My top picks: Stress management products for tinnitus sufferers
Reducing stress and anxiety is key to getting tinnitus under control
Stress and anxiety are triggers that can make tinnitus louder or more intense, creating a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.
Learning to effectively manage this increased stress and anxiety is an important part of learning to cope and improve your quality of life with tinnitus.
Fortunately, an entire wellness industry now exists to help us manage stress, offering an endless stream of new products designed to help us relax.
Over the years, I’ve personally tested countless stress management products, supplements and tools. I will always try any new and potentially helpful product with an open mind. And while many of the products don’t end up moving the needle, a few of them have been game changers for me.
I’ve put together a list of my favorite stress management products and tools, many of which I use every day. These are not tinnitus relief products per se, but I've discovered any tool that can help you reduce your stress and anxiety levels will also help you to better cope with your tinnitus.
I hope you find these products as helpful as I have!
The Apollo Neuro wearable
The Apollo Neuro is a wearable device that uses vibration patterns to directly influence the nervous system and quickly alter your mental state on demand.
I have been testing and wearing my Apollo Neuro every day for the last seven months and have found it to be effective and beneficial. The Neuro offers a wide variety of mind-altering effects and health benefits, and its efficacy is backed by a growing body of research.
It can quickly induce relaxation to alleviate stress and anxiety, and reduce activation of fight or flight, which can be very useful for tinnitus sufferers who are stuck in a vicious cycle of fight or flight. It also has a program to help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply, as well as programs to give you energy, reduce fatigue, and boost your focus.
If you've never tried brainwave entrainment before, my audio tracks are an effective and less expensive way to experience these kinds of mind-altering effects. But the Apollo Neuro can change your mental state through vibration alone, which is useful for anyone living with both tinnitus and hearing loss or sound sensitivity (hyperacusis).
It also allows you to use it throughout the day in situations where turning on audio wouldn’t be ideal. For example, I often wear my Apollo while meeting with my tinnitus coaching clients or while relaxing in front of TV.
I’ve been recommending the Apollo Neuro to everyone I know and have received positive feedback from the tinnitus community.
HeartMath Inner Balance sensor
The HeartMath Inner Balance Sensor is a heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback training device designed to improve HRV coherence, which is a state in which the heart, brain, and nervous system are in sync.
The sensor clips to your earlobe to measure your heart rate and heart rate variability in real time. Heart rate variability is a measurement of the variation in time intervals between heartbeats and in many ways is an indicator of the stress level and physiological health of your autonomic nervous system.
The actual biofeedback sessions are administered through a mobile app (available for both Android and iOS devices) and are comprised of guided breathing and visualization exercises designed to improve HRV coherence.
What is HRV coherence?
According to Hearthmath, “A number of important physiological changes occur during coherence. The two branches of the ANS (autonomic nervous system) synchronize with one another, and there is an overall shift in autonomic balance toward increased parasympathetic activity.” In other words, it can help to reduce stress and put you into a more relaxed state.
During sessions, which can be as short as 5 minutes, the app provides real-time audible and/or visual feedback on your current state, with the goal of helping you improve your overall levels of HRV coherence both in the moment and over time.
You don’t need to buy the inner balance sensor to start experiencing some of the benefits that HRV coherence training has to offer, though.
Quick Coherence technique
For example, HeartMath’s teaches a breathing technique called the Quick Coherence technique that I have been practicing for nearly a decade now. HeartMath has published simple instructions for the technique and you can watch a video of me narrating the technique.
The Inner Balance sensory biofeedback sessions are an effective way to improve HRV coherence, however I’ve found that the breathing technique alone can stabilize my emotional state in a matter of minutes and always leaves me feeling relaxed.
I frequently introduce both the quick coherence breathing technique and the Inner Balance sensor to my tinnitus coaching clients, many of whom have reported it to be a helpful complementary practice as they work to habituate and find relief from tinnitus.
(Always talk to your doctor before trying any new supplements like Kava to make sure it is safe for you to consume, and that there are no medication interactions. Kava may interact with many medications commonly prescribed to tinnitus and Meniere’s patients.)
Kava can be made into a relaxing tea using the roots of the Kava plant (Piper methysticum) which is native to the South Pacific Islands.
I often describe kava as the opposite of coffee. In other words, if coffee was a sedative, rather than a stimulant, but of the same strength, kava is the result. It has been shown to help relieve anxiety in a matter of minutes and can be a healthy alternative to alcohol, one that has never triggered my tinnitus or other Meniere’s symptoms.
