My Relationship with Sound? It’s Complicated

For people with hearing loss, sound can be a mixed bag.

Sometimes things are too quiet—a whisper in our less than stellar ear or a mumbling presenter who refuses to use the microphone. And sometimes they are too loud, like the clacking of cutlery in a crowded restaurant that blocks out your companion’s voice.

Other sounds are irreplaceable, like the purr of your baby’s voice saying “mama” for the first time or the laughter of an old friend. Even if we can’t physically hear these sounds anymore, they linger in our mind’s ear, accessible through memory.

My favorite sound is the crinkle of the ocean ebbing and flowing over one particularly rocky beach in St. John. The noise is high-pitched enough for me to hear well—especially with my hearing aids—and rhythmic enough to lull me into a relaxed state. As if I wasn’t already blissful from the smell of the sea air. The beach is at the mid-way point of one of my favorite hikes on the island. This year’s visit was a special treat, after the stress and communication challenges brought on by the pandemic.

It’s complicated!

Sound Impacts Our Mood

Sound is an important component of our health and happiness.

According to the CDC, “Continual exposure to noise can cause stress, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and many other health problems.” The World Health Organization considers noise from traffic to be one of the worst environmental stressors for humans, second only to air pollution.

Excess sound can be particularly exhausting for people with hearing loss. Communicating with hearing loss already takes heavy concentration. Add background noise to the equation and it takes even more effort. This listening fatigue is why so many people with hearing loss feel wiped out at the end of a long day of communication.

On the other hand, sound can be mood-enhancing. Like the joy we feel when we hear our favorite song. Or the peace and tranquility we draw from the call of birds or the wind rustling in the breeze. Some of these pleasant sounds may be hard for us to hear, even with our devices.

Studies tell us that different types of sounds impact our emotions in unique ways. For example:

Sounds centered around a major chord will generally produce positive emotions (happiness, surprise), and sounds centered around a minor or diminished chord will consistently produce negative emotions(sadness, fear, anger, disgust).

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For those of us who struggle with tinnitus, sometimes it is the absence of sound that is most beautiful.

Our Brains Tell Us What a Sound Means

Sound is all around us 24/7. We can’t turn it off because we can’t close our ears in the same way we close our eyes. Even when we sleep, our ears are active. Although some of us get a break from all the noise when we remove our devices.

Our ears are always busy, but it is our brains that tell us what a sound means. Is that siren a cause for alarm? Your location and proximity to the noise are important factors to consider. Your brain will tell you to react one way if the siren is coming up from behind you on the street at high speed versus passing on the street outside your apartment when you are safely inside.

It’s Complicated

People with hearing loss have a complicated relationship with sound. Still, I remain grateful that my hearing devices keep me connected to its complex and ever-changing world.

Readers, what is your relationship with sound?

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Learn More: Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss

5 thoughts on “My Relationship with Sound? It’s Complicated

  1. Yes, to all of this. Some of that read like poetry. Thank you. And my favorite sound now that I can hear it again with hearing aids is the random surprise of rustling papers or someone crumpling paper. Music to my ears.

    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:

      Thank you for sharing your experience with sound.

  2. 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:

    Everything in my life is about sound. Until I began to loose my hearing about 25 to 30 years ago I was simply unconscious of the loss. I was hearing enough that I was convinced that I was normal. Then some friends sat me down for a “reckoning”. That was the turning point.

    When I say, “Everything in my life is about sound”, I mean that sounds are more important than ever. I’m more conscious than ever of the sounds around me.

    Last night while lying in bed with my devices in place there was a rare extremely loud mid-winter crash of lightening and thunder that preceded a torrential downpour. The roar of the rain was wonderful!

    Equipped with a CI and a HA I am hearing more sounds than in a long time but I feel less in control of what I need to understand. I know what conditions I need to understand whats being said by my conversation partners. I find that I avoid situations that are difficult to impossible for me. The upshot of all this is that my natural tendency toward solitude is elevated to chronic status. As long as I am with one or two other people in a close setting, I can usually understand. In the out of doors it can be a whole other world. But the sounds of wind and birdsong is music to my ears.

    It is indeed complicated, Shari.

    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:

      Thank you Jerry for sharing your thoughts. It certainly is complicated.

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