The year 2020 has not been a kind one to those with tinnitus: constant stress and anxiety, worrying if you’re going to contract COVID-19; social isolation because of the quarantine; financial hardship if you lost your job; the fear caused by news reports of upticks, surges and rising Covid cases; the physical and mental ramifications of not being able to exercise at the gym; and to top it off, 2020 election anxiety.
As if all these concerns weren’t enough, let’s add fuel to the fire: recent reports suggest that the novel coronavirus can cause tinnitus or make it worse.
With all these stressors, managing anxiety has never been more important for the tinnitus sufferer.
Here are some of the best ways to manage stress:
It’s one thing to practice meditation and breathing exercises in a peaceful environment, say, by a lake, ocean or somewhere else in nature. But let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario in which you’re not immersed in a peaceful environment. Let’s say you’re at the supermarket. You’re in a rush to do your shopping because you need to get to an appointment and you’re already running a bit late. Your stress hormone, cortisol, is pumping throughout your bloodstream, shunting the blood flow from your digestion to your muscles and vital organs. (This is one reason why those with chronic stress tend to put on weight; excess stress inhibits digestion.)
Because you’re under stress, a tinnitus episode is imminent. And to make matters worse, a shopper not wearing a mask is walking down the aisle straight towards you. Seconds later the unmasked shopper parks the cart right next to yours. Fear floods your brain; this unmasked shopper could be asymptomatic and could be contagious.
So what do you do at this point? It’s not like you can lie down in the aisle and meditate. Perhaps not. But what you can do is practice deep breathing while you are shopping, or doing anything else for that matter.
All it takes is conscious effort on your part. Because of constant stress and overthinking, we typically hold our breath for much of the day. Consequently, shallow breathing can damage your health. With this in mind, even while you’re pushing your shopping cart, take long, deep breaths in and out through your nose. As you inhale, make a concerted effort to expand your belly as well as your lungs. It’s not easy but with practice, you’ll get better. On the exhale, also breathe out through your nose and deflate your belly and chest. Aim for 4-5 seconds on each cycle of breath. You can pause for a second or two in between inhale/exhale cycles.
Ultimately, your mind will sabotage your deep breathing. For instance, you’ll need to pull out your shopping list, and while looking over the list, your breathing will likely resort back to shallow, or even worse: holding your breath.
Bring yourself back to the present and as soon you’re done focusing on your list, resume deep breathing. With practice, you’ll be able to master deep breathing even when engaged in a mental task such as processing a grocery list.
Numerous studies provide evidence that deep breathing is a highly-effective tool for managing anxiety. And because anxiety is a frequent trigger for tinnitus, if you manage anxiety, you’ll likely experience less episodes of tinnitus.
An effective strategy for eliminating tortuous tinnitus sounds is using a masking device. Masking devices include table-top sound machines, wearable devices, hearing aids as well as pillows, to name a few.
However, even if you successfully mask the tinnitus with one of these devices, do not forget to practice deep breathing daily and throughout the day. You will likely need to experiment with a few different masking devices before figuring out which one best works for you. For one person, listening to the calming sound of a babbling brook may be effective, while for somebody else, white noise is the winner. Moreover, the best masking noise may change from day to day. For this reason, you may want to invest in more than one masking device.
Reduce Your News Consumption
You’re well aware of the fact that corporate media makes more money by selling fear. However, you feel it’s your duty to be a well-informed citizen. So you continue to watch the news even though consumption of media contributes to your anxiety. With this in mind, what do you do? Should you be the proverbial ostrich with your head buried in the sand? Why not? Go ahead and give it a try for one-day only. Consider it a news detox. Just like a brief veggie-juice diet can help detoxify the body, a news detox can lift your spirits.
Instead of listening to the news while driving in your car, tune in to a podcast to learn something new. Or listen to a sketch-comedy routine. Not following the news won’t necessarily make you ignorant. If after a brief news detox, you feel like you must know what’s going on in the world, try taking only a cursory, brief glance at your phone to scan news headlines. You can limit your consumption to one news story per day.
By banning news from your daily life, especially from your before-bedtime-routine, you’ll be amazed by how much your stress and anxiety can be reduced. Focus on the things you have control of in your life and stop fretting over things you have no control over such as the election, the economy and the pandemic.