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.
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).osf.io
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.
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?
Learn More: Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss