If you are a tinnitus sufferer, you might have noticed that the ringing, buzzing, or other unwanted sounds you hear become more noticeable at night, when other background noises fade. It is true that tinnitus symptoms often seem more obvious when the rest of the world quiets, and you may have avoided meditation up until now for this reason. But you shouldn’t--research shows that it can offer effective relief.
There are a number of factors that have been directly linked to tinnitus, but it is often difficult for doctors to pinpoint a specific physical cause. It is strongly associated with hearing loss, and is a common condition affecting combat veterans who have been subjected to explosively loud noises. Certain medications that are ototoxic (harmful to the ear) can also lead to short or long-term tinnitus. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and patients with chronic tinnitus often report higher levels of anxiety, trouble sleeping, depression, and other mental symptoms.
Fortunately, meditation can help. Based on several recent studies, the British Tinnitus Association has suggested that a Mindfulness for Tinnitus course adapted from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is highly beneficial for people who have this chronic condition. There is a growing consensus that mindfulness training and guided meditations can greatly help people living with tinnitus cope with, and even reduce, their symptoms.
Mindfulness meditation as tinnitus therapy
Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool in helping people to relax, focus, and release tension. The purpose of mindfulness, which has roots in Buddhism, is to bring your complete awareness to the present moment, with goodwill and without judgement. This type of meditation has been proven to reduce the body’s response to stress and decrease anxious or negative thoughts. As chronic tinnitus can be an anxiety-provoking condition, mindfulness meditation has positive implications for tinnitus sufferers, as well as people who live with chronic pain, addiction, insomnia or a number of other health conditions.
The basic practice of mindfulness meditation requires you to sit still in a comfortable position, focus on your breath, and try not to engage with your thoughts. This can take some effort, but the practice of counting breaths can help to calm even the busiest mind. Though it seems like the reverse would be true, many tinnitus patients report that the unwanted sounds they usually hear seem to lessen as their bodies and minds become used to the quiet stillness.
Meditation doesn’t have to be silent
If the idea of sitting in silence with your tinnitus seems too daunting, many people find guided meditation or ambient sounds to be helpful.
With guided meditation you will hear the voice of a trained practitioner or teacher, who will help guide you towards a deep meditative state. There may still be moments of silence, but the calming voice coming in and out will focus your awareness on your body and your breath, and away from your tinnitus.
Listening to ambient sounds while you meditate is another option, and downloading an app like “Calm” to your phone will give you an array of sounds to choose from. Popular choices include the sound of a bubbling mountain stream, crashing waves, rain falling on a roof, or a fire crackling. You can choose to concentrate on the sounds or simply let them play in the background while you focus on your breath.
Some ambient sounds will probably more relaxing to you than others, depending on the nature of your tinnitus and your emotional responses to the sounds you hear.
Clinical studies on guided meditation and tinnitus
Doctors and researchers are looking further into the therapeutic potential of meditation, and there are now several studies that suggest guided meditation can be an effective means of relief for tinnitus sufferers.
In one study carried out by doctors at the Welsh Hearing Institute, 25 chronic tinnitus patients were given an innovative treatment--a combination of guided mindfulness meditation and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Six months later, the results were clear: 80 percent of the participants reported a major decline in their symptoms.
A pilot study performed by American clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Gans also had promising results. Dr. Gans, an expert in the psychological impact of deafness and hearing on general well-being, taught tinnitus patients a unique mindfulness-based stress reduction treatment. The goal was to help tinnitus sufferers to change their relationships to the tinnitus and lessen the mental struggle of this condition.
The effects were noticeable: common tinnitus symptoms such as anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation were greatly reduced. Patients said they had a higher tolerance to the condition, which made it possible for them to live with it on a daily basis.