5 misophonia-beating tips you can apply today
"I have thought about killing her! Well, rather than do that I've taken time off work!"
"Err, that's good." I asked Malcolm what terrible sin his colleague was guilty of to so enrage him over so many months.
"I know she doesn't mean to, but it's the way she clears her throat. I'm just waiting, listening out for it, and it drives me nuts. I mean literally nuts; it's made me depressed."
Noise sensitivity - technically known as misophonia - isn't just a mild irritation or dislike of noises. For the sufferer, the noises become over-riding obsessions and can lead to depression, anxiety, and severe anger. When he came to see me, he had a new additional noise focus.
"I can hear the neighbour's water feature. It seems to come on occasionally and when it does it drives me crazy! I always seem to be waiting out for it, but other people say they can barely notice it."
Noise sensitivity can make life unbearable. It might be the sound of someone eating or any random noise at all. In my practice of treating people for noise sensitivity, it tends to be noises made by other people, such as smacking lips, but it could be anything. If you find yourself becoming irate, irrational, and enraged to a particular sound then try these tips to help you overcome noise sensitivity.
1) Know your noise sensitivity triggers
What exactly is bothering you? Malcolm didn't mind this college coughing, but when she cleared her throat, which apparently she did often, he became enraged. What specifically upsets you? My noise-sensitive client found that he wasn't just being upset by the sound itself, but by the expectation before the sound occurred and feelings of anger after he'd heard it. At weekends he'd obsess about the noise and think how he could possibly avoid this poor colleague (whom he quite liked). But the noise itself may not be the only trigger.
Malcolm had many stresses in his life and, not surprisingly, the misophonia became much worse when his general stress levels were higher than normal. It's as if the noise just became a focal point for all of life's stresses and frustrations.
What exactly triggers your noise sensitivity and what generally triggers it?
2) Think about when you are less noise-sensitive
When examining problems, it seems natural to focus on when the problem does happen - and that's useful. But we also need to learn how not to 'do' the problem. One way is to focus on when it doesn't or hasn't happened when we might have expected it to.
Malcolm remembered a time when he'd gone for his lunch break and bumped into an old school friend. They'd reminisced and laughed and agreed to meet up again; he remembered going back to work and, for the first time, not even thinking about the woman's throat clearing. This little snippet was invaluable information because it gave us a clue as to what Malcolm needed more of, in his life, to decrease his stress response being triggered by sounds.
When is your noise sensitivity not triggered in a situation you'd normally expect it to be?
3) Fill what is lacking in life
It was interesting that when Malcolm felt connected to someone and had laughed, his noise sensitivity had abated for many hours. Do you feel isolated, directionless, powerless, or as if your life has little fun or creativity? If so, then it might be that all these stresses (and not meeting needs always causes stress) may be causing the noise sensitivity.
I encouraged Malcolm to start seeing people he liked again, to relax deeply and regularly, and to take up a little exercise. He found that starting to meet his basic life needs, in addition to other work we did, resulted in the happy 'by-product' of a massive reduction in his focus on noise.
What might be lacking in your life? And how can you actively go about filling that hole?
4) Re-tune your hearing
I mentioned that Malcolm had also become over-sensitive to the intermittent sound of his neighbour's water feature. Now, we see and hear all kinds of things, but we are not always aware of seeing and hearing all these things. The great hypnotherapist Dr Milton Erickson told a story of when he was a young man and went to work in an extremely noisy factory. To his amazement, whilst he couldn't hear what was being said to him because of the din of the factory machines, all the other workers could hear one another. And to his even greater amazement, he found that after a week he too could hear what his co-workers were saying. How? Through selective hearing, that's how.
If you stare at the wall, you'll notice you can either really focus in one spot or you can de-focus on that area and focus on parts of your visual field around the edges of that spot. Even though your eyes haven't moved, your focus has.
You can do this with hearing, too. When you are deeply engrossed in a film or book, your ears may hear when your name is called, but your brain doesn't register that sound. When you are sleeping deeply, there are all kinds of things your ears hear but your brain doesn't. I asked Malcolm to wait for the sound of the water feature (which he was already doing) and then, when he heard it, to listen intently to sounds outside the house and to list those sounds ("car passing, kids playing," and so on). Of course, he found he couldn't be as focused on the water feature when he did this.
Try to de-focus on trigger sounds by focusing on other sounds around.
5) Overcome noise sensitivity with hypnosis
I used hypnosis with Malcolm not only to encourage a tuning out from the sounds that had upset him, but also to help him change the way he felt about those sounds. Go and see someone who is skilled in the use of clinical hypnosis to help you relax around what troubles you - and for a flavour of this right now, click on the free audio clip below.
Malcolm learned to ignore that water feature and went back to work a changed man, relaxed, fine about that throat clearing, and determined to make a fuller life for himself.