Kava is mind altering and can have a very strong psychoactive relaxation effect, especially at higher doses. But it carries almost none of the side effects and downsides of alcohol intoxication. Even in large quantities, you still retain the ability to think clearly and there is little to no hangover or impact on the next day for most consumers.
Kava tea has been a part of my life, and a big part of my stress management tool kit, for a long time now. I actually met my wife at a local kava bar, and I have personally been drinking kava on a regular basis for more than 15 years.
There are kava bars opening up all over the US (and in other countries too), with a high concentration in and around South Florida where I currently live. Visiting a local kava bar is a great way to experience kava, but you can also make it at home.
Traditionally kava is made by steeping, kneading, and squeezing ground kava root powder inside of a cloth strainer bag in a bowl of warm water for 10-15 minutes. It’s not difficult to prepare kava tea in this way, but it’s definitely time consuming and somewhat of a hassle. Good news: A product called the Aluball can make full-strength kava tea in a minute or less.
Percussive massage guns (Theragun)
Percussive massage guns are handheld massage tools that use rapid bursts of pressure to massage specific areas of the body. Rather than simply vibrating, massage guns have various massage attachments that move in and out between 12 and 16 millimeters, hitting your muscles with a percussive impact that improves blood flow and releases tension. The experience is a lot like getting a deep tissue massage.
Stress often finds its way into the body as muscle tension, aches, and pains. Many tinnitus sufferers report tight neck, upper back, and shoulder muscles, just to name a few. For somatic tinnitus patients, this tension can even cause spikes.
But there is a reason that massages are very mentally relaxing as well as physically relaxing. The body and mind are connected, and when your body is completely relaxed, the mind tends to follow.
For years now, I have used my Theragun massage gun at least once per day in the evening before bed, hitting all large muscle groups throughout my body for 10-20 minutes in total. When I’m done, I always feel calmer, and my body feels so much more relaxed. Because of this, I also often reach for it during moments of acute stress or anxiety and have found it to be an effective way to calm down.
Theragun and Hypervolt are my two favorite massage gun brands by far (and the two that I have the most experience with), however they are both premium products and carry a premium price tag. Fortunately, there are countless other less expensive options available on Amazon, with prices starting as low as $40 or less.
Manual massage tools: lacrosse ball and foam roller
In addition to massage guns, there are other simple products that can be used to release and massage tight muscles. Foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and leg rollers are all highly effective myofascial release massage tools that can be purchased inexpensively.
All you really need to get started is a lacrosse ball, which can be highly effective at reducing physical tension and stress, and can be found at any sporting goods store (or on Amazon) for as little as $5-8 dollars. Even a tennis ball can be used in a pinch. Foam rollers are great too and typically priced between $10 and $35.
If you would like give this a try, here are a few helpful instructional guides to get you started:
The Temple Massager is another manual massage tool that allows you to quickly release tension in your head, temples, jaw, and facial muscles.
From a massage standpoint, the temple massager is highly effective at reducing facial and muscle tension, which can directly help relieve stress. But it can also help to alleviate the symptoms of many common issues that exacerbate or even cause tinnitus, such as TMJ/D (temporomandibular joint disorder), bruxism (teeth clenching/grinding), headaches, and migraines.
While not every case of tinnitus is caused or exacerbated by jaw and facial muscle tension, there is a direct correlation for a large subset of tinnitus patients. This subtype of tinnitus is commonly known as somatic tinnitus, and while we don’t fully understand why this occurs, there are a few common theories.
If your tinnitus is exacerbated by yawning, chewing, or clenching your jaw, or tensing your face or neck muscles, your tinnitus is considered somatic tinnitus. (My tinnitus falls into this category as well.)
But even if you don’t have somatic tinnitus, and you don’t have TMJ, headaches/migraines, or other related issues either, the Temple Massager can still be a highly effective tool for stress relief. Many people simply hold a lot of tension in their head and face, and alleviating this tension can be a deeply relaxing experience.
Extra large heating pad
Electric (and microwavable) heating pads have long been a tool in my stress management and relaxation toolkit. I typically workout 6 days per week, and so my muscles are often feeling tense and fatigued. But it wasn’t until I discovered extra-large heating pads that can cover the entire back of a recliner chair, that I really started getting the benefits.
As a general rule, heat is extremely relaxing for tired and stiff muscles – it's why hot tubs feel so good! And while hot baths, saunas, and steam rooms can be helpful here too, I still find myself using my heating pad most nights when I sit down to relax in the evenings.
My personal favorite (and the one I use daily) is an extra-large 33”x17” heating pad from a company called EvaJoy, but there are tons of other sizes and options available on Amazon, along with more specialized options that can help to target specific body parts, like the neck and shoulders.