Managing tinnitus in times of great stress
Tinnitus is a difficult health condition in the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.
We are staring down the barrel of one of the most difficult adversities many of us have ever faced. And while tinnitus patients are no stranger to anxiety, many sufferers are really struggling right now.
When tinnitus is severe, your nervous system is essentially stuck in a constant state of over-activation and agitation. Not only does this increase baseline anxiety levels, it lowers your anxiety threshold to the point where it takes very little to push you into panic, and the world is a scary place right now.
As countries lock down one by one in response to the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, even otherwise healthy people are living in a state of fear. The panic is just as contagious as the virus itself.
Many of us are now living under quarantine (self-imposed social distancing or government-mandated) and now facing social isolation, too.
So what can tinnitus patients do to survive the storm? Here are five things you can do to reduce some of the increased anxiety and better cope with your tinnitus in the days to come.
More COVID-19 resources for people with hearing loss
Make a concrete plan to deal with uncertainty
When the coronavirus was initially ravaging through Wuhan, China, I felt a growing sense of dread in the pit of my stomach.
Like many other tinnitus sufferers, I am prone to anxiety and have been for as long as I can remember. Part of me wondered why I felt this way. After all, no one else around me seemed to think that there was anything to worry about.
But the virus continued to spread, and as the first documented cases were confirmed in the US, I knew I had been right to worry, and my anxiety levels shot through the roof. It wasn’t until I made a concrete plan to prepare that I started to feel better.
In the face of such incredible uncertainty and fear, creating and executing an actual plan is one of the best things you can do to reduce anxiety.
In fact, planning is helpful for combating anxiety across the board. But when it comes to tinnitus, planning for every potential problem is one of the best things you can do to deal with the uncertainty and fear.
Here is a simple 4-step framework you can use to help you make a better plan for the coronavirus:
1) What could go wrong: Make a list of every potential problem or thing that could go wrong in the days and weeks to come (tinnitus-related or otherwise), and make sure to include a worst-case scenario. This helps to alleviate the emotional feeling of uncertainty by giving clarity and specificity to your fears.
2) How can I prepare: For each potential problem you identified in step one, write down everything you can do ahead of time to minimize the chances that the problem will occur. What concrete steps can you take to prepare?
3) Make a list of supplies needed to address each potential problem: Next, make a list of the supplies you will need to effectively deal with each of the potential issues you identified in step one. This can include things like food, toiletries, entertainment items, medications, supplements, earplugs, headphones/sound masking options, or other emergency equipment.
4) What will I do if things go wrong: For each potential problem you identified, come up with a specific plan of action detailing what you will do if the problem does in fact occur. How will you get to “safety” (read: relative comfort) and how will you recover afterward?
If you spend a bit of time working through these four questions, you will have a much clearer sense of the challenges that lay ahead of you, and hopefully, less anxiety and uncertainty. And if anything does go wrong, you’ll be ready for it.
Ask your pharmacy for a 3-month supply of important medications
Ask your pharmacist if it is possible fill a 3-month supply for any of your medications that are prescribed on an ongoing basis, like antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications for example, which are both common tinnitus medications. Not all health insurance plans and pharmacies allow this, but many do, and all you have to do is ask.
This is especially important for high-risk patients who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus and need to remain home to avoid getting sick.
Limiting the amount of time that you have to spend out of your home is of the utmost importance right now. Social distancing is a crucial factor in slowing the spread of the virus and is our only option to reduce the burden on our healthcare infrastructure. If everyone gets sick at once, hospitals will run out of beds and supplies.
Keep in mind, however, that pharmacies are essential businesses will remain open even in the event of a lockdown.
Use the Quick Coherence breathing technique to calm anxiety
When tinnitus is spiking and anxiety levels are running high, breathing techniques can be an effective way to cope. There are other breathing exercises that can be helpful here, but the Quick Coherence breathing technique is one of the most powerful techniques that you’ve probably never heard of.
I personally find that it helps to stabilize my emotional state faster than any other technique by far, and best of all, it can be practiced anytime, anywhere, in as little as 2-3 minutes.
If you are in a full-on panic, it may not calm you down completely, but it can at least put the ground back under your feet, emotionally speaking.
I personally find the best results with this technique when I bring to mind a specific memory of a time when I felt a strong sense of love, gratitude, family and connection. I try to relive the memory in my mind and make the positive emotions I felt as bright and vivid as I possibly can.
Create and prioritize healthy habits
Right now, across the US and in many parts of the world, non-essential businesses are closed. The economy has grinded to a halt and millions of people are under quarantine. When faced with such a massive and sudden disruption to normal routines, it’s extremely important to find a way to maintain healthy habits.
For many tinnitus sufferers, coping requires a continuous effort of distraction, relaxation techniques, meditation, exercise, and more. So what do we do now that we can’t leave the house?
The one thing many of us have right now is time on our hands, and we can put that time to good use by working to improve our health.
Double down on self care: Focus your energy on decreasing stress and anxiety. Prioritize fitness, relaxation techniques, meditation and work to improve the quality of your sleep. Explore new creative outlets, like art, music or writing. Try to learn something new every day.
Do what you can to help others: When facing adversity, you can often alleviate your own pain and suffering by alleviating the suffering of others. There is nothing in this world that does more to raise the human spirit than helping others in need. Can you lend your expertise to help others through this difficult time? At the very least, call your friends and family members to make sure they’re doing alright. You may not be able to solve their problems, but you can be the one who understands their pain.
Achieve a small win: When your day is going terribly, sometimes the best thing you can do is focus on achieving a small win. No matter bad your tinnitus is, you can always make the choice to take some small action to achieve a small obtainable victory, and that can make a difference in the quality of your day. For me, that might mean going for a walk when I’m exhausted and don’t feel like leaving the house or meditating when I feel too restless to sit still. Sometimes, it just means allowing myself to rest without feeling lazy or guilty. Whatever small win is within arm’s reach, take it. It just might help you feel better.
Change your news/information diet during COVID-19
For the last few weeks, the daily news cycle has been like an uncontrolled fire hose of fear and anxiety. This puts tinnitus patients in a tough position because we need to be informed, but the vicious cycle of suffering always starts with fear.
The coronavirus coverage has been a terrifying and endless barrage of negativity and despair. For every piece of news offering hope, there are hundreds of reports that will likely make your anxiety–and as a result, your tinnitus–worse.
The news flourishes in times of crisis–fear brings ratings and ratings bring advertising revenue–so fear is what we get. And if you’ve been glued to the television watching the news, it’s impacting you, and likely making your anxiety and tinnitus worse, whether you realize it or not.
You need to stay informed, but you don’t need to be watching the mainstream news all day long. Limit your exposure by cutting back on the number of times you watch/read the news each day.
It’s a scary time right now, but we are all in this together. If your tinnitus is blaring, or your anxiety is through the roof, take this time to work on your health. Make a plan, stick to it, and do whatever you can to alleviate stress.
Before we know it, the pandemic will pass. And though many will face economic hardship in the days and weeks to come, we can come out the other side more resilient than before.
Take care of each other and stay safe!
Did you like these tips? Be sure to see my 5 more strategies for managing tinnitus during the pandemic.