Those who are dealing with the medical condition called tinnitus perceive noises that others don’t. Common sounds include buzzing, hissing, and the (in)famous ringing in the ears. With most forms of tinnitus, the brain usually adjusts and adapts to the condition, but it can take a while. There are many causes of tinnitus, such as inner ear cell damage and earwax buildup. Certain medications are known to aggravate or even cause tinnitus, including specific antibiotics, diuretics and antidepressants. And that ringing in the ears can also be age-related.
Happily, meditation can help. Based on recent studies, the British Tinnitus Association suggests that a Mindfulness for Tinnitus course adapted from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is highly effective in helping those who have this chronic condition. In the US, Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction has proved very helpful for some sufferers. There is general consensus that mindfulness training and guided meditations can significantly help people living with tinnitus cope with the condition.
Tinnitus and Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a powerful technique that encourages us to be aware of what we experience in the present moment with goodwill and without judgment. It has been a core practice of Buddhism since the Buddha taught it in India over 2,500 years ago. Since that time, meditation guidelines have been handed down to others by the countless monks, nuns, and laypeople who put the teachings into practice and benefitted from them.
In modern times, the best-known mindfulness pioneer in the West is molecular biologist cum mindfulness mensch Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. Dr. Kabat-Zinn is credited with taking mindfulness out of its Buddhist trappings and focusing on its science and applications. Since 1979, when he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Dr. Kabat-Zinn and those who are following in his footsteps have found that mindfulness practice can help practitioners manage a number of conditions and situations, from stress to addiction recovery to tinnitus.
Clinical results clearly show that mindfulness meditation can help people manage their tinnitus, especially the psychological symptoms such as frustration and irritability. In other applications, meditation is also used to help manage stress and depression, as well as acute and chronic pain. Indeed, patients suffering from tinnitus and those experiencing chronic pain share similar challenges, including:
- Wandering attention and difficulty focusing
- Maladaptive coping strategies
- Lack of planning and control
- Catastrophic/toxic thinking
Studies on Guided Meditation for Tinnitus
In one study conducted by Welsh doctors, 25 patients suffering from chronic tinnitus were offered a unique treatment that combined mindfulness meditation and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). After 6 months, 80% of these patients reported a significant decline in tinnitus symptoms. In the US, an early pilot study conducted by clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Gans, who specializes in the psychological impact of deafness and hearing on general well-being, introduced participants to a unique Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction treatment. The results were promising: symptoms such as anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation were significantly reduced. Patients reported increased tolerance to the condition, which allowed them to better accept and live with their tinnitus.
A powerful tool for coping with anxiety, depression and the other emotions that can overwhelm those dealing with tinnitus, meditation fortifies self-esteem and leads to a deeper appreciation of the present moment. This can help with the common fear among new sufferers that they will never learn to cope with the noise and will be plagued by it forever. Through meditation we learn that we can train the mind to pay attention to the breath, like with zen guided meditation, or physical sensations, or other points of focus, and find well-being within the present moment. Meditation also gives us a front-row seat from which to observe the truth that nothing remains the same – every single phenomenon is subject to the rule of impermanence.
If you find that tinnitus interrupts your meditation sessions, try keeping your eyes open while meditating. This way, visual stimuli can provide some balance to offset the unwelcome sound stimuli. You might also include walking meditation as part of your practice.