Mindfulness around tinnitus is specifically designed to readdress your relationship with tinnitus. It relies upon the idea of paying attention to your tinnitus, purposely and in the present moment, in order truly understand its effects on you. This may seem counterproductive if you are trying to ignore your tinnitus but the process of accepting the condition is vital as part of your journey to wellness.
Because tinnitus often creates negative psychological responses, you may find yourself looking to push the condition away as much as possible and to suppress it. Paradoxically this can actually make the tinnitus symptoms worse.
By calmly and gently turning towards your tinnitus sounds, you may find that the sounds do not appear as threatening as expected. Research also shows that people who learn to become more able to ‘allow’ and ‘accept’ tinnitus will find it less distressing over time. You may experience loss, trauma and fear along with tinnitus, including how it may affect your future life and plans. These negative thoughts can cause powerful emotional responses such as anxiety, anger or sadness, and keep the mind fixated on the tinnitus, preventing habituation.
By becoming more aware through mindfulness practice, we learn to ‘recognise’ these thoughts. We can also recognise how they can spiral into familiar patterns of emotions and behaviours and begin to readdress and control those reactions.
Acceptance is a major part of mindfulness. When we are mindful, we allow ourselves to be in the present, without the ordinary judgement, fear or narratives that we create with our thoughts. When we are in this state, we can accept what we have, here and now.
By accepting tinnitus, we are not saying it is cured, or that we are not bothered by it. It is likely that you will continue to be affected by tinnitus, but by readdressing this relationship, you are beginning a process of becoming ‘ok’ again.
As with tinnitus and many other situations out of our control, we have two options; to fight, resist and push back or to accept. When we choose to resist, we build a wall between ourselves and the condition, we expend energy fighting against tinnitus, trying to suppress it and push it away. This usually creates an exhausting battle rarely ending with a victory over tinnitus.
Dr Laurence McKenna of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Dr Liz Marks of the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, have found that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) can have a positive effect on tinnitus management.
Dr Marks’ team compared MBCT to relaxation therapy, the normal treatment for people with chronic tinnitus, to determine if MBCT was a better option. The study found that both treatments led to a reduction in tinnitus severity, psychological distress, anxiety and depression for patients,” said Dr Marks. “The MBCT treatment led to significantly greater reductions in tinnitus severity, and this improvement lasted for longer. In addition, 182 patients who completed MBCT routinely in our clinic showed a similar level of improvement.”
MBCT teaches patients to pay purposeful, present-moment attention to experiences, rather than trying to suppress them. In the case of tinnitus, patients were encouraged to meditate on sounds, including that of the tinnitus, and to follow how it rose and fell, how its pitch and timbre changed, and also to place it in the context of the wider ‘soundscape’. This cultivated a more helpful way of responding to tinnitus. People learnt how to allow and accept tinnitus rather than trying to fight or suppress it. Even though this mindful approach did not aim to change the nature of the tinnitus, it led to it becoming less intrusive to the point where it was no longer a problem. In many cases, it disappeared completely.