Cognitive Behavior Therapy May Help with Tinnitus

The sound stayed with me, even after I turned off the hand-held massage gun I was using to ease the pain in my neck. I could almost feel my ears vibrating still, or maybe it was just the excruciating buzz of my tinnitus.

The massage gun was a new purchase, promising powerful relief for sore and overworked muscles. It seemed perfect and helped a lot — writing can take a toll on your neck muscles — but perhaps it was not the smartest choice for someone whose tinnitus is triggered by repetitive sounds.

My tinnitus was back. Foolishly, I had brought it on myself.


What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the experience of sound when none exists. Most commonly it appears as a ringing or buzzing, but it can manifest as a wide variety of noises, even musical ones. For some people, tinnitus is so loud it drowns out actual sounds, including speech. It can be quite distressing, particularly when it disrupts your sleep or prevents you from communicating well with others.

Most of the time, my tinnitus takes on a high-pitched tone building to a crescendo similar to the sound that a fluorescent light makes when it is first turned on. But it also takes on other forms, triggered by repetitive sounds like rain pounding on the roof of a car, or the hum of an airplane engine. Or, as I recently learned, the pulse of a hand-held massage gun. Even when the actual sound stops, I still “hear” it.

How To Manage Your Tinnitus

Tinnitus is not well understood, and there is currently no cure, but there are several techniques that can help manage it. Most of the time, I successfully manage my tinnitus with a regular meditation practice, but I still get flareups each winter, and when triggered by repetitive noise. From past experience, I knew what to try to ease the most recent episode.

1. Mask the sound

Play quiet music or a white noise machine in the background to mask the unwanted noise. Or simply sit outside and listen to the birds or the wind in the trees.

2. Distract your brain

Watch a funny video or a new television program to get your mind off your tinnitus or read an interesting article or blog. Physical activity like yoga or hiking can also help refocus your attention on something more pleasant and relieve some of the stress that comes with tinnitus.

3. Practice mindfulness

Extra meditation sessions or simple mindful breathing can often soothe the system. If you are not sure where to start, try a meditation app like Calm or Headspace.

A New Tool for Tinnitus: Cognitive Behavior Therapy

A new entrant in the space is Oto, a multi-faceted tinnitus management app I had the chance to explore recently. Its stated goal is habituation, helping you feel more in control of your tinnitus and reducing its intrusion into your daily life. An excellent aspiration!

The app includes exercises using three overlapping techniques: mindfulness, relaxation and cognitive behavior therapy or CBT. Many apps utilize the first two strategies, but what makes Oto unique is its focus on CBT.

CBT uses a series of techniques to change the way a person responds to a negative stimuli. For example, as part of its CBT, Oto introduces the STOPP tool, which helps you to learn to react more neutrally to your tinnitus. By following the steps — Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Put it in perspective, and Practice —  you train yourself to respond calmly to your tinnitus, rather than reacting with anger and stress. The tinnitus does not go away, but your reaction to it eases.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), CBT has been applied effectively to a range of problems including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders and severe mental illness. It seems logical that it would help with tinnitus as well.

Oto offers a free trial but access to the full program requires a paid plan. I did not have a chance to explore everything in the app, but the underlying philosophy makes sense to me. If you are eager to take charge of your tinnitus, it may be worth a look.

Readers, what techniques do you use to manage your tinnitus?

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3 thoughts on “Cognitive Behavior Therapy May Help with Tinnitus

  1. Jerry Henderson – Pownal Maine – Thank you for coming to my space. This is where I post thoughts, opinions and commentary on a variety of subjects at irregular intervals. I try to do something weekly, but have not nailed down a rigid schedule, like every Wednesday, yet. If you would like email notifications of new posts, you can make that happen right on the site. Simply enter your email address to subscribe. Also, if you would like to comment I welcome that. Just do so in the space at the bottom of any selected post. Sharing thoughts, opinion and commentary is a peculiarly human characteristic. It must be exercised to be enjoyed. Jerry Henderson
    Jerry Henderson says:

    Well Shari, Oto may be the answer for some, but for the most of us, we will learn to live with the ringing in our ears and we will do this with varying degrees of skill and success. Engaging the patient’s cognitive powers in therapy has long been a staple in the talk therapies. I have always thought of it as a “counting to ten” kind of process.

    As long as I have my CI and HA plugged in and running the sound I hear “masks” the tinnitus effectively. It seldom invades my present tense consciousness. In ultra quiet places – in practice, nearly nonexistent – I become aware of the sound. At night when I remove these devices It is most noticeable. Reading helps immensely. I’m lucky: my problem is obviously not as severe as others and I am able, it seems, to live with it.

    Focusing on something as in meditation, reading, writing and exercise seems to work for me. I’d give a lot to be able to hear music again. That would be a blessed escape.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Tinnitus is such a personal experience. Thank you for sharing what works for you.

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