Noise Sensitivity: When The World Is Too Loud
Noise sensitivity can be likened to nails on a blackboard. The constant buzz and whir of music, technology, the buzzing of Facebook notifications, ringing phones and loud conversations can be overwhelming. This sensitivity to noise is known as hyperacusis, a condition that arises from a problem in the way the brain processes noise.
When a sufferer comes to dread social settings due to the noise, it can become a mental health trigger. Sufferers may feel trapped with no escape, want some place quiet or feel disoriented, as though he or she can hear every noise or conversation in a room. The effect is similar to being in an echo chamber.
Causes of Noise Sensitivity
Hearing loss does not necessarily reduce sensory overload. The way in which the brain processes the sound does not mean that a person with hyperacusis, or sensitivity to sound in general, has better hearing. It's just that he or she is more sensitive to certain sounds: paper rustling, conversations, heating and air system sounds, etc.
Some causes of sensory overload include:
- brain injury
- airbag deployment
- ear damage
- Neurological conditions such as migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome and posttraumatic stress disorder can also be associated with increased sensitivity to noise.
Tips to Reduce Noise Sensitivity
- Incorporate some white noise into your surroundings - run a fan, invest in a white noise machine, open a window or install a white noise app on your cell phone.
- Wear noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds.
- Try positioning yourself in another area of the room.
- If you are wearing a hoodie, putting the hood up can lessen the stimulation.
- Using a tactile tool, such as rubbing a smooth stone can provide enough of a distraction to facilitate calming (Using Objects to Reduce Anxiety).
- Use post-it notes to cover sensors on auto-flushing toilets or automatic hand driers.
- Visiting during non-peak times and seeking seating on the perimeter can help to reduce exposure to noise.
What do you do when the world becomes too loud? We'd love to hear what has worked for you.
Kipp, P. (2013, December 27). Noise Sensitivity: When The World Is Too Loud, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, September 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2013/12/when-the-world-is-too-loud-noise-sensitivity
Author: Paulissa Kipp
I have anxiety, ptsd and insomnia. I'm always sensitive to sounds but when my anxiety is high or I haven't slept well, I'm super sensitive to sound. I've used earbuds, noise canceling headphones and earplugs but sometimes I feel unsafe in complete silence so using headphones or earplugs can make things worse for me. I recently purchased a pair of filtering earplugs and they are great. They are good at just lowering the sound level instead of blocking it out completely. They reduce sounds by about 12 decibels whereas standard foam earplugs reduce sounds by between 20-30 decibels depending on which ones you buy. I am not a medical professional, I'm just offering a suggestion based on my experience. I suggest talking to your doctor before using earplugs.
http://www.getdubs.com is the website where you can learn about these earplugs. They are available on Amazon and many other sites.
I tend to stay home a lot because of this and work night shift to avoid so much chaos in my head due to noise.
I feel angry and violent toward the source of the noise. I want to smash the washing machine. I want to scream 'just shut up!' at people who talk louder than they need to I work in a noisy office, but think I would be better in a remote monastery.
I took all the stuff out of a closet in my house, and made it into a "safe" area for myself. I have blankets and pillows, and when the noise gets to be too much, I go in there, lie down, and turn off the light. I often do breathing exercises to slow my breathing and relaxation exercises.
I get angry to the point where I want to hurt the person making the noise. I don't think the listed symptoms apply to me so maybe I'm just insane? Haha but in all seriousness does anybody else feel trapped and have anger come over you like that?
Although I take medication for depression, and do consider myself highly sensitive to noise, I think I am pretty well adjusted; I just like things quiet, and that gets compounded when the noise that irritates me is coming from the lack of consideration of others. Yes, there is anger, but I do not believe it is my own anxiety disorder as much as a cultural/societal disorder that forces large populations to live in limited spaces with close proximity to others.
i have never heard of noise sensitivity but after reading your post here i know i must have some form of it. my sensitivity is definitely linked to my anxiety. when my anxiety levels are high i cannot tolerate the sound of people chewing food or people breathing. it makes me very angry to the point i want to shout and curse (things i NEVER do). i also cannot tolerate crowds (inside or out) b/c the noise level sets something off in me and i feel highly agitated, short of breath and totally overloaded. to cope i have to leave the situation. i hate the sound of white noise and cannot tolerate background noises like tv or radio. so, i need to find a quiet place. often i stick ear buds in my ears to block out the sound of everything but my own breathing. i also have to check my thoughts and make sure i'm reign in the worry or anxious thoughts that kind of get out of control in these moments. i often pray too in these moments to gain some equilibrium. and, i also find the outdoors very soothing. so, i often escape to the river or the woods with my camera. after a couple of hours i often find myself feeling relaxed and well enough to return. i'm kinda relieved to know that this is not uncommon - noise sensitivity - it makes me feel more normal. thanks for the post!
Also I wonder if it has anything to do with retreating. If you are overwhelmed with the world, depressed or anxious.
As an anology; say +100 down to 0 is active and a `go get em` look at the world. And 0 to -100 is a `I`m reacting not acting` view.
