Dr. Keith Darrow, PhD, CCC-A

Tinnitus, that persistent ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound in the ears, affects millions of people worldwide, often disrupting daily life and causing distress. While there's no one-size-fits-all cure, emerging research suggests that mindfulness techniques can help manage tinnitus and alleviate its bothersome effects. Today, let's explore how mindfulness can offer relief and discuss some practical tips to incorporate it into your routine.

For a deeper insight into how hearing loss and tinnitus profoundly affect individuals on a daily basis, I invite you to explore our member clinics at www.excellenceinaudiology.org.

Understanding Tinnitus and its Impact

Before delving into mindfulness, it's essential to grasp the nature of tinnitus. Tinnitus isn't a condition itself but a symptom of an underlying issue such as hearing loss, ear injury, or circulatory system disorder. It can manifest differently for everyone, ranging from a mild annoyance to a severe disturbance that affects sleep, concentration, and emotional well-being.

The Science Behind Mindfulness for Tinnitus

Recent studies have shed light on the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions in managing tinnitus. Research published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery in 2016 found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) significantly reduced the severity of tinnitus symptoms and improved quality of life in participants. Another study in The Lancet in 2020 showed that mindfulness techniques led to a reduction in the functional impairment caused by tinnitus.

But how does mindfulness work in alleviating tinnitus? Dr. Jennifer Gans, an otolaryngologist, explains, "Mindfulness helps individuals develop a non-reactive awareness of their thoughts and sensations. By cultivating this awareness, individuals can learn to observe their tinnitus without judgment or emotional reactivity, which can reduce the perceived loudness and bothersomeness of the sound."

Practical Tips for Applying Mindfulness

Now, let's discuss some actionable tips to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life to manage tinnitus effectively:

  • 1. Mindful Breathing: Take a few moments each day to focus on your breath. Notice the sensation of air entering and leaving your nostrils. When your mind wanders to your tinnitus, gently guide your focus back to your breath.

You can also practice deep breathing by lying down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths. Focus your attention on the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body. Notice how your chest and abdomen rise and fall with each breath. 

  • 2. Body Scan Meditation: Engage in a body scan meditation to bring awareness to different parts of your body. Notice any tension or discomfort without judgment. This practice can help divert attention away from tinnitus and promote relaxation. 

Lie down comfortably and close your eyes. Start from your toes and slowly move your attention up through your body, paying attention to each part individually. Notice any sensations, tension, or areas of relaxation as you scan through your body.

  • 3. Sound Awareness: Instead of trying to block out the sound of tinnitus, try to shift your relationship with it. Treat it as just another sound in your environment, like birds chirping or leaves rustling. This change in perception can reduce its perceived loudness and annoyance.

Sit quietly and observe your thoughts as they arise in your mind. Rather than getting caught up in the content of your thoughts, simply observe them without judgment. Imagine your thoughts as clouds passing through the sky, allowing them to come and go.

  • 4. Mindful Activities: Engage in activities that promote mindfulness, such as yoga, tai chi, or walking meditation (see #6 below). These practices can help anchor your attention to the present moment and reduce rumination on tinnitus.
  • 5. Seek Professional Guidance: Consider participating in a structured mindfulness program led by a qualified instructor. This can provide you with guidance and support in developing a regular mindfulness practice tailored to your needs.

6. Mindful Walking: Mindful walking can be a helpful practice for managing tinnitus by shifting your focus away from the ringing in your ears and grounding yourself in the present moment. Here's how you can adapt mindful walking specifically for tinnitus:

  • Find a Quiet Place: Choose a peaceful outdoor location where you can walk without distractions or loud noises that might exacerbate your tinnitus.
  • Set Your Intention: Before you begin walking, set an intention to bring your full attention to the experience of walking and to let go of any preoccupations with your tinnitus.
  • Focus on Your Steps: As you start walking, pay close attention to the sensations in your feet and legs as they make contact with the ground. Notice the rhythm of your steps and how your body moves with each stride.
  • Engage Your Senses: Bring awareness to your surroundings using your senses. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, and textures around you. Focus on objects in your environment or the feeling of the breeze on your skin.
  • Acknowledge Your Tinnitus: If you notice your tinnitus during your walk, acknowledge its presence without judgment. Instead of getting caught up in frustration or anxiety about the sound, simply observe it as one sensation among many.
  • Return to the Present Moment: If your mind starts to wander or if you become fixated on your tinnitus, gently guide your attention back to the present moment by refocusing on your steps and surroundings.
  • Practice Acceptance: Embrace the experience of walking with tinnitus without trying to resist or change it. Cultivate a sense of acceptance and compassion toward yourself and your body, recognizing that tinnitus is just one aspect of your experience at the moment.
  • Gratitude and Relaxation: As you conclude your walk, take a moment to express gratitude for the opportunity to move your body and connect with nature. Notice any feelings of relaxation or peace that arise from the practice.
  • Mindful Eating: Choose a small piece of food, such as a raisin or a nut. Before eating, take a moment to observe the food with all your senses. Notice its texture, color, and smell. Slowly take a bite, paying attention to the taste and sensation of chewing. Notice how your body responds to the experience of eating.
  • Gratitude Practice: Take a few moments each day to reflect on things you're grateful for. This could be as simple as appreciating a beautiful sunrise, a kind gesture from a friend, or a moment of peace and quiet. Allow yourself to fully experience the feeling of gratitude in your body.
  • Loving-Kindness Meditation: Sit quietly and bring to mind someone you care about deeply. Repeat phrases of loving-kindness in your mind, such as "May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live with ease." Extend these wishes first to your loved one, then to yourself, and eventually to all beings.

While tinnitus can be a challenging condition to live with, incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine can offer relief and improve your quality of life. Remember, the goal of mindfulness isn't to eliminate tinnitus entirely but to change your relationship with it, allowing you to live more fully despite its presence. With patience and practice, you can shift bothersome tinnitus and cultivate greater peace of mind.

Remember, consistency is key when practicing mindfulness. Start with just a few minutes each day and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable with the exercises.

For more information on hearing loss and tinnitus in older adults, please ask me questions at www.drkeithdarrow.com

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