Tinnitus is that annoying ringing sound when there’s actually no noise outside. There’s no cure for it yet, but practicing mindfulness can help. Assuming you know nothing about meditation, let’s talk about everything you need to do tinnitus meditation. In this article, we’ll discuss how you can use mindfulness to make tinnitus less bothersome.
Meditation eases tinnitus by training the mind to react differently to it. Usually, we respond with anxiety and worry, but meditation works to change it into awareness and acceptance. By ‘allowing’ the sound, you’re able to relax with it and habituate the mind to ignore it naturally.
Read on to understand the psychology of tinnitus and how meditation helps us deal with it. We’ll also look at the current scientific research and some tips to help you meditate with tinnitus.
Tinnitus is the ringing or buzzing of one or both ears. It’s when there’s no noise outside, but you still perceive sound. Usually described as ringing, it may also be a hissing, buzzing, or whistling sound.
Tinnitus may be constant or come and go. According to the American Tinnitus Association, it affects over 50 million Americans. For 16 million of them, tinnitus is a chronic condition severely affecting the quality of their lives.
Trying to ignore the sound doesn’t help because you only end up intensifying it. Distractions like music, the sound of a fan, or other background noise soften the ringing. But when you’re alone in a quiet place, it becomes prominent and maddening.
Over time, most people get habituated to the sound. Their brain stops responding to it, and they become less aware of it. But sometimes it’s very intrusive, to the point that it hinders you from living your life normally. Then, you get caught up in trying to make it go away, and your failure causes stress and worry. The more you try to ‘fight’ tinnitus, the worse it becomes. This struggle also slows the natural process of habituation.
There’s no cure for tinnitus yet, nor does mindfulness claim to be one. But it can reduce the symptoms, making it less bothersome.
What if we stopped fighting tinnitus? What if we accepted the sound instead of worrying about it? Meditation proposes just that.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that involves paying attention to the present moment. When you practice mindfulness, you try to notice your thoughts and emotions without getting involved or judging.
You can do it by focusing your attention on your breath, a sound, an image, or your bodily sensations. Practicing mindfulness instantly puts you in a state of calmness and deep relaxation.
Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha, taught it 2500 years ago in India. It’s a spiritual practice forming the core of Buddhism. But in the last few decades, Western medicine has picked it up and turned it into a non-religious, therapeutic practice.
Molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited with bringing mindfulness to the West. He founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Clinic in the 1970s. Since then, many scientific studies have been published exploring the various benefits of MBSR.
Mindfulness meditation has many benefits besides alleviating tinnitus. It:
- Reduces stress, anxiety, and depression
- Balances blood pressure and heart rate
- Improves immunity and digestion
- Reduces brain aging and sharpens the brain
- Increases self-awareness and emotion regulation
- Helps overcome addictions like smoking
- And many more.
How does meditation help with tinnitus?
With mindfulness, you don’t try to ‘fix’ tinnitus or make it go away. The goal is to make it less intrusive so that it’s no longer a problem for you.
We’ve seen how the brain is skilled at tuning out unnecessary noise from your consciousness. And that when we try to get rid of tinnitus, we condition the brain to respond with anxiety and stress upon encountering it.
Mindfulness aims to change how we interpret and relate to the sound. It encourages a gentle watchfulness, curiosity, and acceptance to whatever is happening around us. When we do this, we find that the sound isn’t as threatening as it appeared to be.
Over time, our response to tinnitus changes from anxiety to non-judgmental awareness. We ‘allow’ the sound to exist and are no longer distressed by it. Mindfulness also helps us realize that the sound itself isn’t harmful to our hearing. This shift in perspective aids habituation. When the mind no longer perceives tinnitus as a threat, it can tune out the sound as it would background noise.
Since it’s a neurological condition, it’s affected by changes in stress and mood. Mindfulness reduces stress, makes us rational, and increases positive emotions. These short-term and long-term benefits of meditation ease tinnitus and improve the quality of our lives.
