One question I hear a lot is, “How long does it take to habituate?”
Everyone I’ve ever worked with on an individual basis asks something along these lines.
It’s an important question, and unfortunately, the answer varies wildly from person to person, depending on several factors:
- How loud the tinnitus seems
- How bothersome/intrusive it is
- Level of emotional suffering, stress, and anxiety
- Possible underlying medical issues that may be exacerbating your tinnitus, or even causing it in the first place
- Your treatment strategy
Stay with me to the end, because I am going to answer the question. But first, I need to explain a little bit more about what it feels like to habituate, and take a closer look at the various stages of relief you will likely experience as you go through the process.
What is Habituation?
For many tinnitus sufferers, habituation occurs naturally over time, but this is not the case for everyone. It’s possible to suffer for years with no sign of habituation in sight.
The good news is that you don’t have to just wait and hope for the best. Even if you don’t know what caused your tinnitus, or if the cause is untreatable, it’s possible to actively retrain the brain to be less bothered by sound.
This typically involves changing the way you react to the sound emotionally by leveraging the principles of neuroplasticity. You see, when tinnitus is bothersome, the brain is perceiving the sound as something dangerous, threatening, or annoying, and that prevents habituation.
The problem is that our brains can’t tell the difference between real danger and an imagined threat like tinnitus, so our reaction is the same. We have a stress response, and it doesn’t end because the tinnitus doesn’t just go away.
But we can give the brain a new experience to associate with the sound. And over time, with repetition, we can stop reacting emotionally, and start tuning it out, more and more of the time.
I accomplished this with a form of tinnitus focused meditation, but it’s not the only way. If you want to learn more about how I habituated, I’ve included several links at the bottom of this post.
Habituation doesn’t happen all at once:
Regardless of what strategy you decide to use, it’s important to understand that habituation doesn’t happen all at once.
You won’t wake up one day, and suddenly find that your tinnitus has stopped bothering you. It’s a progression, and it’s not linear. Every day will not be better than the day before.
Spikes and fluctuations can and will still occur throughout the entire process, and at times, it can feel like you’ve taken three steps forward and two steps back.
So rather than constantly assessing how loud it is, it’s better to think of progress in terms of improving quality of life. If you are more productive at work, more relaxed at home, sleeping better, and doing more the things that you enjoy – that’s what really matters. If the overall trend is showing an increasing quality of life, you know you’re on the right track.
First Stages of Relief:
Now the question is, “What are the various stages of habituation, and what you can expect to experience along the way?”
Let’s start with the worst possible case of suffering – a person whose tinnitus is extremely loud, extremely bothersome, and causing terrible anxiety, panic, and emotional chaos.
It’s a difficult existence, and I know that many you are experiencing this right now. In severe cases of tinnitus, the person is essentially in a constant state of crisis, affecting every aspect of their daily life.
For someone suffering this much, the first sign of progress occurs when they cross over what I refer to as the crisis point. In other words, they have improved to the point at which they are no longer in a constant state of crisis. Think of this as the first mile marker on the path to habituation.
The 4 Levels of Habituation:
(The following is not based on an official or recognized understanding of habituation, but on my own experience, and what I’ve witnessed in others. Keep in mind that your own experience may vary.)
Level 1: A person who reaches this point can still hear the sound of their tinnitus but it stops affecting them so much emotionally. Anxiety levels go down, the sound becomes less intrusive, and is more easily tolerated as they go about their day. Quality of life improves significantly, but spikes are still challenging. Relief is not constant at this point.
Level 2: Tinnitus is much less bothersome, and the brain can tune it out most of the time. The sound is still there, but it seems much quieter, and as a result, it’s much easier to tolerate. At this point, a person can expect to have far more good days than bad days. And while spikes still occur, they are not as problematic.
Level 3: At this point, your tinnitus stops bothering you entirely. Your brain will effectively tune out the sound automatically, more or less all of the time. And when you do hear it, it won’t bother you at all. If you experience a spike at this point, it’s easily managed. This is what it’s like for me – my tinnitus isn’t a problem for me at all anymore. Though, by many reports, there is another level past what I’ve achieved.
Level 4: Tinnitus appears to be gone. The brain effectively filters the sound out of existence. This is as close to a cure as you can possibly achieve. People report this anecdotally, however from what I can tell, it’s very uncommon.
How long will it take to find relief?
So, how long does it take to habituate?
In addition to all the factors I mentioned before, it depends on how much relief you’re looking for. I’ve seen countless people achieve the first level of habituation with my meditation approach in as little as 2-4 weeks. And for most people, this equates to a massive improvement in quality of life.
But I’ve seen it take longer too. In more severe cases, I’ve seen it take more than twice as long, with the person working hard every single day to make the change.
The bottom line is that it takes time and commitment to make these changes and new associations in your brain. Most approaches require a daily practice to work, and without discipline, they won’t work at all. I’ve seen this happen, too.
But it’s possible, and with the right approach, it’s most likely easier than you thought, at least to reach the first levels of habituation.
I know this wasn’t a perfect answer, but hopefully I’ve inspired you to begin the process of habituation, one way or another. Because relief is closer than you can imagine.
Additional Links and Resources:
Tinnitus Meditation: A Practical Guide to Find Relief: An overview of my meditation approach to tinnitus and a tool to make it easier (and much more effective).
A Message of Hope for Tinnitus Sufferers: This video is a presentation I gave on behalf of the Hearing Loss Association of America. It includes a detailed explanation of tinnitus, habituation, my personal trials and tribulations, and my ultimate success in finding relief.
Treating Tinnitus – It’s Not About the Noise: A great overview of how I found relief from tinnitus.
Rewiring Tinnitus: How I Finally Found Relief from the Ringing in My Ears – My entire journey with tinnitus, from torture to relief, packaged in a clear and concise format for you to replicate my results.
I appreciate the knowledge that you put forth and I received earlier your rewiring tinnitus information email. Since I was also recently diagnosed with hearing loss in both ears and have tinnitus( sometimes they go hand in hand) and I now wear hearing aids, will your habitation process be hopefully helpful to me.
Thank you Glenn. I am a new tinnitus sufferer. 5 weeks now. I have read your Rewiring book and been listening to your meditation audio and have found both very helpful. I have been searching the log as well but can not find any guidance on how often one should use the meditation audio. Is it a more the better kind of thing? Thanks again
Hi David, happy to help here! Generally speaking, if you’ve been meditating successfully for a period of time already, I’ve found that 15 minutes twice per day is a great sweet spot. You can do more than this, but it isn’t always necessary. I’m happy to offer you more specific advice though – just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with more details on your situation and I can send you more suggestions!
It was a relief to read about your progress. I’ve had tinnitus for around 3 weeks and the quality of life did take a huge dip. Sometimes I think I’ve had tinnitus all my life but never noticed it. Do you think that could be possible? Someone living 30 years of his life without paying attention to his tinnitus and suddenly noticing it one day.
The spikes are hard to manage and I am anxious most of the time. Thinking about resting, bathing, sex or anything that might cause a spike makes me anxious. I have started avoiding them for the same reason. Sometimes I feel the tinnitus is quiet and then it comes back again.
Do you think this is normal? I’d love to hear from you.
I am in the middle of habituation. It took me a month to reach the level 2. Now tinnitus is no longer catastrophe, but just annoying sound. Habituation started at the point that I accepted the tinnitus is possibly forever and there is no cure. Up to the point, I was panicing and rushing to different clinics. Medical treatment had so
minor effect. I stopped hyperactive treating and started to return to the normal life. As I cleaned the distorted thoughts the habituation is started in a very rapid pace. I did not expect it will be so fast, without any medicals. The key point for me was acceptance, I accepted I cannot cure tinnitus. What I changed, it is my attitude to it. I no longer react emotionally. If tinnitus wants to live in my brain and whisle, ok let it live and whisle.
My own experience with habituation is that it took 2 years for the noise to become “background” & “neutral”.