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How to Beat Noise Sensitivity

How to Beat Noise Sensitivity

Are you irritated by certain loud noises? If you find yourself getting anxious and jittery for a prolonged duration of time after hearing loud noises, then you could be suffering from noise sensitivity. People suffering from this condition will also find it difficult to block certain sounds, particularly repetitive ones.

Noise sensitivity is so much more than just being able to hear things better than other people; it is more of an anxiety and a negative feeling towards a particular sound. Have you ever known someone who was completely aware and enraged by a particular sound in your house that you never noticed? Such as a tap dripping or fan squeaking? If they can constantly notice a sound and get extremely irritated by it, and the average person does not even think twice about it, then chances are that they have sensitivity to that noise. Other people may be able to hear it also, but just simply are not bothered by it.  But a person suffering from noise sensitivity will be outraged by it and act in various irrational ways to that sound.

Another example is if you are sitting on a train and you are constantly bothered by a person clearing their throat. You may wonder why nobody else is getting visibly annoyed, after all to you it is the single most irritating sound you have ever heard and if they do it one more time, you will end up doing something extreme. This is noise sensitivity. Put simply, noise sensitivity in this sense, also known as misophonia, is a dislike of noises – often a particular, single noise. It is not a dislike of noise in general, rather the finding of a particular sound to be overly irritating and bothersome.

Noise sensitivity is more than just a slight irritation – it can really make life unbearable. It can mean that you need to adjust your lifestyle in order to avoid a particular sound which can be difficult in a lot of situations such as when you are on a flight or live in close quarters where you just have to listen to a particular irritating noise. People have quit jobs, moved house and left their partners because of noise sensitivity. Sometimes, for someone suffering from Misophonia, being alone or unemployed is significantly easier and more enjoyable than having to listen to the sound of someone’s heavy breathing every day.

So what can you do about it? It is not reasonable to expect to adjust your lifestyle around your sensitivity – how will you be able to keep a job or a partner? You need to be able to overcome your noise sensitivity, and luckily for you there is a way.

Anxiety and noise sensitivity

In order to overcome noise sensitivity, you need to understand it. As mentioned previously, it is so much more than just a hatred or dislike of noise – it is an anxiety disorder or a malfunctioning of the brain that creates a strong distaste for particular noises. The reason why a particular sound gets under your skin so much more than other people is not that your ears work better or that you are physically different in any way – rather you suffer from anxiety and that sound is the trigger for your social anxiety. Not all noise sensitivities are brought on from anxiety, but many are. And if you want to overcome it, then you will need to distinguish between sensitivities from anxiety and those from others causes. 

Overcoming anxiety noise sensitivity

If you work out that your sensitivity is from anxiety, then there are some simple steps that you can take to overcome it. You need to pay attention to how you feel when you are bothered by the sound. Think of emotions other than those directly caused by the sound. Sadness, loneliness, general negativity? And the frequency – is it every time you hear it or does it only bother you only a few times? For example if it is the sound of plumbing in the bathroom, does it grind your gears every time you go near the bathroom, or is it only at certain times – say when you have a fight with your partner? Or when you are worried about work? Fixing the noise will only be a short term solution. Unless the anxiety itself is overcome, your brain will choose a new sound to focus on. So work on fixing the source of the anxiety and you will find that you will no longer be irritated by the smallest sounds.

Selective hearing

Although anxiety is a major trigger for noise sensitivities, this is not always going to be the case. Sometimes the problem is selective hearing – and we don’t mean in the same way as a husband only hears what he wants to hear when his wife is talking. You may notice that you can be sitting reading a book while the TV is on in the background. You can hear the sound of the TV, but you are not listening to every sound. Then you hear your name and suddenly your ears prick up. This is selective hearing – your brain focuses on a particular sound and ignores everything that it deems to be unnecessary or unimportant. So if you are constantly annoyed by a leaky tap or the sound of someone’s shoes squeaking, then it is not that other people aren’t hearing it, but you may be the only person who is listening to it. And focusing on an annoying sound for a period of time is going to get extremely irritating. 

Overcoming selective hearing

If your noise sensitivity is from the fact that you cannot seem to help but to pay close attention to a particular sound, then the only way to overcome it is to change the focus. You need to do this consciously as your brain will be so in tuned with listening for a particular sound that it will search for it. So you need to actively make an effort of training your brain to instead focus on a different, less annoying sound. If you are getting annoyed by someone breathing or coughing on a train, then focus on the sound of the engine. Even using another sense like sight (by staring at a spot on the wall) can take away the focus from the sound. After a while, you will essentially re-tune your hearing and train your brain to ignore the annoying sound, just like everybody else. 

Using Hypnosis

Hypnosis might not appeal with some people but it has been proven to work with some psychological or anxiety disorders. You can book sessions with a hypnotherapist and through the sessions, you will discover the cues that can help you block those noises that trigger your misophonia. After few sessions, you should be able to apply these practically and learn to live your life normally again.

Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.