Man experiencing stressful thoughts

How Are Emotional Stress and Tinnitus Connected?

While Tinnitus often occurs after hearing loss or other complex medical issues, emotional stress and Tinnitus are also closely linked, with studies showing the presence of stress symptoms in a large number of patients who experience Tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a very common condition, which people respond to in different ways. Some people experiencing the condition are able to take it in their stride and accept it as part of life, while others can become increasingly stressed by the unstoppable ringing, clicking, or whistling in their ears. While there are definite links between emotional stress and Tinnitus, with Tinnitus often increasing stress in its sufferers, does stress make Tinnitus worse? And how can we limit excessive Tinnitus stress?

The connection between emotional stress and Tinnitus

While a large number of people suffer from Tinnitus, it is thought that our brains can react to the ringing in our ears in two different ways. If our brains perceive the ringing sound of Tinnitus as a benign sound, and one that isn’t a threat to our health or safety, you may be able to ignore the ringing and “learn to live with it”. If your brain, however, perceives the sound of Tinnitus as a threat, this can lead to a stress response in which your breathing and heart rate may increase, and you may suffer sleeplessness and restlessness. In the long term, Tinnitus stress can turn into anxiety and depression.

While it isn’t fully understood why, Tinnitus often increases in sufferers at times of great emotional stress. This can become a vicious cycle of emotional stress and Tinnitus as the Tinnitus stress can elevate your existing emotional stress with the ringing in your ears becoming more urgent, adding to the lack of control you may already be feeling and contributing to the list of things you have to worry about.

Signs of stress

Stress is considered anything physically or emotionally which can threaten how your body functions normally. This can include issues such as financial worries, a fight with a loved one or problems at work. Signs of stress vary greatly from person to person, and Tinnitus stress can manifest itself in any of the following ways:  

  • Physical responses: Emotional stress and Tinnitus can cause your body to experience aches and pains, a racing heart, chest pains, trouble sleeping, headaches, dizziness, digestive issues, a weakened immune system, a loss of sex drive, grinding teeth, or clenching jaws and high blood pressure.
  • Emotional responses: Emotional stress and Tinnitus can lead to irritability, anxiety, depression, feelings of being overwhelmed, or panic attacks.
Man who is experiencing stress and anxiety

Causes of stress

Stress is a natural response of the body designed to keep you safe and aware of your surroundings, this is why it can keep you awake and make you feel jittery like you want to get up and run away. Excessive or ongoing stress, like Tinnitus stress caused by continual and inescapable sounds, can be exhausting and over time, affect your overall health and wellbeing. Almost anything can cause stress, emotional stress and Tinnitus may be caused by things like:

  • Having no control over a situation
  • Worrying about something
  • Changes in your life
  • Being overwhelmed by responsibilities
  • Uncertain times

Tips for managing emotional stress and Tinnitus

Managing Tinnitus stress is similar to managing any stress and can include:

  • Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, muscle-relaxing exercises, meditation, and yoga can all help settle the stress response in your body.
  • Sound therapy: Some people find their Tinnitus is less frustrating when listening to calming noises and white noise.
  • Exercise: Even a small walk can help alleviate the onset of stress.
  • Talk to someone: Having someone to talk to who makes you feel calm and happy can distract you and diminish your stress levels.

Need to talk to an audiologist about Tinnitus?

Your local Bay Audio clinicians are on hand to answer any questions you have.