Tinnitus is an ear ailment that is often associated with a ringing in the ears. It can be a hissing, clicking, roaring, rushing, high or low pitched, humming, or a pulsing sound as well. The sound can be annoying as it has not been induced through an external factor.
Though this problem is incurable, it generally tends to go away on its own or through therapies.
Many people who have been suffering from tinnitus have found solace in meditation. There have been many success stories of people being able to see a reduction in the ringing sound or learning the ability to filter out the phantom noise 1.
Mindfulness meditation and habituation are two extremely popular techniques through which you can learn to live with tinnitus for a longer period of time. These methods are not a cure-all, but they can significantly reduce the impact tinnitus has on your mood, productivity, sleep quality, and day-to-day working.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a well-known technique to control your mind by concentrating on a focal point. This focus helps in inducing relaxation and calms down the mind. It is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety and curb any wayward emotions.
Practising meditation activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) or the “rest and digest” mode. The PNS helps in the normal functioning of the organs after the body has experienced extreme stress, trauma, or emotional episode.
When your body starts coming back to its original state after stress, you will notice many physical and psychological changes. These benefits of meditation can help reduce the ringing of the ears to a significant level.
- Blood pressure gets regulated
- Heart rate normalizes
- Breathing becomes stable
- Cortisol level decreases
- Mind becomes calm
- Sleep quality is improved
What is tinnitus and why is it problematic?
Tinnitus can be caused due to certain medications, environmental factors, injury, old age, hearing loss or high blood pressure. It is a very common issue where people suffering from hearing noises and sounds which cannot be heard by others.
The sound one hears can be sometimes extremely distracting and focus is lost due to the ringing. It may also be low such that one may forego it on a day-to-day basis.
Currently, the exact cause of tinnitus is not known. If you consult a doctor, they may conduct a range of tests to identify the real cause. The diagnosis can be done based on the sound you describe to them but the underlying cause also shouldn’t be overlooked.
If it can be treated through changing a medication, earwax removal, using earplugs or hearing aids, or treating a blood vessel condition, you should go ahead with it.
The problem arises when the underlying health condition cannot be identified and you have to resort to alternative therapies. Tinnitus may also increase due to the stress of hearing a noise continuously.
We are surrounded by noise 24×7 and our brain has become so accustomed to a few of them that it automatically ignores them. New or sudden noises often give us a scare as it takes a while for the brain to recognize them and term them into a category of danger.
The same is with tinnitus.
Since it is a new sound, the brain becomes accustomed to the treat it as something disturbing and annoying, which leads to stress and anxiety.
The more stress you take, the more the sound increases.
The sound may come and go or can sometimes remain for months. You never know when it is going to stop or whether you will have to live with it forever.
In such cases, you can turn to meditation to help you in tuning out the ringing.
How can meditation help?
Meditation strengthens self-esteem and leads to a better awareness of the present moment, making it an effective aid for coping with worry, anxiety, and other feelings that might overwhelm those struggling with tinnitus.
This can alleviate the concern that new patients will never be able to cope with the noise and will be bothered by it indefinitely.
High blood pressure and poor blood circulation in the inner ears can cause or intensify tinnitus, and meditation can help alleviate these symptoms. Meditation may also be beneficial in how it lessens the tension induced by tinnitus and helps to shift the focus away from the tinnitus symptoms.
Science has also proved the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation as an alternative therapy for alleviating tinnitus.
In randomized control trial study on the effect of “mindfulness meditation versus relaxation therapy in the management of tinnitus” 2, 86 patients were studied. 34 patients were given mindfulness meditation and 27 were given relaxation therapy.
It was noted that while both methods work, the management of tinnitus was significantly higher for mindfulness meditation patients than those of relaxation therapy.
Another pilot study conducted in the University of California, San Francisco Audiology Clinic 3. 8 tinnitus patients were given 8 weeks of group instruction on mindfulness practice, a 1-day retreat, supplementary readings, and home-based practice using meditation CDs.
The preliminary evidence of the study shows that the above program proved to be an effective tool in tackling chronic tinnitus by reducing depression and phobic anxiety.
A study published in 2017 4 investigated the “effects of cognitive-behavioural therapy and meditation in tinnitus sufferers”. 25 chronic tinnitus sufferers were selected from a tinnitus clinic in the Welsh Hearing Institute.
Out of these patients, one group was given 4 1-hour sessions of cognitive-behavioral therapy/meditation intervention. The other group underwent a waiting period of 3 months and was given the same intervention as the first group.
It was noted that the meditation intervention was successful in reducing tinnitus symptoms as compared to the waiting list group. And this improvement was also maintained after 4-6 months.
However, as far as long-term effects of mindfulness meditation are concerned, more research needs to be conducted to study, as was suggested by a systematic review published in 2019 5.
Looking at the above studies, it is understood that meditation does have a positive impact on alleviating the symptoms of tinnitus to a considerable extent.
Can meditation completely cure tinnitus?
It will be a grave mistake to think that meditation can completely cure tinnitus. There is no known cure to this ailment as the exact cause of it is also unknown. In a general scenario, tinnitus can go away in a span of 16-48 hours. However, triggers such as loud noises can make it bounce back.
Factors such as your general hearing health or primary cause, if identified, also contribute to the time period for the tinnitus to stay. If your tinnitus lingers, you can resort to meditation techniques to help you get relief.
If it continues for a longer duration, it is better to get it checked by a doctor before you take up meditation.
How to Meditate with Tinnitus?
Meditation is the solution to alter your perception of and response to sound.
The objective of tinnitus meditation therapy is to reprogram the brain. The treatment works by teaching the mind to tolerate and cope with tinnitus. The method is the contrary of standard treatments, which aim to eliminate tinnitus entirely.
