Barking dogs, crying children, lips smacking, tapping fingers, or even a friend sneezing are all sounds many don’t notice but are triggers that create an unbearable response in those with misophonia. It’s not a surprise if this is your first-time hearing about this mental health condition. While it’s relatively unknown and an unclassified psychiatric disorder, the pain it creates is real, overwhelming, and felt by many. If some sounds drive you up the wall, you might be suffering from misophonia. Keep reading to learn its underlying causes and 10 tips to help you cope.
What Is Misophonia
Picture yourself at a movie theater, trying to enjoy the movie, but the sounds of people eating popcorn, whispering, and shuffling in their seats instantly make you angry. The sounds become so unbearable that you question whether you should leave and never return.
This reaction may be difficult to understand, but for those living with misophonia, a neurological condition that creates severe sensitivity to specific sounds and images, this is a common occurrence.
Misophonia (translated to hatred of sound) creates intense fight-or-flight responses such as anger, hate, fear, anxiety, and physiological distress. Some experience emotional reactions while observing visual movements (misokinesia), such as shaking legs or an anticipated sneeze. Many people struggle to manage their daily tasks, engage in social interactions, and often avoid places or people that cause their triggers. It is unclear why sounds trigger a threatening response, but those living with misophonia experience a sudden urge to protect themselves until the sound stops.
14 Misophonia Symptoms
Signs and symptoms characterized below are reactions to triggers. The reaction varies from individual to individual. For example, some people may feel annoyed when exposed, while others experience more intense emotions, such as rage and hate.
- Headaches or migraines
- Suicidal thoughts
- Emotional distress from sights or sounds
- Withdrawal from family/friends
- Fear due to anticipation of the sound
- Hearing the sound temporarily after it stops
What Causes Misophonia?
Researchers and mental health professionals are still determining what causes misophonia. Some suggestions are;
- Many believe misophonia is a neurological condition that disrupts how the brain processes the connection between the trigger sound and the fight-or-flight response.
- Those experiencing obsessive-compulsive disorder or generalized anxiety are more likely to develop the condition. This co-occurrence tends to develop after witnessing a parent or loved one repeatedly react similarly to specific sounds – learned behavior.
- Symptoms manifest during puberty and are more common in females than males. If a trauma occurred during puberty, and the teenager has a genetic predisposition, they are more likely to develop misophonia.
Misophonia is poorly understood and under-researched. As a result, many people don’t realize they have it. Increasing your awareness and becoming an advocate will help you or a loved one who is suffering.
10 Ways to Treat and Cope with Misophonia
1. Earphones and earplugs
Earphones and earplugs are popular go-tos for surviving a trigger. Both coping strategies will help block unwanted sounds and calm emotional responses. Keep a pair with you on hand and wear them when needed.
2. Hearing aids
Wearing hearing aids temporarily during your triggers can help reduce the smaller sounds like finger tapping, paper crumbling, or gum chewing that make life frustrating. Hearing aids that emit a white or pink noise will make your day-to-day manageable.
3. White noise for peaceful sleep
Sleeping can be especially challenging for anyone who has a sensitivity to sounds. A partner yawning or sounds from neighbors can cause intense emotional responses. Try using a white noise sound machine while you sleep. It will create a more relaxing environment for a deeper sleep.
4. Deep breathing
A symptom of misophonia is imagining the sound is occurring in its absence. When this happens, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself you’re experiencing a normal response to a stressful situation. Even repeating an intention such as “I am safe. The sound will end soon” will help calm your fight or flight response.
5. Practice mindfulness
Meditation increases your inner awareness and helps deactivate the fight or flight system. Over time, daily practice will teach you how to control your responses when faced with triggers.
6. Get creative
Being exposed to your triggers constantly can be very emotionally and physically draining. If you don’t have access to earplugs or headphones, get creative. Hum a song, dance, read out loud, whistle – anything to distract you from the painful sound you’re experiencing.
7. Seek physical comfort
Hugging a pet, sleeping with a weighted blanket, or receiving a comforting hug from a loved one are all ways to decrease the emotional response. Squeezing, in particular, reduces sensation and sensitivity. It refocuses your attention, provides safety, and calms the nerves.
8. Separate the sound from the person
People living with misophonia believe the person causing the sound is intentionally hurting them. Only after they calm down do they realize this is a misguided belief. When this occurs, remind yourself that what you’re experiencing is a reaction to a trigger. This will help you logically understand what your brain is experiencing instead of becoming angry with a loved one.
9. Be kind to yourself
While your disorder is not yet well-received by the world, it’s okay to redesign parts of your life to accommodate your experiences. Keeping yourself safe and relaxed is the most important tip to establishing the beginning of your recovery.
If you need to leave a restaurant to avoid hearing others eat, be kind to yourself and take appropriate action when necessary. Instead of undervaluing yourself because of your reactions, which only leads to further stress, remind yourself that it’s okay to cope with your disorder by avoiding sounds that bother you.
10. Find a therapist who understands
Thankfully, there are a growing number of mental health professionals learning more about misophonia and how to treat its symptoms. Treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and progressive muscle relaxation slowly help change your thought patterns and subsequent emotional reactions. You learn to tolerate your triggers and live a more peaceful life without relying on strategies to help you manage sounds.
Misophonia is a real disorder affecting many. You are not alone, and there is a reason for hope. Research and treatments are improving, and society is becoming more accepting of this condition. Take it one step at a time and try to love the person you are. You are more than your triggers, and you deserve to live in peace.
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