Is reopening anxiety making your tinnitus worse?

Do you feel that your tinnitus has got worse during the pandemic? If so, you’re far from alone.

Research published earlier this year found that anxiety around the pandemic had made people’s tinnitus seem worse, and rendered methods used to help their tinnitus less effective.

If you’ve been giving yourself a hard time for struggling with your tinnitus over the last 18 months, this is your permission to stop. Everyone has found the last 18 months a struggle (except perhaps for Amazon, and the manufacturers of toilet roll and PPE).

Now that some countries like the US and England are starting to relax Covid restrictions you might think that our anxiety would improve. But many of us are finding the opposite. Stress and anxiety are rising once more as the idea of personal space disappears and shops and public spaces become crowded.

That increase in stress and anxiety is often reflected in more intrusive tinnitus.

So what can we do to best manage our tinnitus in these continuing strange times? Focus on what we CAN control, and not what we can’t. So, for example we can control:

1. The time of day when we visit stores (not peak times) and the days when we might choose to eat out (quieter weekdays).

2. How much mainstream and social media we consume about the pandemic. It’s good to keep informed, but we need to become aware when a desire to know the facts becomes an obsessive news habit.

3. Who we spend time with and where. While the current “summer” in the UK does not provide ideal opportunities for this, meeting outside is lower risk, and so reduces anxiety that can affect our tinnitus.

4. How close we get to someone – whether we hug friends, or whether we ask them not to come too close just for now.

5. Whether we keep 2m (6ft) apart from others. We can also choose to be assertive and ask people wandering into our personal space to step back, in a polite but firm way. My current favorite phrase is “Would you please take a step back I still want to be careful even now restrictions are lifted”.

And the stuff we can’t control? Well, we can at least control our RESPONSE to that. So, if someone makes a smart remark about us asking for more space, we can smile and ignore them – sass hurts a lot less than Covid. If our social media feed is full of people who feel differently to us about masks, we can mute, block or ignore those posts, rather than allow them to raise our blood pressure and send our tinnitus soaring too.

I leave you with a popular and pithy encapsulation of the advice above:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.