How many of you out there would say that you are “your own worst enemy”? If you answered “yes!” you are in good company. Our ‘inner critic’ with all of its judging, comparing, and striving can creep into everything we do, especially into how we relate to ourselves when we experience moments of bothersome tinnitus and hyperacusis. Left unchecked, our minds can go down some very dark tinnitus roads. You may catch yourself thinking such things as:
“I must have done something to deserve this.”
“How come I’m the only one I know that has tinnitus?”
“Bad things always happen to me.”
“I’m so weak. Why can’t I just be done with it?”
“Just my luck—I get tinnitus.”
“My tinnitus is back. Here’s proof that I’ll never get rid of this.”
“It’s my fault, I should have taken better care of my hearing when I was younger.”
And on and on the list goes…
We began this course emphasizing how we may bring curiosity, openness, acceptance, and compassion to our moment to moment experience with tinnitus. As you become more skilled in your practice, perhaps you begin to notice changes in how you not only relate to tinnitus, but how you relate to ‘your self’ as a whole. Do you catch your ‘inner critic’ being overly judgmental in some other area of your life? Perhaps you can bring awareness to the full gamut of these well-worn, destructive, mental habits? Perhaps you can bring awareness to how you might be comparing yourself (favorably or unfavorably) to others? Just the awareness itself of the mind’s habits is the tool that opens the door to changing a knee-jerk reaction into a ‘life-affirming’ response. As you bring radical awareness to the habits of the mind, you may begin to see a shift from being your ‘own worst enemy’ to being the kind-hearted and compassionate friend that is our best-self.
It is very common for a person who experiences tinnitus (hyperacusis) to react to this very unpleasant sensation with feelings of Anger, Blame, and Fear. While these feelings can be intense and feel destructive they are also very normal reactions to feeling that something has been taken away, before we are ready to let go. In the case of tinnitus, what is often experienced as being taken away, is silence. Perhaps you feel anger that you had never been warned of the dangers of exposure to loud and persistent noise over time in the work place, perhaps you blame yourself, perhaps you are angry at our medical system for not having yet found a cure, maybe you are fearful of what life may be like in the future should the tinnitus not go away.
While these feelings can be very intense and uncomfortable, if they are there for you, try to allow them be there. Challenge yourself to acknowledge them with curiosity, openness, acceptance and compassion for yourself. It is important to address them in order to diffuse their intensity. This is especially the case if we feel that something or someone had a direct hand in causing the tinnitus discomfort.
While practicing, if any of these normal (but often uncomfortable) feelings come up, simply acknowledge that they are there in this particular moment. Start to notice where in your body you might be experiencing these feelings. For example, anger can feel like a lump or pressure in the throat. Fear can often be felt deep within the chest. Wherever the feeling arises for you, just notice it. No need to try to change the feeling or make efforts to push it away. Challenge yourself to just be there with it. Observe it without judgment and see how it changes in intensity.
If during or after completing this course, you continue to feel intense feelings of anger, blame, and fear, it is recommended that you seek in-person professional help from a counselor to address these very normal but very difficult emotions to wrestle with.
For more information go to MindfulTinnitusRelief.com to begin healing.
A question that is often asked around the second week of the MindfulTinnitusRelief.com course is “Isn’t it just best to try to ignore the tinnitus?” This is really a great question. I am a big fan of ignoring something bothersome; if you can. The problem we have so often with tinnitus (and many other bodily bothers) is that sometimes we just can’t push it away no matter how hard we try. It may seem simple to ignore the ringing when we are engaged in an activity that we enjoy. But all bets are off if we awaken in the middle of the night without the distractions of daytime activity. That is where mindfulness comes in—it helps us to experience the moment to moment unpleasantness of the ringing without needing to escape it. What we find is that when we “move into” the tinnitus sensation (without all of the stories, fears, and expectations our mind tends to create around it) we realize that we can handle it in that moment and we notice the impermanence of the sensation—nothing lasts forever and in that moment we practice just being with the unpleasantness. It takes a ‘simple’ but ‘not an easy’ shift in perspective. The exercises in the course give you practice in just being with the tinnitus while bringing awareness to the stories our mind creates. Like learning any new skill for the first time, this may seem difficult at first. But keep practicing! You can certainly use tools (like a sound generator—noise machine) to help with the tinnitus intensity while you are meditating (this is encouraged if a sound generator helps you to relax).
Many people with tinnitus complain that they cannot concentrate the way they used to before tinnitus began. At its worst, people with tinnitus state that they have had to leave careers because their concentration difficulty has made their work responsibilities impossible to complete. That said, having concentration difficulty actually makes sense when we think about how attention and inattention is modulated in the brain.
