Hearing is one of our key senses and as such, when it’s affected to some degree, it can be highly concerning. In addition to helping us listen, our hearing helps us to balance and orient ourselves in any given situation, so ringing in our ears or in one ear can leave us off balance or dizzy.
Although there are many reasons why we might experience ringing ears, there have been links between anxiety and ear problems. This being said, this is normally a short-term temporary change in hearing, so if you’re concerned about your hearing, please visit your doctor.
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, hearing problems can be triggered by a release of the stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline in the caveman part of our brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. This puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Can Anxiety Cause Ringing Ears?
When our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode our system experiences something called hyperstimulation. This is where our body becomes super sensitive and our senses heighten in order to protect us from a perceived threat. Whilst this is true for the majority of our senses, in some cases, our hearing can be suppressed. This is because when we’re trying to get more information about our surroundings, our brain prioritises visual information over auditory. As a result, our brain quiets the noise, or creates this white noise sound of ringing so it can focus on the visual.
Although this process can cause more worry – after all, we associate lack of hearing or ringing ears with something eerie or bad about to happen or with a large sound-related trauma. When this sets in, the anxiety loop elongates and the physical symptoms of our fight, flight or freeze symptoms stick around for longer. It’s a less than ideal cycle to be stuck in.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing and allow it to become deeper and longer. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our rational brain to kick back in and regain our regular hearing.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.