Noise sensitivity can make life unbearable at times.
Most people have some degree of noise sensitivity, and will be startled by loud bangs and find certain noises irritating.
For some people though, everyday noises that most people barely notice can be excruciating to listen to and cause physical discomfort and feelings of anger.
The world is becoming a noisier place, so if you feel like you’re being assaulted by a barrage of unwelcome sound, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are ‘hypersensitive’.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to reduce your exposure to stressful noises and cope with noise sensitivity.
Here are 7 tips for dealing with noise sensitivity.
1. Get a medical diagnosis (if appropriate)
If there’s a chance your noise sensitivity could be a symptom of an underlying physical or psychological condition, you should seek out a professional diagnosis.
There are lots of potential causes of noise sensitivity.
Some conditions that can cause extreme noise sensitivity include hyperacusis, which results in normal-volume sounds seeming exceedingly loud, and recruitment, which is when sounds are inaudible up to a certain point at which they suddenly become very loud.
Many people find that they are more sensitive to noise after suffering from a brain injury, stroke or concussion.
Individuals on the autistic spectrum frequently have sensory processing issues, and are sensitive to noise.
People with bipolar disorder also tend to be hypersensitive to noise. This hypersensitivity can manifest itself differently during manic and depressive episodes.
Noise sensitivity can be exacerbated by anxiety and depression. If you’re feeling anxious already, a sudden sound that would normally be only slightly stressful can trigger a wave of adrenaline and a fight-or-flight response. If you’re depressed, a sound that would normally just be annoying can become unbearable to listen to.
Loud and irritating noises can also be responsible for mental health problems. Studies have shown that noise pollution is bad for our health, as it increases rates of anxiety and depression and elevates blood pressure levels.
Understanding what underlying condition may be causing your noise sensitivity will allow you to get specialised help.
However, being more sensitive than average to sounds does not necessarily mean you have a medical condition.
2. Identify the triggers
The anxiety, anger and/or physical pain associated with noise sensitivity are usually triggered by particular sounds and situations.
Some common sounds associated with noise sensitivity include:
- Eating and drinking noises (these often trigger feelings of anger among people with misophonia)
- Steps and movement in the room above you
- Any sound you can hear when trying to sleep
- Slamming doors
- Neighbours playing music or having loud conversations
- Babies crying
Once you know what the triggers are, you can take action to block out those sounds, avoid them or ask others to stop producing them.
3. Carry a pair of ear plugs with you
Ear plugs are small and cheap, and can be bought with small carrying cases that you can keep in your pocket, wallet or handbag.
See some of the best ear plugs for noise reduction here.
If you don’t get on with ear plugs, you might prefer a pair of ear defenders that go over the ears. Some pairs look a lot like Bluetooth headphones, so you won’t draw too much attention to yourself in public wearing them.
Some of these ear defenders recommended for people with autism are fairly discrete and could be good for wearing both at home and in public.
4. Listen to music or radio
One of the main reasons why some sounds trigger anxiety is that they are sudden and unpredictable.
Listening to music, radio or a podcast which is at a fairly constant volume can be a good way to remove this unpredictability.
Listening through noise-cancelling headphones is a great way to block out external sounds while focusing in on what you’ve chosen to listen to.
Listening through regular headphones or speakers can also work well depending on the volume of the sounds that are triggering your noise sensitivity.
This can be especially helpful when you’re trying to sleep if you find background noises normally keep you awake.
5. Use white noise
Like music and the radio, white noise can be a good way to block out stressful noises.
You can buy white noise machines that play a range of noises including several types of white noise as well as nature sounds such as crashing waves.
Alternatively, devices such as fans that make constant and predictable noise can be good sources of white noise. However, keeping a fan on just for the noise it makes wouldn’t be very eco-friendly!
6. Ask people to turn the volume down
If the noise is being caused by a neighbour, housemate or other individual you can speak to directly, you can politely ask them to make less noise.
It can be hard to know how to bring this subject up without causing conflict or feeling rude.
Instead of simply asking people to “keep the noise down”, you could try to come to a specific agreement. For example, “no music after 11 pm”, or “no DIY before 9 am”.
If the sound is coming from a particular part of the neighbour’s home, you could politely ask that they do that activity in a different room that would cause you less disturbance.
7. Soundproof your home
This might seem like an extreme option, but if noise sensitivity is causing you long-term distress, investing in some soundproofing could be a good idea.
Soundproofing doesn’t always require a big investment and lots of work—there are some quick changes you can make to block out sounds.
If the sound is coming from outside your home, a relatively cheap and easy way to block it out is to buy some heavy, thick curtains or drapes to put over the windows.
If the sound is coming from upstairs, laying down a thick carpet will reduce the sounds of steps in the room above. If your neighbours live upstairs and the sound of them walking around is disturbing you, you could politely suggest they lay down a rug.
Furniture, curtains, rugs and drapery all absorb sound, so adding more of them to bare and empty rooms can help reduce noise.
Noise sensitivity doesn’t have to ruin your life. There are lots of things you can do to block out noises or reduce them at the source.
You could also look into treatments such as hypnosis, which may help reduce noise anxiety.
Understanding which noises affect you most and whether there are any underlying health issues related to your noise sensitivity will allow you to make a plan for coping with it.
If hearing protection is part of that plan, there are lots of articles on this site that can help you choose the right ear plugs or ear defenders.