Each person has a finite amount of “stuff” that they can attend to at any given moment. This varies greatly from person to person. But when your “attention limit is reached”, like a glass filled to the top with water, no more can fit in. With this finite capacity, it is helpful to bring awareness to what our attention is filled with. We can then monitor, appraise and manage where we choose to place our attention and prevent what might be hindering our concentration.
So how does this apply to tinnitus? Tinnitus can basically be an ‘attention suck’. Similar to chronic pain, the perception of tinnitus can be so unpleasant that there is no room to pay attention to anything else. Even when you try to ignore tinnitus it often stays in the back of your mind, screaming for attention, draining away all of your energy and concentration resources. This is where training your brain to see tinnitus for what it really is, a benign (albeit terribly unpleasant) body sensation, is so important. When tinnitus is no longer mis-perceived as a potential threat calling for attention and constant vigilance, the mind has more space and freedom to re-focus attention and concentrate on an area of your choosing. But like breaking any old habit, this new way of perceiving tinnitus takes practice.
In the 8-week MBTSR course you are given ample opportunity to practice bringing your attention to where YOU choose your attention to go. Each time your mind wanders (as it naturally will at times) during a Body Scan, Sitting Meditation, gentle Yoga pose, etc. you are presented with an opportunity–an opportunity to strengthen your mind’s ability to bring your attention right back to the object of focus of the meditation. Like a bicep flexed at the gym, the practice and repetition of shifting attention to something other than the tinnitus stimuli is strengthened. With this strengthening comes space and freedom to concentrate on things other than tinnitus, if you so choose. If your focus is on the moment’s tinnitus sensation, let that be a choice rather than a sentence.
The strengthening of the neural networks that allow the brain to shift attention on command, takes practice. Being able to concentrate on what YOU choose to concentrate on requires dedication. Throughout the 8-week program, you are presented with ample daily opportunities to give your concentration a workout. Go to MindfulTinnitusRelief.com to get started.
When Everyday Sounds are Just Too Loud!!!
Hyperacusis & Mindfulness: A Lesson in Healing
Firstly, what is hyperacusis? Hyperacusis is a condition where a person perceives everyday common sound(s) as being too loud and even painful. As many as 60% of people who experience tinnitus also experience hyperacusis! A person with hyperacusis may begin to notice that they avoid certain sound environments for fear of exposure to intolerable noise levels. This can be very limiting if the sound of a car horn, clanging dishes, children’s laughter, or a ambulance siren (and the list goes on) elicits pain and bother. All too often, it is the fear itself of being exposed to offending sounds that is enough to isolate a person from activities they used to enjoy. In reality, these everyday sounds do not cause damage to a person’s hearing, though they sure feel like they might. Rather it is a person’s erroneous belief that these noises may cause harm that is the real culprit and keeps us locked in a habit of reacting to everyday sounds with trepidation and fear.
For people with sound sensitivity (as is the case with tinnitus and hyperacusis) it is not the sound itself that is the problem but rather our knee-jerk reaction of fear and avoidance that maintains the unpleasant condition. Below is a link to an article that I wrote that explains what is happening in the brain of the person with tinnitus (and hyperacusis). It addresses the web of stories, predictions, and regrets that our mind habitually creates around even a neutral sound either from inside our heads (as is the case with tinnitus) or from the surrounding environment (the case with hyperacusis). The brain of the person with hyperacusis inadvertently creates the perception of increased volume and even pain.
GORDIAN KNOT: What is happening in the brain of the person with sound sensitivity disorder
The Mindfulness Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction (MBTSR) course is designed to aid the person with tinnitus as well as hyperacusis to address the habitual erroneous and magnified fear reaction when certain sounds are perceived. Through practicing skill building mindfulness exercises, the brain’s habit of false perception is interrupted replacing a fear reaction with calm and balance. Throughout the remainder of the course, you are encouraged to apply the mindfulness practice to both tinnitus and to hyperacusis reactions, if one or both exist for you. Through re-perceiving sound by bringing awareness to stories we create, relieving stress and calming false fears, the brain is opened up to new ways of wiring and firing towards a less bothersome and more adaptive approach to sound sensation.
The practice of mindfulness involves bringing radical awareness to the fear-based stories, regrets, and expectations the mind habitually assigns to sound perception (tinnitus and hyperacusis). Once awareness of the story’s creation is recognized, there is space to insert a more adaptive response; a response that is based on fact rather than fear.