I can recall the exact time and day my tinnitus started. It was 9pm on 30 August, 2015, when an acute ringing exploded in my left ear. It was so bizarre and mechanical-sounding, and nothing could distract me from it. By 2am it had intensified and I was a hysterical, whimpering mess, exhausted from the inescapable noise. Later my dad drove me to A&E where I learned I had developed the inner ear condition called tinnitus.
Since my diagnosis, tinnitus has also claimed my other ear and now every day is filled with a constant drone. But things are better than they were in 2015, when, for many months my sleep, work and social life were completely consumed by the noise. My hearing loss was worse – go figure – and any attempt to relax or enjoy quiet time was wasted.
Today though, I have settled into an unusual partnership with my tinnitus - an agreement of sorts – born from the realisation that I cannot fight it so I must work with it. Amazing people, support and advice have helped me along the way – enabling me to reach a better understanding and level of tolerance, even during times when the tinnitus is so loud I struggle to think.
So in this post, I thought I’d share my five top tinnitus survival tips. Whether you have tinnitus, are a loved one of someone who has it or simply a curious bystander, it’s useful to know how to make tinnitus manageable.
Be wary of forums
During the early days of my diagnosis I scoured online forums, desperate to know how others coped and managed their tinnitus. But I quickly realised that many forums on tinnitus tend to be filled with unhappy posts detailing the inevitable frustration, anger and helplessness that comes with the condition. I booked an appointment with my GP to get some answers and she reminded me that while tinnitus can be very distressing it is not unmanageable, and she directed me to the British Tinnitus Association, where I found some of the much needed advice and reassurance I was after.
Join a tinnitus support group
Tinnitus can be incredibly isolating, especially as many people don’t understand what it’s like to have an incessant ringing in your ears. Joining a support group is a great way to connect with others who are on the same journey, while benefiting from professional advice on how to cope.
I joined my local tinnitus support group, Tinnitus Rooms, in early 2018 and I’ve never felt more understood and cared for – so much so that I look forward to every session where I can connect with familiar faces and welcome new people to the group. I’m very lucky to have these wonderful people who I can turn to when times get tough and when it feels like I’m the only person in the whole world who is dealing with the rollercoaster ride that comes with tinnitus and hearing loss.
Tune into the noise and understand it
I believe my tinnitus knows my body better than I do. It tells me when I’m due an ear infection or dealing with too much stress – and in doing so makes me slow down and reassess my needs and how I am feeling. For example, if my tinnitus keeps me awake at night I treat it as an immediate sign that something is wrong and make a mental note to look after myself better.
It’s also very common for me to become unwell after my tinnitus worsens and in this way the ringing has become an intuitive tool which gives me a greater connection to my mind and body. This is why I recommend tuning in to your tinnitus and taking time to understand it. For it could be a sign of something much deeper that you’re not consciously aware of and that you need to address.
Find reliable distractions
When tinnitus affects my sleep, I’ll put in my headphones and listen to music or watch a show like Friends. This helps blur the noise and gives my brain something else to focus on, so I’m better able to relax and escape the frustration caused by the all-encompassing drone. Exercise also helps me forget about my tinnitus for a while and I feel stronger mentally and physically.
Of course, everyone’s experience of tinnitus is different, which means you need to find what distractions work best for you. I know some people find solace in meditation apps and music, while others go for a walk or listen to a podcast to take their mind off it. It’s about finding a way to relax and escape the stress of the noise, rather than letting it overwhelm you. After all, the more stressed we feel, the worse tinnitus becomes.
Keep your normal routine
A great piece of advice I love is: no matter how overbearing your tinnitus gets it’s important to keep to your normal routine as much as possible. While this may seem easier said than done, it will be much harder to cope if you let tinnitus overwhelm your thoughts, feelings, work and relationships.
Don’t let it. Carry on with your day as well as you can – go to work, have dinner with friends, spend time with the kids, walk the dog, catch up on Netflix, book that holiday… In doing so you will take the focus and control away from the unrelenting noise, which overtime can help make it easier to cope and live with the condition.
What are your tips for coping with tinnitus? Please share them in the comments section below.