnitus by accidently overdosing on Maeng da Kratom (a high power stimulent) a few weeks ago — I could feel it burning into my brain and causing damage — the tinnitus is very intense I did not sleep all night. (still have trouble sleeping) Its always present — any ideas as to how to cope? Have you worked with anyone with this?
Hi Phil, send me an email at glenn@rewiringtinnitus explaining more about your situation and I will email you a bunch of coping techniques and strategies!
Glenn this an outstanding article. Keep up the great work. You are a blessing.
Glen, I have read your book and it’s excellent, though I have yet to commit to meditating. Based on my own personal experience, though, I have to concur with you on the emotional aspects of tinnitus. I began to habituate to once I came to grips with the fear, and I experienced a few mornings of absolutely no spurious sounds in my head, and many quiet days where I had to think about tinnitus to realize it was there at all.
Unfortunately, my tinnitus has returned on a consistent basis, most likely because of stress: I have just retired after 39 years with one company. It’s a long story, it hasn’t been easy, but things are starting to come together now. As they do, I hope to re-habituate, and even more completely than before. Thanks to you and all the wonderful, knowledgeable people in the field, I believe I will find peace. And I may start meditating, too. Thank you.