It’s no secret that our upbringing and experiences can lead to anxiety. While genetics plays a role in the development of anxiety, stressful experiences may reinforce fear and other negative emotions, causing anxiety to emerge.
Hypersensitivity or “oversensitivity” is extreme sensitivity to a specific experience, such as sound. Auditory hypersensitivity or hypersensitivity to sound may include sensitivity to specific triggering noises or loud noises in general. Individuals with auditory hypersensitivity experience distress upon hearing the triggering sounds. Some people with anxiety may experience this type of sensitivity.
Understanding the Variations of Noise Anxiety
Hypersensitivity to noise is somewhat of a broad term as sensitivity may cause varying responses. Depending on the way a person experiences anxiety, the triggering noise may cause minor irritation or something much more impairing.
Generally, the following represent auditory hypersensitivity. Remember, your experience may be different from others’ experiences:
Specific Noise Triggers
Some people develop sensitivity to particular sounds. Often, these sounds are related to past traumas or recurring causes of anxiety. This type of sensitivity is the product of conditioning. Conditioning occurs when a specific trigger elicits a response. With respect to auditory hypersensitivity, this may be the experiencing of a negative feeling as a result of a specific sound: your mind immediately associates a sound with some negative feeling or experience. This symptom is very common in those with PTSD but may affect people with all types of anxiety.
Quick Startle Reflex
Anxiety causes your body to constantly be on high alert. The greater the stress and anxiety you experience, the more likely you are to have a higher natural baseline for stress. If anxiety levels reach a certain height, a person may be more prone to being startled, often described as being “jumpy.” This is due to the body being on high alert for danger.
Anxiety may cause irritation. Irritation can cause people to experience a rush of negative emotions when they hear loud or triggering noises, or sounds that disrupt the thought process. Disruptions of silence may be particularly likely to trigger irritability.
Finally, when a person is feeling anxious, physical symptoms such as tension headaches or nausea may result. A person experiencing these symptoms may be especially prone to auditory hypersensitivity. Certain sounds may exacerbate these physical symptoms or increase the general feeling of unease associated with anxiety attacks. In some cases, a person may perceive noises to be louder than they actually are.
All of these fall under auditory hypersensitivity as they are all ways in which you and your body react to sound.
It’s also important to remember that you can experience this type of sensitivity even when you don’t feel anxiety or have anxious thoughts. Anxiety is largely a physical experience. You may find that you are tense even when your thoughts are relaxed and calm. This may lead to the presence of hypersensitivity.
Controlling Your Reactions to Noise
Dealing with hypersensitivity can be difficult, but help is available. Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to be extremely helpful for individuals experiencing many symptoms of anxiety. Exposure techniques in particular may be useful for reducing hypersensitivity.
What is Exposure Therapy?
Exposure therapy is the process of gradually being exposed to your anxiety trigger in a safe and controlled setting. Over time, your anxious reaction should decline and eventually be eliminated. It is recommended that a person start with the least distressing form of their anxiety trigger and work their way up to experiencing the actual trigger.
For example, if you have a fear of spiders, you might start by thinking about spiders. Once that no longer causes significant anxiety, you may move on to looking at photos of spiders. Next, you may move on to videos of spiders, then spiders across the room, then a spider right next to you, and finally a spider on you. You only move on to the next step when you no longer experience anxiety at the present level.
How to Apply Exposure Therapy for Noise at Home
If you would like to attempt to implement exposure therapy for noise at home, you can follow the steps below:
- Figure out what sound you’re most sensitive to — especially the one that you want to be less sensitive to over time.
- Make a recording of the noise.
- Sit in a place where you’re comfortable, and just think of the noise initially. Practice relaxation techniques if you notice your anxiety level rising.
- Once you are able to tolerate imagining the sound, follow the same procedure while listen to a recording of the noise. At first, you will likely experience intense anxiety. For this reason, it is important to be prepared to implement relaxation techniques. The recording is going to bother you a great deal.
- While you’re listening, do something that relaxes you, for instance, meditation or deep breathing. There are plenty of techniques you may use to calm your body so that your anxiety symptoms feel easier to tolerate.
- Gradually increase the length of time over which you expose yourself to the sound. Eventually, you’ll find that the sound causes a lower level of distress than previously.
- To truly master exposure therapy, you may wish to repeat these exercises in progressively less calming environments. Thus, you may fully extinguish the negative response to the trigger.
These exercises will help you to build tolerance for the sound and decrease your hypersensitivity.
Once you have reduced your hypersensitivity, you should continue to learn to cope with and manage your symptoms of anxiety in order to prevent the recurrence of negative symptoms and the future development of hypersensitivity.
Sound sensitivity may be the result of trauma (including PTSD), or it could be a symptom of anxiety, known as “hypersensitivity,” that occurs when people are in an anxious state. For specific sound-related anxiety, exposure is one of the more effective ways to reduce its severity. For hypersensitivity and other forms of anxiety, reducing the anxiety overall is the best way to treat it.
Extreme stress can have a lasting effect on your well-being. In some cases, anxiety can cause you to become more sensitive to otherwise normal events, potentially leading to increased anxiety.
