Chapter 2 What are tinnitus people like?
Recognising you are overwhelmed and getting support so that you can let go of this
state is one of the most useful ways forward.
Before we look at how to come out of this state of red-alert, let’s be really clear what
we are talking about here. Red-alert has many tell-tale symptoms. How many of these
can you recognise in yourself? Tick the ones that apply to you:
Focussed in your head and not in your body
Not able to settle and switch off
Can’t do nothing – it’s a waste of time!
Not able to feel body clearly
A driven approach to life
Highly reactive to people around you
Oversensitive to moods, atmospheres
Always doing too much, working to lists, deadlines and achievements
Easily angered, irritable
Gets hot easily but hands and feet are cold
Digestion is sensitive, bloated, irregular
Sleep is light and you wake easily
Collapse in a heap at night, groggy in the morning
Prone to anxiety and panic attacks
Distracted by everything going on around
Hard to focus on one thing
Moody, up and down
Crave sugary foods, coffee and other quick fixes
Breathing is centred in upper chest rather than belly
Breathing tends to be shallow and quick
Eyes dart about
Ears pick up all background noise
Background noises are irritating and distracting
Sensitive to smell
Heart beat is quick, too strong, accelerated or irregular
Don’t worry if you have ticked quite a few of these. At this stage it is useful to start
becoming aware of these patterns. Take a good look at yourself and observe what you
The good news is that the moment you start coming out of this state of red-alert your
ability to fight off disease improves, your digestion starts to work much more
efficiently, your blood pressure becomes more regular, you sleep more deeply, your
body relaxes, your mind slows down, you think more clearly, your memory improves,
and your ability to be happy increases enormously. The point is, as you let go of
tinnitus, your health transforms and the way you interact with the world changes on
Having worked with hundreds of tinnitus people, I have noticed how clear personality
patterns emerge as well. Do any of these characteristics resonate with you?
Give you a day off and you’ll fill it with activity
Quite critical of yourself and others
Take on too much – can’t say no.
Have a point to prove
Highly achievement orientated
Need success and results
Perfectionist that frets about the tiniest things
Need to understand exactly what is going on
Need to know why why why, and how
Not the best listeners in the world
Cerebral – lives in thoughts
Tell everyone about your problems
Tendency to be highly strung
Always things to do that need ticking off a list
When you supposedly relax, you are still in your thoughts
Tendency to blame people or external things as cause of your problems
Look after everyone else but yourself
Need to be heard, recognised, noticed, acknowledged
Very good at doing, not good at just being
It doesn’t matter if you have ticked some or all of these, the fact that you have tinnitus is a sign that something wants to switch off, and that something needs to let go.
Finally, before we start the process of how to get better, many tinnitus people need to find an answer to the question, “What caused it in the first place?”
The answer is: anything that overwhelmed you. Maybe you experienced something that was too exciting, too exhausting, too stimulating or just too much to digest or take in all at once. Here are some common examples of causes for tinnitus, although the list is endless:
Exposure to loud noise
Anaesthetics, surgery, operations
Side effects of some medicines
Overwhelming emotional situations
Too much excitement
Anger and frustration
Too much change
Too much responsibility
A blow to the head
A bad cold/head based bug/virus
Long term worry e.g. court case, divorce, money problems
Long-haul flights, frequent jet-lag
Syringing your ear
Focussing on the ear
Jaw problems & major dentistry
Lack of being looked after or supported
Early mothering difficulties
Being too compliant and not being allowed to say NO
At first it seems really important to point the finger at someone or something for causing tinnitus. However I have learnt that most of the above are usually just the final straw that broke the camel’s back, which tipped your system into overwhelm. Tinnitus people can be obsessed with the apparent thing that caused this condition to arise at the beginning, only to realise later that they were in a state anyway and something else would have come along and triggered it off.