So the guy who stamps over everyone and does what he wants is at +100. When you become more aware of your actions and considerate and at the same time aware of other`s actions, then you are at 0 on the scale. If you cant understand or seem to resolve issues and are waiting on the actions of others then you slip further down the scale, as you become more and more resentful of their behaviours.
So because you are in this rut you then get pushed further and further into a corner. And at this point everything is magnified and more of an issue.
The reason I see it this way is that I house share, and one of the girls slams the doors, shouts on the phone, bangs around, eats with her mouth open, doesn`t wash up, leaves the oven on for hours unattended etc etc.
I think it is magnified because I am still trying to be adult about it and be the bigger person, when all I want to do is yell, scream, shout and scare the **** out of her.
I pay the bills, fix things, clean and tidy, put the bins out, sort the garden etc etc while she does nothing.
So if I did what I wanted like her and made things difficult, then it would more than likely lessen the impact of her actions (or lack of them).
My feelings are that there is a massive element of injustice tangled in the noise disruption. Because your actions are actually reactions, and if they are the result of something negative then you stay in the aftershock of negative actions.....and if they do good then the same but in positive, which is all well and good but you are still at the mercy of whether that person is good or not.
The answer (I feel) is to listen to your natural calling, before all the conditioning of life rounds the corners off your real personality, and takes hold.
I think I have just answered something for myself here, I`m actually waiting for her to suddenly stop, go `what have I been doing`, realise the error of her ways and correct things and apologize.
So my destiny is in her hands at present. Having direction in life is imperative because if you don't know where you are going then you are actually going nowhere.
Being stuck and unsure of where you are heading in life brings on the Hyperacusis? You dont know which turning to take at the junction of life so you turn off the engine, and then start to notice things more. What do you guys think, is there anything in what I've said? I know I need to be more proactive and assertive to my needs and maybe that will help the noise issues etc. :0
It is reassuring to know others are affected by this. Lots of noises get to me and it debilitates me to the extent I cant think. The result is it makes me angry and depressed.
I`m sure it is some how related to being on alert, and the fight or flight mode. People not using door handles drives me mad, letting doors slam.
Eating with mouth open, chewing gum, general mouth noises jeeeeeezzzzzz!
Worryingly, it rules my life to the extent I only feel calm when I know there is nobody about....man being an Island n all that. :(
From studying the field of nutrition for many years I have learned that a lack of B vitamins (which make for a healthy nervous system) can cause noise sensitivity, irratability, and stress. B vitamins are plentiful in whole grains (or concentrated in wheat germ or brewers yeast -- added to a smoothie). Often after taking a high-level multi-B vitamin tablet (even after a few hours) one can become more relaxed and calm. Might it at least be worth a try?
I'm glad to know I'm not alone in this problem. I haven't been to church in a while and may not go back, unless I can change to a small, quiet church because ours has become so loud I can't stand it. Some people are wearing ear plugs, but I refuse to wear them in church. I have to wear them when we travel because my husband's snoring keeps me awake, and I always wind up with an earache. The sound of people smacking and slurping when eating really sets me off inside, as do many other sounds that most people don't mind. Unlike so many, I don't like to listen to music unless it's something I've chosen to play, and I don't like to hear even my favorites do several songs in a row, preferring a mix of singers. I love to sing at church, or used to when I could hear myself and the person next to me, and I play several instruments, but I usually don't like to just listen when I'm not participating. I guess mine must be a mental problem! But it's very real and makes my life miserable.
I have had this since an ear infection, life trauma but I also have mental health issues and physical including chronic fatigue syndrome fibro hypermobiity dissociative disorder and ptsd. It got worse during a very stressful time but as a hypervigilant person I find it difficult to deal with especialy when it is loud rumbling
The article makes it sound like sensitivity to noise is mental illness. Seems to me it is the other way around. People's constant need for stimulation is a way to avoid the effects of trauma resulting from our culture's disconnect from the natural world.
That makes sense to me - my partner loves noise and brightly lit rooms etc and I am the opposite, we are in our fifties and although I believe I am abnormally sensitive to noise specially in times of stress, at the same time I think as people get older generally speaking we seek out more natural and therefore peaceful environments.
WOW. I never realized this .... I know that a few years back, when I was going through some serious stress (plus medical issues), I reached a point where the sounds of some incredibly talkative coworkers set me off...... I could hear their yakking through my office door, and it was all I could do not to open the door and scream, "Can't you just quit (expletive) talking for two whole minutes, and then two more, and then two more....?" I never thought it could be tied into more than just what I was going through at the time (prior to my MH diagnosis). This explains an awful lot about my need for quieter times. Thank you!
I am bipolar diagnosed when I was in my early twenties and currently 70 years old. I am just now learning about "noise sensitivity" and realize that I have always hated noise and this high pitched noise/ringing in my ears. I always thought it was normal and everyone has it. I am glad to now know what it is called. You have helped me so much to finally put that piece of the puzzle together. I am so grateful.
Tracy, Imagree with Mike. Please see someone. I work with people with these sensitivities and what I have noticed is that sometimes it is related to being hyper vigilant or constantly looking out for dangers, and sometimes it is specific to the individual. A book that was recommended to me is The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aaron. It really does explain a lot about this and how to protect yourself and manage your sensitivity. All the best Tracy.
