Using compassion to manage a tinnitus spike

I’m not one for crying very often. I cried when I knew my Dad was dying. I cried as I held his hand after he had gone. And I cried at the funeral. And that’s it. I’ve known I’ve been carrying a great well of sadness within me, but it didn’t want to surface. Until this weekend.

Throughout the last week it has felt like my various health conditions were starting to gang up on me. I put it down to my body responding to all the running around I did while Dad was in hospital, and then afterwards to clear his home, and tried to plough on as well as I could.

That was only part of the answer, as I found out on Saturday night. As I lay in bed all I was aware of was my body and my tinnitus screaming. It was so distressing. I assumed that my tinnitus was spiking in response to the physical pain, so I took medication I thought might help. I also gently stretched the areas of my body that were in pain. Nothing worked. I resigned myself to a night of pain and tinnitus and little sleep.

And then an image flashed across my mind. It was of a pack of wolves howling at the loss of one of their tribe. I realised this was what my body was doing. My body and my tinnitus were not screaming, they were howling in grief. Rather than expressing my sorrow in tears, my body was expressing my upset and distress in a different way. Once I understood that, I was able to take a better approach to my experience. Instead of trying to solve the pain and tinnitus I was experiencing, I turned instead to self-compassion.

I uncurled my body from the foetal position it found itself in and allowed the muscles where I found physical pain – in my neck, my back, and my belly – to soften. I didn’t try and force them to soften, I simply moved my attention with tenderness to the places that hurt and repeated soft…soft…soft…in my mind. I then did the same with my shoulders and jaw, which were tight and tense because of the screaming tinnitus in my head. I could feel my body soften some. Not completely, but enough to introduce an element of relaxation and relief.

I then soothed my body and my mind. I thought of them struggling with physical and emotional pain and spoke words of kindness and compassion towards them: “Poor things, I know this is really hard. This won’t last, I promise”. I heard the roaring of my tinnitus and whispered soothing words “you’re okay. Just keep breathing, this storm will pass”. If this sounds a bit familiar, you’re right, we soothe children and animals in a similar way.

And I simply allowed the pain, the discomfort, the grief, and the noise to exist. I didn’t tense up to fight it, I didn’t keep trying to fix it, I just allowed it to ebb and flow. Because that’s what tinnitus and chronic pain and all the emotions and thoughts that come with them do – they change. They increase and decrease in strength, the type of noise or pain shifts and alters, the thoughts and emotions come and go. When we’re in the whirlwind of pain or tinnitus it can be all-too-easy to forget that.

Rather than spending the night struggling to sleep because of the pain and the tinnitus, I nodded off surprisingly quickly.

This is one of the ‘first aid’ exercises we practise during my mindfulness course, so we are ready to use it as and when our tinnitus experience calls for it. If you’d like to learn this, and a toolkit of other effective practices to help manage your tinnitus sign up for my course here: