It's no secret that our upbringing and experiences can lead to anxiety. While genetics plays a role, anxiety is often forged by the stresses that we've gone through, and how those experiences have reinforced their fears or emotions.
This is why hypersensitivity to noise and sounds is one of the more interesting symptoms of anxiety. Hypersensitivity, or "oversensitivity," is the act of experiencing emotional or auditory distress upon hearing either certain noises or loud noises, and it's something that affects some people that suffer from anxiety.
Are You Experiencing Noise Sensitivity from Anxiety?
Anxiety and stress have a profound effect on the way you experience the stimuli of the world. Sensitivity to sound is rarely a standalone anxiety symptom. Find your anxiety score, see what your other anxiety symptoms may be, and compare your anxiety symptoms - like this sensitivity to sound - to others.
Understanding the Variations of Noise Anxiety
Hypersensitivity to noise is somewhat of a broad term because there are several different ways that someone can be "sensitive" to that noise. Depending on the way you experience anxiety, the noise may trigger irritation, or something much more substantial.
If you haven't yet, take the 7-minute anxiety test I developed specifically to look at the way you experience anxiety. Take the test here.
Generally, the following represent hypersensitivity to noise. Remember, your experience may be different than others:
- Noise Triggers Some people develop a sensitivity to particular sounds. Often these sounds are related to a past trauma or a recurring cause of anxiety. This type of sensitivity is related to conditioning, where your mind immediately associates a sound with some negative feeling or experience. It is very common in those with PTSD but may affect people with all types of anxiety.
- Quick Startle Reflex Anxiety is also your body on high alert. The more stress and anxiety you experience, the more you create a higher natural baseline of stress inside you. If that anxiety level gets too high, you'll be more prone to startling, because your body will be quicker to reach the startle phase of stress.
- Irritation Anxiety causes immense irritation. That irritation makes people more likely to experience a rush of negative emotions when they hear noises or sounds that disrupt their thoughts. Silence is considered peaceful, so disruptions in that silence may trigger irritability.
- Stress Related Tension Finally, when you're feeling anxious, it can cause pressures in your body that may make you more prone to certain noises. These sounds may contribute to further tension headaches or a feeling of unease that you have during an anxiety attack. In some cases, this may even make the noises sound louder than before.
All of these fall under the heading of noise sensitivity, because they are all related to the way that you and your body react to these noises.
It's also important to remember that you can experience this sensitivity even when you don't feel anxiety or anxious thoughts. Anxiety is a physical experience as well, and you may be tense even when you feel relaxed and calm, leading to noise reactions.
Controlling Your Reactions to Noise
Dealing with your noise sensitivity can be tricky. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a help. Exposure techniques may also be valuable.
- Figure out what sounds you're most sensitive to - especially the ones that you want to be less sensitive to over time.
- Make a tape of the noise.
- Sit in a place that you're comfortable and listen to the tape of the noise. At first, it's going to bother you a great deal.
- While you're listening to it, do something that relaxes you. Meditation or deep breathing - there are plenty of ways to calm your body so that it feels easier to deal with.
- Eventually you'll find the sound less impactful. Once you feel calmer listening to the noise, take a break.
- One or two days later, go into a new place - a place less relaxing. Perform the exercise again.
These types of exercises essentially give the sound less of an impact, and they're the first step towards decreasing your hypersensitivity to the noise.
From there, you'll need to attack your anxiety directly, using tools that allow you to control your overall anxiety symptoms. Only by decreasing your overall anxiety will your hypersensitivity decrease.
If you haven't taken it yet, the first place to start is with our free 7-minute anxiety test. We designed it so that you can compare your symptoms to those of other people, see a snapshot of what your anxiety looks like, and then get recommendations on the next steps that you can use to rid yourself of that anxiety forever.
If you haven't done so yet, take the test here.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 28, 2017.