Mindfulness is a way of approaching each moment by focusing one’s attention and purposefully living in the moment as a way of relieving physical and emotional pain. This is not a new idea. Rather, mindfulness is a 2,500 year-old practice that is experiencing a resurgence, in part because of recent scientific findings that substantiate its myriad healing benefits.
A growing body of research has shown the efficacy of mindfulness-based approaches in managing chronic pain, sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and long list of other health maladies. My own research suggests that mindfulness can also be particularly useful in managing tinnitus.
I first learned about mindfulness as a pain management tool when I was a clinical psychologist and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. After seeing the positive impact it had with other conditions, I wanted to study the impact of mindfulness therapy in changing a person’s relationship with bothersome tinnitus. With several colleagues, I organized a pilot study in which eight tinnitus patients received eight weeks of Mindfulness Based Tinnitus Street Reduction (MBTSR).
The results of this study were stunning. We found that mindfulness therapy greatly reduces the perceived burden and handicap of tinnitus. What’s more, the benefits were enduring, with improvement lasting through the end of the 12-month study window. In addition to a decrease in tinnitus burden, depression and anxiety scores went down and quality of life scores went up after program completion.
So what is mindfulness and how does it improve a person’s perception of tinnitus? Mindfulness is a way of approaching each and every moment that arises with a “special” kind of awareness. By “special” I mean not just an ordinary awareness but rather full consciousness of immediate experience, approached with curiosity, acceptance, openness to whatever arises, and a gentle self-compassion toward one’s self.
Tinnitus patients often try to avoid awareness as a way to ignore the ringing in their ears. This works for some, but it also closes people off from living a full, unencumbered life. Mindfulness teaches that we can benefit by fully embracing our experience with tinnitus. By leaning into our tinnitus, we can break through to a better, fuller experience. Mindfulness also helps relieve the anger and apathy that so many tinnitus patients experience.