Just like other benefits of meditation, it’s effectiveness for treating tinnitus is backed by science. Although the research is scant, it doesn’t mean mindfulness doesn’t work. The current evidence is promising as far as the validity of meditation is concerned.
In a 2018 study, 182 chronic tinnitus patients did an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program. The researchers found a significant reduction in psychological distress and tinnitus-related distress. A 6-week follow-up was also performed, proving that the improvements are lasting.(1)
Clinical psychologist Dr. Gans developed an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction (MBTSR) treatment. In a pilot study, she introduced eight patients to this program. Their symptoms and discomfort were assessed by self-report questionnaires.
The study concluded that meditation significantly reduced symptoms like depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Patients also reported an increased tolerance to tinnitus, making it easier to live with it.(2)
How to meditate with tinnitus
Meditating is hard on its own, and tinnitus makes it even more challenging. But with that said, it can still be practiced successfully. Meditation becomes easier with time if you keep at it. Here’s how to practice breath-focused meditation:
- Set a timer for 10-20 minutes using an alarm clock or a smartphone.
- Sit cross-legged on the ground or in a hard-backed chair. In either case, keep your back straight. Place your feet flat on the ground if sitting in a chair.
- Intertwine your fingers and drop your hands in front of you. Or cup your hands and rest them on your knees.
- Look ahead and keep your neck straight. These instructions ensure your body is in the optimal position to sit still.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to settle in.
- Focus your attention on the breath. Let the body breathe on its own and watch every inhalation and exhalation. Notice the sensations at your nostrils or the rise and fall of your belly button.
- When your mind wanders—which it will—gently bring it back to the breath. It’ll happen a lot, so don’t get frustrated. Take it as a given that you’ll only be meditating less than 10% of the time in the beginning.
- Keep the body still. Don’t change your position or scratch an itch.
If tinnitus interrupts your meditation sessions, try keeping your eyes half-open. Visual stimuli can offset the ringing to some extent. If you decide to open them, defocus your gaze and direct it about 4 fingers away from your nose.
Also, try lighting incense or sitting under a quiet fan. This will prevent you from returning to the ringing sound. Mindfully listening to calming music or natural soundscape can also distract you.
Practicing tinnitus meditation
Here’s where it gets interesting. Although the breath-focused practice has its benefits, our goal is to change our attitude toward tinnitus. So in the last 5-10 minutes of your session, you’ll be meditating on the ringing in your ears.
Notice the pitch and change in volume or pattern of the sound. This may sound counterintuitive, and it’s also terrifying to do in the beginning. But it has its benefits. Confronting the sound will help you realize that it’s not as threatening.
As you bring your attention to the sound, you’ll find that it’s hard to do. Not because the sound is deafening, but because the mind cannot stay focused on anything. So when the mind drifts away, bring it back to the sound.
Once you stop fighting tinnitus and just watch it, you’ll be able to relax with it. Gradually, the sound will become less bothersome and feel more controllable. This will help the habituation process we talked about earlier.
Tinnitus is an annoying condition whose physiological causes are unknown. It has no cure, but practicing mindfulness seems to help many people.
The benefits of meditation aren’t limited to the treatment of tinnitus. It also contributes to our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Oh, and by the way, tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss. So it’s a good idea to get a hearing test if you have ringing in your ears. You know, just to make sure.
|1.||↑||APA McKenna, Laurence1; Marks, Elizabeth M.1,2; Vogt, Florian1 Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Chronic Tinnitus: Evaluation of Benefits in a Large Sample of Patients Attending a Tinnitus Clinic, Ear and Hearing: March/April 2018 – Volume 39 – Issue 2 – p 359-366|
|2.||↑||Gans J. (2012). P02.20. Mindfulness based tinnitus stress reduction (MBTSR) pilot study: a symptom perception shift program. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 12(Suppl 1), P76.|