When we are running on adrenaline in this state of red-alert, it is only a matter of time before something may act as a trigger. Please be wary of blaming certain situations for your tinnitus. If it hadn’t been X it would have been something else soon after. It is your general state and reaction RIGHT NOW that is keeping the tinnitus going, not the original situation. That has long since gone. You need to deal with what you are left with in the present day, and how you are relating to this situation right now.
Core Issue 3: Silence
Most people develop tinnitus if they are left in silence for too long. This may sound surprising but put anyone in silence and ask them to listen out for anything, then the majority will start hearing noises in their heads. Heller & Bergman (1953) carried out important studies that proved this. Why is this the case?
Our ears are happiest when they can rest with some noise going on in the background. When we are plunged into silence, this can sometimes activate a stress response and make us more acutely aware of our hearing. In the wild it is normal to hear background noise, but when things go quiet, it is normally before something dangerous. Our nervous systems know this!
So if silence brings on tinnitus, at the beginning it can be helpful to avoid silence or to create some background noise. This helps you to focus less on your tinnitus.
Hearing something agreeable in the background is a good idea while you still have this condition. In an ideal world you would live near a stream or fountain, or by the sea so that there is always something for your ears to relax onto. However try leaving a window open when you go to bed to let some noise in, or leave a laid-back CD or radio station on when you go to bed that switches itself off once you are asleep. The best is soothing, monotonous background music that is frankly a bit boring and that you won’t pay too much attention to.
Core Issue 4: Stop trying to cure your tinnitus.
I know this sounds strange, but I think this is a particularly important bit of advice. I
have known people who make it their life mission to do everything in their power to
stop the ringing in their ears. Great, you may think, until you consider that what they
are in fact doing is focussing their whole life on their tinnitus. Focussing on tinnitus
will keep it there in your awareness.
I have had clients to try hard to relax and then the first thing they do is check up to see
if this has had any effect on symptoms. Of course you will do this out of habit at first.
A normal part of being in red-alert mode is to check up and monitor everything all the
time. If you go into every activity with a view to stopping tinnitus, then part of you
will still be focusing on it.
To let go of tinnitus you need to take your focus off it, rather than reinforce it. I
recommend focussing on brining well-being into your life rather than getting tinnitus
out of it. Aim for things that make you feel good, comfortable and calm, with or
without your tinnitus. The more you can bring in a sense of well-being with your
tinnitus still there, the more it will feel manageable.
I always recommend putting tinnitus on the back shelf while you focus on developing a sense of well-being. Keep a clear intention to put all your energy into things that are nourishing, supportive, comforting, calming, and relaxing for your body.
Make your main focus getting your own needs met, finding things that make you feel happy and in touch with positive feelings. This approach works because it is much more attainable, gives you a sense of satisfaction and, most importantly, starts to bring you out of a state of red-alert.
The more you come out of this state of red-alert, the more you will create the conditions that allow tinnitus to back off.
Look for tinnitus and you will find it, look for comfort and relaxation and you will find that instead.
When tinnitus people start to realise the kind of care they need to give themselves, they often say, “Oh that’s so selfish and self-indulgent. I have to look after my partner and my friends, or there is my business to consider. I have no time for all of this. I can’t afford this.”
In fact tinnitus people are brilliant at finding excuses to avoid looking after themselves. This is part of the make-up that has got them overwhelmed and in red-alert mode in the first place.
Well, the best thing you can do for your family and friends is be happy and well yourself. It may come as a blessed relief and take the pressure off everyone else! Most people have tinnitus because they do not have enough downtime or support, and simply don’t look after themselves enough. They have to keep on doing doing doing doing, and have probably never been content with just being. I used to rush to get everything done so that I could relax. By the time I laid down I was in such a state that it took me half an hour to settle. These days I never rush, and take my time with everything. By the time I get to relax, I am already there.
