Ever wonder why so many people with depersonalization, derealization, and anxiety disorders also seem to suffer from tinnitus? And more importantly, how can we prevent this constant ringing in our ears from becoming unbearable?
You’re probably on this website because you are going through depersonalization (DP) and derealization (DR) or you’re trying to help someone with DP/DR. Did you know that DP/DR sufferers can exhibit symptoms of tinnitus? You know, that ringing sound that people can constantly hear. What is the connection between these two issues and how can we heal from tinnitus?
I know how troubling this can feel. When I went through a period of depersonalization and derealization, I’d always hear a persistent ringing in my ears. When it didn’t seem to naturally disappear over time, I started to become more and more concerned about it. I worried that it might indicate some kind of brain damage or that it could be an early indicator of other serious illnesses like schizophrenia from DP/DR.
But even in those days, I had my doubts. I suspected that my tinnitus was not exclusively caused by my depersonalization, even though it felt like it. I learned that some lifestyle factors also increase the likelihood that someone will experience tinnitus.
You see, I loved listening to high-intensity music at a loud volume. Not only that, I loved playing my drums, often without any ear protection! My ears would ring after attending a concert or practicing with my band, though it would always subside after a day or two.
But when I started experiencing depersonalization and derealization, the tinnitus became persistent. Previously, it would just fade away after a day or two.
You may be someone who’s facing this exact same issue. Here, I’m going to try to educate you on what tinnitus is and its relationship to depersonalization and, more generally, to stress. Toward the end, I’ll tell you what you can do to overcome tinnitus and find long-lasting relief.
So what exactly is tinnitus? Tinnitus is a medical condition characterized by persistent ringing, buzzing, or other types of sound in the ears that is not caused by an external source. It is a very common condition, affecting an estimated 50 million adults in the United States alone. In fact, tinnitus is so common that it is the number one disability among veterans, and it is also a leading cause of workplace disability worldwide.
Many famous people have suffered from tinnitus, including rock musician Neil Young, actor Robert De Niro, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton. While for some, tinnitus can be a minor annoyance that flares up from time to time, for others, it can be a very debilitating condition – one that interferes with a person’s ability to concentrate, sleep, and enjoy daily activities. It’s important to point out that tinnitus isn’t exactly a “disease,” but rather a manifestation of a complex set of underlying issues.
Despite its prevalence, tinnitus is still not fully understood by the medical community. A common view is that tinnitus is brought on by damage to the hair cells inside our ear canal. While this may explain tinnitus in people who have been exposed to loud music or noise for long periods of time, it fails to account for tinnitus in people who haven’t had this kind of exposure.
Many people who’ve taken my online depersonalization self-help course have emailed me about their ordeals with tinnitus. And many of these people have never attended loud concerts. They haven’t had any exposure to noisy environments. Yet, here they are, with a constant ringing in their ears that somehow started around the time they experienced depersonalization and derealization symptoms. How can we explain that?
Connection Between Stress, Nervous System, and Tinnitus
You see, when we are healthy, our nervous system operates at a normal baseline level. But after exposure to prolonged stress over time or after sudden acute trauma (such as a panic attack induced DP/DR using cannabis), our nervous system’s sensitivity level can shoot up and remain above its normal baseline.
As a response to our nervous system becoming hypersensitive, we might experience depersonalization, derealization, anxiety, panic, and other similar symptoms. However, something most don’t know is that an increase in nervous system sensitivity can also affect the auditory system. How, you ask? Let’s dive deeper.
The auditory system is made up of several different structures and pathways, including the ear, the auditory nerve, and the brain. When we hear a sound, sound waves enter the ear and are converted into bio-electrical signals by the hair cells in the inner ear. These signals are then transmitted through the auditory nerve to the brain where the external sounds are interpreted.
Think of your auditory system as a car radio that picks up the transmission from your local radio stations. You can tune into your favorite radio station when you’re driving in the city. But then, once you go outside of the city, these signals get weaker and you’ll start to hear white noise coming through. Maybe you try to increase the volume to see if you can still hear the music on the radio station, but this seems to increase the volume of the white noise as well.
