“The sudden noise sent a shockwave through my brain and jolted me out of my TV trance. It sounded like sirens, several of them, blaring over a gust of wind, and caused a terrible pressure to build in my ears. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.” – Glenn Schweitzer
When I first read about a case of Tinnitus leading someone to counseling, I instantly felt like a rookie counseling intern again. "What on earth is Tinnitus?," I thought. "I have taken 80% of my Master’s classes and I have never heard this word before; how did I miss this?" Tinnitus is a medical condition that can be treated utilizing different techniques learned through counseling. Phew, this was simply a learning opportunity for me, more of a zebras over horses type situation for those of you that are familiar with that analogy!
Tinnitus put simply is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself – it’s a symptom of an underlying condition such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury, or a circulatory system disorder. So why do I feel as a counselor that it’s important to write to you about Tinnitus? About 1 in 5 people will suffer from Tinnitus in their lifetime, which adds up to 45 million Americans. That also means that 20% of the people that read this article will suffer from Tinnitus, and that is a big number!
For most diagnosed with Tinnitus, including Glenn Schweitzer author of Rewiring Tinnitus, the condition is not curable. There is no magical pill or treatment to make this condition go away. While that may be a devastating prognosis, don’t lose hope quite yet, by utilizing simple techniques that rewire your mental, emotional, and physiological response to sound, you can get to a point where Tinnitus no longer disrupts your daily life! This is where a counselor can come in.
One of the techniques that Glenn shares with us in his book it the use of meditation. There are many ways that meditation can benefit the tolerance of Tinnitus and they’re not limited to just the noise from Tinnitus itself! If you have ever experienced Tinnitus my guess is that you have also experienced frustration and irritability. I don’t blame you, a constant buzzing, hissing, or ringing in my ear would most definitely bring up some negative emotions within me. Fortunately for us, meditation has been founded to manage these negative feelings that accompany the noise. But wait, there’s even more evidence as to why meditation can empower your fight against Tinnitus.
“Our brains are fully capable of filtering out repetitive stimuli, like sound, from our conscious awareness with a mental process known as habituation. It’s how we’re able to focus in noisy places and why we don’t constantly feel our clothing against our skin,” explains Glenn. This practice is key to living with tinnitus, but unfortunately sometimes it is just simply impossible to ignore a sound that our brains interpret as threatening or dangerous. You see, when experiencing the noise from Tinnitus, our brains automatically kick into fight or flight mode and all of our senses are then pushed into hyper drive. Since sound is one of our five senses, our sensitivity for sound is also kicked into hyper drive making the noise from Tinnitus seem even louder and more intense than the normal sound would be.
In his book, Glenn explains the night where he suddenly decided to stop ignoring the urge to fight his tinnitus, and curiously began focusing on the ringing instead. Through this practice of meditation Glenn began to focus on the sound itself and nothing else. Now as every beginner learns with meditation, your mind will start to wander, but as his mind began to wander he realized that for that brief moment, he hadn’t noticed his Tinnitus. The more that Glenn practiced meditation and focused on the sound in a calm and peaceful setting, the more that his brain began to associate the intense calm of meditation with the sound of his tinnitus. As with any form of meditation, the more that you practice it, the more natural it becomes for your body. For tinnitus sufferers that practice meditation regularly, the more that they can continue to associate calm with their Tinnitus, the less intense the sound becomes for them; and ultimately the less disruptive their Tinnitus becomes. Wow. Meditation is such a versatile concept!
There may not be a cure for Tinnitus, but there are definitely ways to change the way that you react to the sound which in return can dramatically improve the quality of your life.
Sometimes we face incredibly daunting medical prognoses and feel there are no answers to make these fathomable, but sometimes we simply need to open our minds to alternative forms of medicine like meditation to help us through our journey! It may not be the cure, but it could definitely be the key to a little more joy in every day.