Those with tinnitus who have attempted meditation say that even when they are sitting in a silent environment, the ringing in their ears lessens during the activity. Initially, the shift is sudden, but after several sessions, their bodies expect relief.
The technique of meditation is nothing unique, it is the standard mindfulness meditation method that is practised in the general scenario. However, If you intend to meditate to relieve your tinnitus, be prepared for some difficulties at first.
Once you sit down to practice meditation, the noise and ringing could seem to get louder. But do not lose hope and focus. It will take time to train your mind to stop focusing on noisy sounds. The more you will try to resist the sound the more stressful it will become. So the basic idea of meditation is to transcend the sound into your practice. It’s the mindfulness practice.
Follow the below steps of mindfulness meditation for tinnitus:
1. Choose a comfortable position. It can be seated, standing, or supine, whichever feels comfortable to you. Since you have to sit for 15-20 minutes at a stretch, it is better that you feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible in whatever position you choose.
2. Close your eyes. Closing your eyes may seem to increase the noise, however, it will help you not get distracted by the outside world. You will be able to focus more. You can even use an eye mask to encourage yourself to keep your eyes closed.
3. Breath normally. You do not need to follow a specific breathing technique in mindfulness meditation. You will need to focus on your natural breathing pattern and observe the flow. Focus on the inward and outward movement, the expansion and contraction of your chest or abdomen, and the flow of air in your nose.
4. Let your thoughts pass. It goes without saying that a multitude of thoughts will arise during this process. It can be anything, from feelings to a forgotten activity. The main aim of mindfulness meditation is not to empty your head, but to draw your mind away from these thoughts. You need to acknowledge these thoughts and let them pass instead of dwelling on them.
5. Come back to your breath. Every time you are distracted, you need to make an effort to come back to your focal point-your breath. This will help you to train your mind to stay in the present.
Other options to try
Many people have suggested using soothing sounds such as the sound of waves, birds chirping, violin, piano, or simply white noise to drown the ringing of the ears. Nada yoga is form of yoga which use sound therapy for therapeutic purposes. It can be a good way to alter the mind in perceiving the tinnitus as a relaxing sound thereby taking away the stress related to it.
Guided meditation is also a good option as the sound of someone gently guiding you to relax gives a soothing effect and also proves to be a good focal point.
As weird as it may sound, you can try to focus on the ringing of your ears instead of your breath. Whatever point you pick to focus on, your mind is bound to wander. This will also happen when you set the noise as the focal point. Your mind will start to associate the sound of tinnitus with relaxation. This is called habituation. You are training your brain to get accustomed to a sound so that it will start foregoing and filtering repetitive sensory information.
When your mind has been accustomed to the sound, you will be able to get habituated and the stress that comes along with it will also substantially get reduced.
Tips for effective practice
While meditating, keep the following points in mind:
Initially, you will face trouble with finding focus and will tend to get distracted by the sound of tinnitus itself. Start with dedicating 5-10 minutes so that you can build up a schedule and rhythm. Gradually increase the time of meditation to 20-30 minutes.
It is generally recommended that you practice meditation in a quiet setting. But with tinnitus, this may not be possible. You can use a white noise machine or search for various white noise audio online to help you out. The noise of the fan, humidifier, soft music, static is also preferable.
Be as still as possible. Restricting your movement will aid in enhanced concentration.
Prior to sitting for meditation, perform some physically and mentally relaxing activity which will help set the tone for the next half an hour.
If you are sensing a physical distraction, such as an itch, do not succumb to it. Let your body sit through the discomfort. This discomfort will tend to subside over time.
Do not interact with your thoughts. For example, if the thought of doing your laundry comes up, do not set up a time in your mind or think of the load that you will be washing. You need to disengage from this thought and come back to focus on your breathing.
After you are finished with your tinnitus meditation, do not immediately get away from the serene environment you have created by jumping onto an intense activity. Take some time to slowly ease back into your work.
While suffering from tinnitus, limit the use of alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine as they tend to adversely affect the blood flow. An imbalance in blood circulation can aggravate your tinnitus.
Trick your brain into thinking of the noise of tinnitus as music. Putting tinnitus in a positive category may be able to get you habituated to the sound and relieve you of the anxiety that comes with it.
Although it is discouraged, some advise the use of earplugs. It may elevate other sounds such as breathing or swallowing, but you can also recognize the pattern of the sound of tinnitus. Recognizing this pattern is also another way of habituating.
Meditating for tinnitus is just a way to cope with the constant ringing or clicking sound. It takes dedicated time and practice to perfect, but meditation can be a useful technique in the treatment of tinnitus. Tinnitus-focused meditation can help you fully habituate to and find long-term relief from the sound that can drive anyone insane for a long time.
Avoiding places that have loud noises and taking care of your hearing health will also be able to keep such ailments at bay.
- Anyone here have tinnitus? https://www.reddit.com/r/Meditation/comments/c4996w/anyone_here_have_tinnitus/
- A randomised controlled study of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation therapy in the management of tinnitus https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-laryngology-and-otology/article/abs/randomised-controlled-study-of-mindfulness-meditation-versus-relaxation-therapy-in-the-management-of-tinnitus/44E8421E74029C4970D53FFA26025004
- Mindfulness Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction Pilot Study https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12671-012-0184-4
- Tinnitus rehabilitation: a mindfulness meditation cognitive behavioural therapy approach https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-laryngology-and-otology/article/abs/tinnitus-rehabilitation-a-mindfulness-meditation-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-approach/0098C3C2FCEDD102B670BF2808312DBC
- The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Tinnitus Distress. A Systematic Review https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2019.01135/full