The words “too much” and “not enough” are really important issues with tinnitus. What do you have too much of that burdens you and feels overwhelming, and what do you long for that you do not allow yourself? You probably know what I’m talking about. More time off, less responsibilities, more holidays, etc. Admit it to yourself. What is stopping you from saying No to the things you don’t need and inviting in with open arms all the things that you know are nourishing and make you feel good?
Patterns such as these can be central to tinnitus because they set up a life-time of stress. Recognising and letting go of them can change things dramatically for the better. If you are struggling with issues like these then psychotherapy can really help you get to the core issues inside and help you find an happier and more appropriate way of being.
Most people also have a hard time accepting deeper issues like this because all they want is to turn the noise off NOW. There is a certain amount of impatience in the tinnitus personality. Please trust me with this, the moment you take positive action and do things that make you feel happy, well and relaxed, the sooner you will be able to make progress.
Most of you will think, “Yep, maybe he’s right,” and then do nothing absolutely about this. Beware of the part of you that sabotages all your plans to do anything helpful. Even when you understand how to stop it, which hopefully you will by the end of the booklet, a part of you will probably hold you back and say, “Wait a minute, I’m not doing this, because it won’t work, its a waste of time, it won’t work for me and so on.” This part of you is called the Saboteur (See “Sacred Contracts” by Caroline Myss for details) and it will make sure that any progress is stopped in its tracks.
Most people with tinnitus have good intentions but are dominated with sabotaging thoughts like: how on earth will relaxing for half an hour every day help a problem like this?
Typical saboteur thoughts might be: What Julian describes here sounds like Nirvana and feels unobtainable. My uncle had it for 70 years so why should mine get better? My Doctor told me there was nothing I could do about it, and I believe him. It hasn’t got any better yet, so why should it get better now? Thinking about my body is silly and how can this help something in my head?
Tinnitus people often are dogged by such thoughts. What helps is to recognise these thoughts when they pop up and then tell them to take a hike. If you want to get better you will probably come up against this part of you that is hell bent on staying miserable and stewing in it. I know this sounds extraordinary but we ALL have a saboteur inside.
Core Issue 5: Are you ready to change?
I am constantly amazed that people accept that they can develop tinnitus, moving from relative peace and quiet one day into a state of nerves and noise the next. But to suggest that they can change back out of that state where tinnitus backs off can be regarded like heresy. You can move into red-alert with no problems. Everyone can handle that. But to suggest you can revert back into peace mode for some is unthinkable.
If you don’t have tinnitus one year and then have it the next, why is it such a big deal to change again and be without it once more? You can change one way, so why is it so hard to change again? This is food for thought.
The nervous system is a fluid, constantly altering state of balance. When the right conditions come along it changes.
Please be wary of your own fixed thoughts and beliefs. What do you really think about this? Do you really think that you will have this for the rest of your life?
How useful will it be for you to hold on to the belief that it will never go?
Answer: it will be absolutely unhelpful in the extreme.
Why on earth should you have this for the rest of your life? Things change all the time. Most people “habituate” to tinnitus, which means they eventually get used to it, and their nervous system gets bored of checking up on it all the time. It no longer becomes such a big deal and therefore our awareness of it switches off. This is most likely to happen.
I know there are a lot of people out there who don’t know much about this condition and say that there is nothing you can do, but please do yourself a favour and allow the possibility that you might just get better! There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain by this change in belief pattern.
Of course its hard not to be infected by negative beliefs about tinnitus, especially when they come from health practitioners or people in authority. I can tell you not to listen to them and suggest you start sorting yourself out until the cows come home, but what really matters is what YOU really think inside? Be honest… Are you really prepared and ready to get better?
Its amazing how many people quite like certain aspects of tinnitus and don’t want to let go of them. Believe it or not, I have met people that liked the attention it gave them. With tinnitus everybody became concerned about them and that extra attention was more important than getting better.
Strangely I have had a few clients that stopped coming for treatment the moment they started getting better. I sincerely believe that this was due to craving attention and being listened to by others.