Fourth in a continuing series about Tinnitus.
The Waiting Game…
You may have decided to pursue masking to reduce your tinnitus. Most masking or habituation programs make no promises but normally have good results in one to two years. Hypnotherapy can have very rapid results. Some people see exceptional results in the reduction of volume in 4-8 weeks. Others may not see results for one year or more. Pharmaceuticals will often produce excellent results in less than three months. Of course there are challenges involved in using various medications. Some people experience side effects to medication. Others may not get the results they had hoped for.
All of these possible time frames and scenarios demand one thing on the part of the tinnitus sufferer. There is the request for an “unfair patience.” We are given no promise of dates and times of reduction in any scenario involved. It is in response to this request that this article is written.
In the Mean Time…
It can be a very mean time, waiting in the meantime. There can be days that seem to unforgivably test our stamina, emotional strength and outlook on life. Here are some useful ideas that you can use immediately in the meantime. You can turn your meantime into a simple but occasionally challenging waiting time.
Focus of attention…
You may have heard that you should, “just ignore your tinnitus.” This is not possible. Please ignore the imagined picture you have in your mind of President Clinton. Ignore it now. Ignore it. You see, you cannot ignore something that you are trying to ignore.
What you can do is create an external focus of attention. Remember the last time you were fascinated by a book or en-tranced in a speakers speech. You were externally focused. In psychology this is what is known as a “flow state.” When you are completely in a flow state you cannot hear your tinnitus regardless of its volume. Now this may seem difficult to believe but it is true.
It has been scientifically proven that the conscious mind can only focus on about 126 tiny bits of information each second. Everything else that is in our environment (which amounts to over one million bits of information per second being recorded in the unconscious mind!) still enters into our mind, but it is not in our conscious awareness. It is when you are so wrapped up in something that is exciting or enticing to you that your tinnitus is not important enough to the brain to be de-coded. As long as the reticular activating system has decided to focus on one set of stimuli, you will not hear the noise in the circuitry of the brain.
You can take full advantage of these facts of your neurological wiring by participating in the most enjoyable activities you know of. Your conscious mind will then be directed toward external activity that creates a flow state for you. Unfortunately, activities that demand a great deal of internal processing will normally not be quite as useful for creating a focus of your attention. For example, chess is a game that creates flow states in people who enjoy playing chess, but because the game is largely played inside of the mind, it is more difficult to achieve quiet than games like tennis, baseball, basketball, volleyball and hobbies that mostly happen, “outside.”
Prelude to Habituation
Many people have discovered that being in a quiet room and being in a loud room accomplish the same thing for their tinnitus. Both make the noise go up in volume. The noise increases in a quiet room because more attention units are focused onto the noise itself. This creates a perception of increased volume in the mind of the tinnitus listener. In a loud room two key elements cause the volume to increase.
First, is the contrast principle. After leaving a loud room we are hyper-aware of noise in our heads. There is a great contrast between the loud environment and the quieter environment. Then there is the simple fact of noise induced tinnitus. High decibel noises can cause and/or exacerbate tinnitus.
Therefore, it would be prudent to avoid silent and noisy environments. It is best to offer yourself a free prelude to the habituation process. Keep some noise in “the background” in every environment you are able to. Unless you are profoundly deaf, you can play soft classical musical music, environmental tapes, new age cassettes or simply use the radio or television to create background noise for your listening. If you do not do this, your brain will normally seek out the original unwelcome tinnitus.
If you are profoundly deaf, then you have an additional challenge. For this person it is actually best to create two different foci. One will be complete focused attention on the tinnitus. Literally meditate on the noise itself for 15-20 minutes every day. This will be challenging at first for most tinnitus listeners. You will be excited to discover the difference you experience when you participate in externally focused events when you are in a flow state. Because profound deafness robs the individual of external auditory stimuli, you should be aware that the emotional interpretation we place on the tinnitus is very important. It is not necessary to try to convince yourself to “fall in love” with the noise, but it is useful to use the noise as a signal. Many of my clients learn to use tinnitus as a signal to discover who they should be “listening to.” Other clients learn to use their tinnitus as a message to themselves to care for themselves and others more. Even the profoundly deaf needs to “listen” to themselves and others, at least in a metaphorical sense.
Tinnitus as a signal to care for our health, happiness and those we love is a useful point of view to adopt. By considering this possibility we do not hate the noises we hear but emotionally habituate them. Emotional habituation is just as important as auditory habituation isn’t it?
In future issues, we will discuss alternative methods of dealing with tinnitus. There are numerous causes of tinnitus and while they are important to research for the researchers, we will focus on resolution and improvement in these pages.
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