Pro Tip: Whenever possible, keep the volume of your masking audio lower than the volume of your tinnitus. This is known as partial masking, and it’s better than drowning out the sound of your tinnitus entirely, because it can help you to habituate. By lowering the perceived volume of your tinnitus this way, it’s often less bothersome, and over time can help your brain and nervous system stop reacting so negatively to the sound. This is part of the premise of tinnitus retraining therapy.
4. Multi-sensory distractions to better cope with spikes:
Distraction is another commonly suggested and effective tinnitus coping strategy. But it doesn’t always work—the more severe the tinnitus, the more difficult it is to distract yourself.
Loud tinnitus spikes are especially challenging. Patients who are normally able to distract themselves from the sound may suddenly find they can’t let it go.
This happens because we evolved to use sound as a way to monitor our environment for threats, and when we’re nervous or afraid, our brains can’t tell the difference between real danger and an imagined threat like tinnitus, so we react as if the danger is real and experience a fight or flight stress response.
In these moments, our brain is doing everything it can to redirect our attention to what it perceives as the source of the threat–the sound of our tinnitus.
But despite this, distraction can still be an effective coping strategy. You just have to approach it a little bit differently. What works best is to combine multiple distractions that involve as many of your senses as you can at once. I call this multi-sensory distraction.
Instead of just listening to white noise, listen to music and play a game on your phone. Or take a hot bath with nature sounds playing while you also read a book. Or exercise outdoors in nature with a great playlist (but always be careful of your surroundings). My personal favorite is to play Tetris on my phone while listening to a podcast on my backyard patio.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this, and the possibilities are endless. As a general rule of thumb, the more senses you can involve in your attempt to distract yourself, the more effective it will be to help you cope with a difficult tinnitus spike.
5. Keep track of small wins:
Have you ever noticed after an injury that you feel compelled to constantly poke, prod, and check to see how much it hurts?
Most people tend to focus on pain and discomfort with an intensity rarely seen elsewhere in their lives. But we don’t just do this with physical pain. We do this with other health problems too, and tinnitus is no exception.
When we’re suffering, it’s very easy to get stuck in a loop of negative thinking and rumination. Even when we make meaningful progress toward improving our tinnitus, difficult moments, spikes, and setbacks still occur. And when they do, it’s often all we can think about. A short spike can completely ruin an otherwise great day in the mind of a tinnitus sufferer.
But you can counter this mental shortcoming with a simple journaling exercise. All you have to do is spend a few minutes each evening to write down a list of small wins and little victories you claimed over your tinnitus during the day.
A small win isn’t just a moment when your tinnitus quieted down, though it is that too. A small win can be as simple as using a coping tool when your tinnitus was bothering you, even if it didn’t offer the relief you hoped it would. It’s still a better outcome than the alternative of rumination and self-pity.
It could also be just going out with your family or participating in some fun activity that you enjoy on a difficult day.
Any moment where you’ve claimed some small victory over your tinnitus counts. And by writing it down each night before you go to bed, you’ll improve your mindset and stay more focused on your successes instead of only setbacks and fears.
Tinnitus is a complicated health condition, and I fully understand that none of these coping strategies are going to magically fix the underlying problems that prevent long-term relief. It’s also by no means an exhaustive list.
But adopting a holistic approach to tinnitus is important. And small changes for the better can quickly add up to a meaningful result, even when a single action doesn’t move the needle very much.
I hope you’ll give some of these ideas a shot, especially if you are already working hard to habituate. With chronic tinnitus, remember you’re playing the long game, and every small improvement counts!
Know any other good tinnitus life hacks? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!