In part one of this series, I talked a little bit about tinnitus, and how the only question that really matters is: “Does it bother you?”
I argued that the noise itself isn’t even really the problem you should be focusing on because you can’t control the noise.
The real problem is our reaction to the sound. Our brains are fully capable of eliminating annoying background noise from our conscious awareness with a mental process called habituation.
But when our tinnitus is bothering us, our brain is interpreting the noise as something annoying, dangerous or threatening, which prevents us from tuning it out because we would never want to not hear the sound of something actually dangerous. But unfortunately, our brains can’t tell the difference between an imagined threat like tinnitus and real danger, so our reaction ends up being the same.
Luckily, the one thing that we actually have the power to change is the very thing that prevents us from habituating and finding relief. We can change our reaction to the sound and when we do, we can start to tune it out naturally.
So the question is how exactly do we change our reaction to the sound when it happens automatically?
Changing your emotional reaction:
Most people’s first instinct is to try to drown it out with background noise. Tinnitus always seems louder when it’s quiet, and ambient noise can help you cope.
But it doesn’t directly address that fundamental issue, our negative emotional reaction to the sound, that prevents us from habituating in the first place.
At its core, sound masking is just a way to try to ignore the problem. But serious problems don’t just go away when we ignore them. I’ve never “ignored away” a problem in my entire life.
Though I should admit, I say this all in hindsight. I didn’t habituate intentionally, at least not at first. I stumbled into it accidentally as I struggled to meditate over the sound of the ringing.
At the time, my tinnitus was bad and getting worse every day. I had meditated daily for a long time at this point, but my meditation practice was really starting to suffer. It was getting harder and harder to focus on my breathing with the sound of sirens constantly blasting in my ears.
But at some point, I was lying in bed, trying to ignore the noise and meditate, when I suddenly had an idea. If meditation was the practice focusing my attention onto a single point of awareness, like my breathing, what would happen if I focused on my tinnitus instead?
It felt like a bad idea. But it made me so curious that I tried it anyways and it changed everything.
Tinnitus: A relaxing sound?
The first breakthrough happened almost immediately.
You see, when you meditate, your mind eventually starts to wander. It happens to everyone, especially when you’re new to meditation. But it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Catching yourself when your mind wanders and bringing your focus back, starting over, is the actual exercise of meditation.
But this time, when my mind wandered, it wandered away from the sound, and for that brief moment, my tinnitus hadn’t bothered me at all. I barely even noticed it. It was an amazing realization.
So I continued to meditate, focusing on the sound, I started to feel more and more relaxed. I was fairly experienced with meditation at this point, and when I stopped fighting to ignore the sound, I was able to meditate much more deeply.
But the most surprising thing of all, was that when I finished, my tinnitus seemed quieter. It wasn’t actually quieter, it just wasn’t bothering me as much, so it didn’t seem as loud. I couldn’t believe it.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but my brain was starting to associate the deep relaxation of mediation with the sound of my tinnitus and changing my response to the sound.
And over the following few weeks, I was not only able to completely habituate to the sound of my tinnitus, but I discovered a ton of other ways to speed up the process and improve my quality of life even more.
And that’s why I started Rewiring Tinnitus, and wrote my new book: to share what I found with the world. So I’ve included links to some of these techniques in the video description below.
And I’m happy to announce that my book, Rewiring Tinnitus: How I Finally Found relief from the Ringing in My Ears, is finally available on Amazon!