Hearing loss is stressful. Not being able to participate confidently in conversation and other social situations can lead to social withdrawal and depression. Add to that the other challenges that come with suboptimal hearing, such as being unable to enjoy movies or music as much as you once did, and it’s not surprising that hearing loss is associated with anxiety and stress. But can feeling this stress have inadvertently thrown you into a vicious cycle?
Hearing Problems Caused by Stress
Unfortunately, worrying about your hearing is doing you no favors. In fact, it may even be contributing to your hearing loss.
Researchers have linked experiences of psychological or physiological stress with various hearing problems. Though there is some evidence to suggest that acute and short-lived stress may be protective for the cochlea and hearing, chronic, long-term stress can be damaging.
One study found that patients suffering a condition known as idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss often reported experiencing increased levels of stress leading up to the onset of their hearing loss. These stressful situations included both mental and physical events. Another study conducted amongst working adults in Sweden found an increased prevalence of hearing loss and/or tinnitus in association with various life stressors, including:
- Lower self-rated health
- Chronic illnesses, handicaps, or inconveniences after an accident
- Lower sleep quality
- Increased work-related stress
- Greater degrees of burnout
It is thought that hearing is impacted by stress due to the effects of stress on blood circulation. Experiencing physiological or psychological stress triggers a series of biochemical pathways in the body. One of the outcomes of this is the release of adrenaline which, in turn, can reduce blood flow to the ears. If prolonged, this decrease in oxygen delivery to the delicate sensory hair cells of the ears can unfortunately spell permanent damage and subsequent hearing loss. Another theory for tinnitus sufferers is that experiencing stress can make it more difficult to apply your usual tinnitus coping strategies, making that ringing, whooshing, or buzzing in your ears all the more apparent.
For the cherry on top, doctors also note that stress is associated with high blood pressure. And yes, you guessed it, elevated blood pressure also has negative consequences for your hearing.
Ways to Destress
So, you’re stressed because you have hearing problems but then you find out the stress is worsening your hearing problems. Does that help you feel less stressed? Probably not.
As chronic stress offers very little benefit for any part of your life, not just your hearing, consider some ways you can bring a little zen back into your life. If you’re concerned about your hearing, it can also be worth visiting your local hearing center for a hearing test and some advice on how you can further protect your hearing. In the meantime, try some of these strategies to help you decompress and destress.
- Physical exercise
- Listening to music
- Talking with a trusted friend
- Doing anything you enjoy!
Further research is needed to investigate exactly how stress impacts our hearing and whether it’s worth incorporating stress coping coaching into hearing loss management. For now, keep in close contact with your hearing healthcare professional, count those blessings, and try to think happy thoughts!