Tinnitus is caused by a number of different reasons. Although it is unclear exactly what causes tinnitus, there are a number of leading contributors. These include sensorineural hearing loss, trauma, stress, or anything that is overwhelming. Stress related tinnitus symptoms might manifest at a time that is particularly stressful. Examples might include moving-house, a family bereavement or losing your job. A pertinent question to ask might be: can stress cause tinnitus? The answer is yes stress can cause tinnitus? So what is stress, why does stress cause tinnitus?
What is Stress?
When we encounter stress in our lives our brain and body respond to with hormones to help us deal with the stress. This is called the stress response.
Stress is a normal part of life and it fills a very important function in relation to survival. It is designed to help us cope with difficult situations. In the past this might have been an attack from a wild animal. Today however we don’t normally need to run away from wild animals. Even though we rarely encounter such threats our nervous systems still protects us from danger by activating the stress response.
Types of stress
We might experience stress as a result of external pressures. Stress might arise we cannot cope with the demands of our environment. Examples might include stress at work, stress as part of interpersonal family relationships or a traumatic experience like a physical accident. These types of as stress might trigger a stress response which affects us physically and psychologically. Physical stressors which place additional stress on the body and limit our ability to handle stress are caused by poor diet, poor sleep, allergic reactions of medical conditions.
Stress symptoms can be somatic, emotional or manifest in our behaviour. Somatic symptoms might include sleeping problems, fatigue and tiredness, muscle tension, tiredness and tinnitus.
Emotional stress symptoms are anxiety, irritability, nervousness and fluctuations in mood. Too much stress can also lead to depression.
Stress can manifest in the way we might behave. For example: we might make poor nutritional choices, over eat or under eat, lack motivation and energy or use substances to deal with the stress. Alcohol and smoking are often used. We may also take little exercise. There might be a move away from a positive, active healthy lifestyle.
Why Does Stress Cause Tinnitus?
Unfortunately, we can mobilise this stress response when we are exposed to a stressor that is not life threatening. Examples as previously highlighted might include anything that overwhelms us. An operation, feeling overtired, stressful interpersonal relationships or tinnitus. A number of people might begin to experience tinnitus after a time of stress. One of the reasons for this is that when our nervous system is mobilised our hearing function becomes more sensitive. The stress response is designed to help us combat danger. Our hearing function plays a crucial role in keeping us safe because it enables us to hear more acutely in a dangerous situation. This means we can hear the internal workings of the ear which is what tinnitus is. Unfortunately, this is not helpful for helping us deal with an everyday stressful situation. Tinnitus turns on and we can find ourselves in a tinnitus stress loop.
Another reason is that the nervous system has been on chugging away in the background for years. We might actually feel mainly alright with only the odd symptoms however we do not feel entirely relaxed. We might encounter a stressful situation like losing a job and tinnitus materialises. What we might forget is that the example which we think triggered tinnitus is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. What is helpful is to switch the nervous system off rather than concentrating on the tinnitus symptom itself.
Why Does Tinnitus Cause stress?
It is important to note that tinnitus does not cause stress for the majority of people. Tinnitus does cause stress for a minority of people. There are a number of different reasons for this. Firstly, people who experience stress caused by tinnitus are often already stressed and the tinnitus ramps up the stress response. Secondly a person may have experienced trauma which is now left unprocessed remaining as shock in the nervous system. Thirdly they are highly reactive or not experienced with coping with changing circumstances. Fourthly they are living an adrenal type lifestyle. This does not mean they are sky diving every day. It means that their nervous system is permanently switched on. This is accentuated by a lifestyle which complements stress and keeps the nervous system switched on. Examples include running yourself into the ground working two jobs, consuming stimulants like alcohol, tea and coffee or trying to do too much.
What Can I Do About Stress To Help My Tinnitus?
There are a number of steps you can take to help with stress. These might include:
- Getting a good night's sleep
- Exercising regularly
- Carrying out exercise which helps you to relax. Examples might include: Tai Chi, Yoga and relaxed swimming.
- Carry out some somatic based relaxation exercises. These might include stretching, breathing and grounding exercises.
- Eat a healthy diet
- Put in boundaries to help you take time out when you need it.
If these practical steps are not helpful you may have an underlying anxiety or trauma difficulty which is not helping your tinnitus experience and which could stand in the way of tinnitus habituation.
If you would like to find a better way to manage your tinnitus please contact us.
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