While we may associate tinnitus with the loud noises that can be found in a construction environment or loud music concert, but it is a relatively common condition that affects a lot of people in the relatively quiet office environment.
The continuous ringing sound can be very frustrating as it becomes worse in stressful situations (like nagging bosses!) but the tinnitus itself can also cause stress. It’s a vicious cycle and a typical Catch 22.
The definition of tinnitus is the awareness of a sound sensation that is not due to an external sound source. The more common type is subjective tinnitus which is something only you can hear and is often caused by sensorineural hearing loss, trauma, shock or stress.
Tinnitus can affect a lot us on many different levels, whether that’s in volume or how sensitive we are to it. As our performance levels at work are often (and somewhat unrealistically!) expected to be at 100% every day, making sure we are comfortable in our environment is really important. Here, we explore some of the practical steps you can take to ensure your workplace environment is as comfortable as possible to ease the stress with your condition.
1. Tinnitus masking
The most obvious and direct way of managing tinnitus symptoms in a quiet office environment is with sound therapy or tinnitus masking. Masking describes covering over the sound of tinnitus with a more pleasant noise. Simple examples might include listening to relaxing music through an MP3 player. You can even find online specific music to treat tinnitus.
There is also more targeted equipment for more sensitive sufferers such as a white noise machine or even wearing a tinnitus masker. These types of solutions can provide a respite from symptoms and play a part of a more long-term solution. A more permanent solution is habituation by way of tinnitus retraining therapy.
2. Attention strategies
Every person’s perceived loudness of tinnitus is subjective. This means that your perceived loudness can be influenced by lots of different factors and one of these factors is where our attention is placed.
As humans we like to problem solve. Part of this problem-solving process is about concentrating on the difficulty at hand. But in terms of tinnitus management, the exact opposite is the case. Concentrating on tinnitus with regard to the experience of it and surrounding thoughts is detrimental for symptom management. In other words, by our problem-solving nature, we focus and concentrate on our tinnitus, which makes it appear louder to us.
It is much more beneficial to concentrate on a work problem for the sake of your tinnitus as well as for the sake of the work. This means mindfully bringing your attention to whatever you are doing. It could be making a cup of herbal tea. Practice making it in a mindful way rather than allowing yourself to slip away into your thoughts or into your symptoms. They say we should ask a busy person to get something done and the same goes for managing our symptoms.
3. Lunch time
The pressures of work and deadlines can quickly cut into our free time, meaning we might skip lunch or leave the office late. Part of coping with tinnitus at work is about having some down time. This means putting in clear boundaries between your time and work time.
There’s more to it than just having some rest time though. Eating calms us because our nervous system thinks that we would only eat when we are in a safe environment. Eat healthily also stops blood sugars dropping quickly which compounds stress and anxiety and tinnitus symptoms.
4. Stress levels
Stressful work situations can compound our symptoms. Managing our stress levels with regard to work is imperative to managing tinnitus.
This might mean aiming to get to work earlier than you need to be there. This cuts out stress from traffic or public transport. Not agreeing to unrealistic deadlines and having firm boundaries is also very important, as well as getting a good night’s sleep by going to bed early. But if you find sleep time stressful because of your symptoms, you might want to consider using a tinnitus masker at night.
Transitioning in relation to tinnitus describes the transition from one environment to another, such as going from the hustle and bustle of the office into a quiet meeting room. For tinnitus sufferers it can be really helpful to get to the meeting early and settle into the new quiet space. By doing some relaxed breathing exercises before the meeting begins it gives your nervous system the opportunity to adjust.
Another example might be when in a driving type role. The stereo is on full blast as you listen to your favourite song as well as it drowning out your tinnitus. But loud situations can cause our ear drums to contract as a defence and the central nervous system numbs and desensitizes itself to cope with the noise. This activates a shock type state which can be detrimental to managing your symptoms at work.
This post was written by Matthew Alderton (BSc, MA, Dip, Dip Psych) a Tinnitus Retraining Therapist in London & Psychotherapist at The Trauma Practice. His experience in the mental health field has been accrued over the last seven years working in counselling, rehabilitation and psychotherapeutic settings, as well as offering support and treatment for the many people suffering from Tinnitus.