My family thinks I'm crazy because I can not stand the sound of fans. Box fans, small fans, bathroom fans. Especially if the fan is on and the TV is on at the same time. It just drives me crazy. I feel bad because everyone else make me feel like I'm just trying to complain. I wish this would go away, but no hope fpr that so far. Any suggestions, or anybody else with the same issue? Is there a name/condition for this? Any help Please?
Hi Tracy. I'm sorry to hear of your suffering. I'm not a doctor. I urge you to seek medical help. There may be a therapy or medication that could help you, but you won't know unless you seek it out. Good luck to you and your family.
I've suffered this for years as well. I work in a noisy crowded call center; earplugs and music are out of the question. I have to grit my teeth and carry on and try to sound professional when all I want to do is crawl into a sensory deprivation chamber and weep.
Hi Shane. The Americans with Disabilities Act (www.ada.gov) requires employers to make "reasonable accommodation" for people with disabilities to help level the playing field. You should see your Human Resources department to request accommodation. Again, the request must be "reasonable." Noise cancelling earphones might be a reasonable request. Or you might have an even better idea for yourself.
Thank you for this information. My son suffers from a thought disorder and I always assumed that his sensitivity to the sound of the TV was relaed to his psychosis. However I know that there maybe another explanation for it.
here i thought i was alone in this. wow, so many of us out there, how come i have never heard of this till now! my nerves feel shot most of the time. in my fifties and it is worse then ever. the older i get the more irritable i get. i decided today to never go shopping with others. there is no escape! too much noise! i try to be appreciative of all i have, but it is getting harder as the years go one. glad i am not alone. i need a roommate that is more like me. no tv or radio, not a lot of talk, etc. hard to find people like us!
Yes same here, I remember having this first as a young child but was too afraid to tell anyone as I thought there was something wrong with me - so I kept it secret.
As I`ve got older I find during a bout of stress noise is always the biggest trigger, however there are positive mental manipulations that can help as can the previous posters comments.
I've had this all my life but never knew it had a name! When my anxiety is higher than usual (I'm usually anxious), sounds that don't bother me normally just feel like they are driving through my head like a sharp arrow. I usually have to leave the room when my great-nephew is there as he likes to screech when he doesn't get his way. I'm lucky in that I can adjust to loudness as long as it is loud by necessity (machinery running) but paper shuffling can get annoying. Another thing I can't tolerate is silence. When I have to study in the library, I take my iPod with me to fill up the lack of noise. I actually study better in snack bars. Certainly backwards from the issue with my great-nephew!
I understand what you mean Robinn. I don't know what mental health professionals call this phenomenon but I refer to it as noise sensitivity. I can understand both silence and certain noises being too much to handle.
For me, noise sensitivity is when my anxiety goes up, and any noise, the smallest noise, is unbearable. Not that it hurts my ears...it makes my anxiety go way up even more. Someone talking, the loudness seems to be amplified and the only way I can deal with it is to leave and put my headphones in and turn the music on where I can hear no one else. For me, music is my therapy almost. That's what I consider noise sensitivity, I don't know about others.
For me, any noise is unbearable as well. It makes me feel as though I can't escape and ramps up the anxiety.
If I can't get out of the area I've found that bringing my ipod and putting in my ear buds and listening to music helps. I know the songs so they don't overwhelm me and I can't hear the chaos outside. Noise is a big trigger of migraines and anxiety for me.
I like to listen to music as well and just block out the noise.
Cool air on my face helps. Most often I have to leave the environment. Sometimes I can go back to it, sometimes not. At home I have a fan running most of the time. I have noticed that when it is completely quiet in the house I hear a high pitched almost ringing in my ears. Don't know if that's related.
Some of the research that I came across mentioned that noise sensitivity is related a bit to tinnitus, so the high pitched ringing you mention may be more common than realized.
I never knew about this in my growing up yrs and Ive struggled with this all my life.My family said I was just an angry child all the time,but ive had several occasions throughout life when noise triggers me,and it makes me angry,one of those triggers is I get angry at people whenI have unmet needs but I cant tolerate being yelled at because it triggers me
I can understand the anger. For me I get angry but can't always find the words to express what the needs are.
I struggle with find the words to express what I need sometimes as well except to say "leave me alone", even when I really don't want to be alone, I just want it to be quiet.
Yelling is a big trigger for me as well.
Great post but on the topic of mental health sensory overload can be related to mental health psychosis. When I am in an agitated depression everything is too loud and too bright and very scary. Nonetheless, great post I just wish you might have elaborated more in the context of mental illness.
Not being a mental health professional, I really don't feel qualified to discuss mental illness at length except in relaying my own experiences.
i usually bring earplugs wherever i go, including work. i have a mild brain injury, tmj & migraines.
At my work, I sit by a noisy door, people going in & out all day long, and it's so distracting. I wear my earbuds to listen to music on my phone, pretty much all day to block the door noise out. Thank God my work lets us wear them!