Two things that we know for certain about tinnitus (and hyperacusis) is that stress increases tinnitus bother and relaxation decreases tinnitus bother. Studies conducted with 8-week Mindfulness-Based programs have shown evidence of a decrease in cortisol levels in subjects. Cortisol is a hormone excreted by the adrenal gland in response to stress. While it can be life-saving in short bursts when threat exists, it can also act as a poison to body tissue and brain functioning when it is left to circulate in the system when no real danger is present. This excess of cortisol circulating in the organs and brain tissue of the person with tinnitus can lead to breakdown in key brain areas needed for appraising tinnitus more accurately.
Awareness of our brain’s habitual mis-appraisal of the tinnitus sound stimulus is the tool that we use to slow down an automatic knee-jerk reaction. Awareness gives us time to pause, and make space for planning and executing a more appropriate response to whatever we are faced with in the moment.
Stress, on the other hand, is the very thing that speeds up a reaction, oftentimes, eliminating our ability and flexibility to choose a more life-affirming and well-thought-out response. A reduction in stress and a building up of awareness helps us to change an automatic ‘reaction’ to tinnitus into a more thoughtful adaptive ‘response’.
A reduction in stress paves the way to cognitive, emotional, biological, and behavioral shifts working synergistically to facilitate relief. Stress reduction is a critical piece in giving a person the space to re-perceive tinnitus sensation in a new more adaptive way. A mindfulness approach to tinnitus/hyperacusis recognizes the importance of stress reduction in un-learning old habits and creating new adaptive responses to the tinnitus sensation.