You don’t have to go very far to see that lifestyle practices like mindfulness and meditation are becoming more and more popular for the management of tinnitus, hearing loss and in western medical science in general.
Before discussing the role of mindfulness and meditation in hearing healthcare, it is useful to understand the nature of hearing loss and tinnitus.
What is a hearing loss?
A reduction in hearing is essentially a loss of the ability to hear sounds that are normally heard – something that was once, is no more. It is fundamentally a communication problem that impacts on a persons ability to engage effortlessly and confidently with the soundscape of our auditory world. These include spoken conversation, music, environment and natures sounds.
Most cases of reduced hearing ability happen gradually over time through wear and tear and the harmful effects of noise pollution in modern society. However, it can also happen suddenly due to trauma or sudden impact noise exposure.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus, or ringing in the brain, is a heightened awareness and perception of sounds generated by the nervous system of the ear and brain. The experience of tinnitus can occur with or without an accompanying reduction in the ability to hear. The sounds are most commonly described as ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming. However, sufferers have reported hearing more complex sounds. The cause of tinnitus is still not fully understood, but it is commonly associated with emotional distress, heightened anxiety, hearing loss, exposure to loud sounds, head or neck injuries, reaction to medication and ageing, to name but a few.
In many instances, the effects of these two audiological conditions can impact negatively on an individual’s well-being, their general state of awareness and everyday living. When living with a hearing loss or tinnitus, our capacity to manage the effects of these conditions will fluctuate daily, per situation and with environmental demands and this is all part of the personal management of living well and dealing with these conditions. Feelings of loss, fatigue, situational avoidance, loneliness, worry, decreased participation in social interaction, low mood and feelings of helplessness are just a few examples of the human factors associated with hearing loss and tinnitus. If left unsupported, these factors can have a compounding effect on a person’s mental health, promoting unhealthy levels of stress, unhelpful thoughts and behaviours and a spiralling negative outlook.
Over time, both tinnitus and hearing loss can stimulate our nervous system negatively and cause heightened levels of anxiety and stress in our system which can cause a significant disruption to our lifestyles, with our relationships and our careers. It is important to know that while there is no finite medical resolution or cure for tinnitus or sensory neural hearing loss, there are many other factors that come into play when learning how to enhance health and well being in the presence of these conditions and successfully overcome its adverse effects.
Hearing Loss, Tinnitus & Cognitive Wellbeing
It’s easy to understand that the stress and anxiety that people often feel is in response to loss – loss of hearing the sounds of life and in the case of tinnitus, loss of experiencing quiet. It is a response to all the lost conversations, frustrating communication breakdowns and reduced opportunity for connection and participation in life’s moments.
In light of this, there has been an increasing appreciation for lifestyle practices like mindfulness and meditation to combat and support the cause and effect of tinnitus and hearing loss. While these practices are not the primary care response, and all medical and clinical health services should first be acknowledged with an Audiologist or GP, patients who are using mindfulness and meditation techniques to improve how they respond to the associated stressors are proving quite successful. *In a recent study funded by the British Tinnitus Association, researchers found that a mindfulness-based approach to hearing healthcare is of great benefit to the wellbeing of tinnitus sufferers.
The practices of mindfulness and meditation base itself around the principles of creating awareness to experience without judgement. When practised regularly, or acknowledged in social settings, people have seen a decrease in depression, feelings of isolation and an increase in engagement with friends and family.
At Cubex, clinical mindfulness and meditation techniques are used to facilitate greater self-awareness and to help patients fully appreciate that their condition is not purely physical, but its nature is profoundly emotional and psychosocial. Each’s personal beliefs, attitudes and thoughts will directly influence their physical state and play a significant role in how well they handle the condition and adjust their lifestyle to promote improved quality of life, greater personal health and cognitive wellbeing.
Mindfulness and meditation are not a cure or an anecdote. However, it is a practice that helps us gain insight into ourselves and our thoughts. It promotes an understanding of our attachment to the negativity that less desirable and adverse life changes can so often breed.
Mindfulness-based cognitive wellbeing programmes for hearing loss & tinnitus
Seeking out programmes and experts that understand this facet of hearing healthcare is key to living well with hearing loss and tinnitus. Clinical mindfulness programmes such as CALM, by Cubex, is one example where lifestyle support offerings happen in conjunction with clinical audiological support. It is a model that supports hearing and tinnitus in their broader context of cognitive and psychosocial well being. CALM is a person-centred mindfulness-based approach to hearing healthcare that promotes overall well being, good communication, understanding and compassion.