That is sometimes the case with anxiety and noise. Depending on your level of stress and anxiety, you may become more sensitive to noise, and loud noises or surprise noises may end up causing more anxiety.
The Cause of Noise Anxiety
Noise anxiety is most commonly a response to trauma, although in some ways it can affect those with nearly any type of anxiety.
The main issue with noise anxiety is that it occurs because of a raised anxiety baseline, common with PTSD. Noise jumps the anxiety above the baseline, potentially leading to increased startle reflexes and possibly panic attacks.
What is a Raised Baseline?
Imagine anxiety fit on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is relaxation and 10 is complete and utter terror. People that undergo traumatic events or experience severe anxiety experience a raised baseline, which is when they can never get their number down to 1, 2, or 3. In a way, they are always living with an anxiety of 6, 7, or 8 on the scale.
Because the body is so adaptive, it adjusts to match that baseline. That means when you’re experiencing a 6, 7, or 8 on the anxiety scale – which would normally signify a considerable amount of anxiety – they feel as though they’re actually relaxed. Their mind has adjusted to reduce anxiety symptoms at this level.
But when something startles them or causes them to experience any type of burst in anxiety, suddenly they go from an 8 to a 9, and the body hasn’t adjusted for that, so it still experiences profound anxiety. That’s where anxiety from loud noises often comes from – it jumps the body up a little bit more on the anxiety scale for those that already have a much higher baseline than others.
Another reason that noise issues may result in anxiety is because noises can sometimes be associated with traumatic events. This is known as classical conditioning. If a loud noise or some type of noise became attributed to anxiety something that causes fear or simply anxiety itself, hearing that type of noise may cause you to experience more anxiety.
Also, anxiety can cause people to become more irritable and sensitive in general. Hearing noises may simply cause the person to feel overwhelmed, as though they cannot control their thoughts or the world around them. Anyone that has started to feel like they’re losing control with the world around them may find that too many noises causes them to experience stress.
Finally, some people fear noises with anxiety. It’s not clear why these noises occur, but those that hear noises as a result of their anxiety and panic often experience more anxiety as a result, worried that they’re going crazy.
Reducing the Anxiety of Sounds and Noises
If you find that noise is starting to make you feel anxious, or that you’re responding to noises with intense stress, you should seek help immediately. Talk to a professional, especially if you think you may have developed post traumatic stress disorder. Getting help right away is the best way to make an impact.
- Exercise Everyone tells you to exercise for your physical health. But when you don’t exercise, your ability to cope with stress takes a huge blow. Your anxiety will often become much worse when you don’t exercise because your muscles turn that pent-up energy into physical stress, which in turn becomes mental stress. On the flipside, when you exercise, you not only reduce that extra energy, you also improve hormone balance, release neurotransmitters that enhance mood and improve breathing. Exercise is one of the most potent, healthy anxiety management tools available.
- Sleep, Eating Healthy, etc. Living a healthy lifestyle is also important. From sleep to nutrition to hydration, the healthier your body is, the better it works, and the better it works, the less you’ll experience anxiety. These aren’t anxiety cures. Anxiety, of course, is more of a mental health disorder forged through years of experiences. Simply sleeping more isn’t going to magically take it away, but they’ll drastically reduce the symptoms, which should help you cope with anxiety much more easily.
- Yoga Yoga is a type of exercise that has additional benefits for reducing anxiety. First, it is a slower form of exercise but equally challenging. Those with anxiety issues need an opportunity to slow down their lives so that it feels more manageable. Yoga also teaches breathing techniques that can be quite valuable for fighting anxiety.
- Memory Creation Another strategy that many people don’t realize can be effective is creating memories. For example, trying new cuisines or traveling to nearby museums. This can be very hard for those with severe anxiety since it requires going out into the world, but the more you can force yourself to do and enjoy every day (happy memories) the more positive thoughts you’ll have when you’re struggling with stress.
- Relaxation Strategies Many relaxation strategies exist that help you cope with anxiety. Visualization is a great one. It involves imagining yourself and your five senses in a more relaxed place. These strategies give your mind an opportunity to be calmer so that you have a chance to relearn how to cope with stress naturally.
- Distractions Distractions are also an important part of anxiety management. Your thoughts tend to be your enemy when suffering from anxiety. Distractions allow you to stop focusing on such thoughts and provide an opportunity to calm down. Talking on the phone about positive topics (negativity still breeds anxiety) can be more powerful than you realize and a great way to regain that mental strength you used to have.
- Journaling Writing down thoughts in a journal may seem like something you only did as a child, but it’s a powerful coping tool. It benefits anxiety in two ways:
- First, journaling provides an opportunity to release thoughts – something that far too many people hold inside.
- Second, writing down worries puts thoughts in a permanent place and tells your brain that it doesn’t have to focus on remembering them as much. These are only examples of anxiety management strategies. You may also find your own strategies that work for you. For example, perhaps you find skipping stones at a park to be therapeutic, or maybe reading happy poetry gives you warmer feelings.