This may be similar to what’s happening to our auditory system during a stressful period. When our nervous system becomes extra sensitive after a stressful event, we may hear ringing sounds that are not actually present in the outside world. The heightened nervous system produces an illusion of sound, which we previously would have perceived as silence when the nervous system was operating at the baseline. In other words, what we call tinnitus could simply be an auditory “white noise” due to a highly sensitive nervous system.
Let’s try to summarize what we’ve seen so far. We’ve seen that prolonged stress can increase the sensitivity of our nervous system, which can not only bring on feelings of DP/DR, anxiety, and panic, but also auditory issues like tinnitus.
One important thing to note here is that your depersonalization is not the direct cause of your tinnitus. Rather, the underlying stress is the cause of DP/DR and the tinnitus.
How to Handle Tinnitus During DP/DR
If we want to get rid of something, we must start at the cause of it. Now that we’ve seen the stress tinnitus connection, we can infer that by reducing the stress, we can start to do away with the tinnitus as well.
I’m not going to go through the various ways you can reduce stress in your life. There are countless websites and videos dedicated to that. And you probably already have an idea of what to do. You should consider making those changes to your life that will reduce your stressors.
Although I mentioned that DP/DR may not be the direct cause of tinnitus, it can indirectly prolong the tinnitus. By worrying about your DP/DR, you are increasing the amount of stress in your life. This increase in stress can further increase your feelings of DP/DR and the intensity of tinnitus. This means that there’s a vicious feedback loop going on that needs to be broken.
Instead of obsessively worrying about depersonalization, try to see how you can recover from it. If you don’t know where to begin, then I’d highly recommend starting with the online course DP No More.
Even if you’re not worried about depersonalization or if you don’t experience it, often worrying about tinnitus can cause a lot of stress. Now that you know about the stress tinnitus connection, try to see if you can start worrying about it less. Doing so will help you break the stress tinnitus feedback loop.
We must also try our best to stop paying attention to tinnitus. I get it, it’s very frustrating. But if you keep paying attention to the tinnitus, it will gain a lot of power over you. See if you can focus on other areas in your life, even if you have a constant ringing in your ears. The less attention you give to tinnitus, the more it will fade into the background. Don’t let tinnitus into the forefront of your awareness. This habit may be difficult to practice in the beginning, but it can nonetheless be mastered over time.
Additional Ways to Help with Tinnitus
Sometimes, you may need external help to deal with your tinnitus issue.
One of the most effective treatments is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps individuals to identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be contributing to their tinnitus. It’s not that the negative thoughts are directly causing your tinnitus, rather the negative thoughts can increase the underlying stress.
Other treatments include sound therapy, in which patients listen to specially designed sounds to help mask the ringing in their ears, and medication, which can help to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to the affected area. Search the web for a tinnitus masker and you may find some help.
Another treatment for tinnitus is tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), which involves a combination of sound therapy and counseling to help individuals habituate to their tinnitus. TRT aims to help individuals learn to ignore the ringing in their ears, eventually leading to a reduction in the severity of their tinnitus. I personally don’t have any experience with tinnitus retraining therapy, so I cannot vouch for its effectiveness.
Try to cultivate simple, everyday habits that can break your stress tinnitus connection. These include getting the right amount of sleep, exercising, and eating healthy foods.
You may also benefit from avoiding loud noises. Exposure to loud noises can worsen tinnitus, so it is important to protect your ears from loud music, construction noise, and other sources of noise pollution. I wear earplugs to protect my hearing every time I go to a concert or a dance club. Perhaps you can also turn down the volume on your TV to start.
Overall, it is clear that there’s a connection between stress, depersonalization, and tinnitus. This relationship is complex and not fully understood yet. By practicing the methods outlined above, you can ease the torment from your tinnitus.
If you’re looking for a way to not just ease your tinnitus, but also recover from the underlying DP/DR, consider checking out DP No More, the online program will walk you through a step-by-step method of healing from depersonalization and derealization.
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