Tinnitus is not an easy symptom to put in check. When you change your psychology, reduce negative thinking, and negative reactions toward tinnitus, usually the sound gets softer too.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the harmful neuroplasticity that can happen from negative self-talk, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy research and how that relates to the psychology of tinnitus. Then at the end, I’m going to explain a case study of a real person who uses these techniques to improve their quality of life with tinnitus.

Vicious Circle of Negative Thinking & Tinnitus

Now, a lot of people have tinnitus. For some people, it’s really bad. For most people, it’s just in the background. It’s just hanging out throughout their lives, and if they really focus and try to hear it, they can. But for people who are reading this, most often, your tinnitus did not just get better or sit in the very background of your mind. For different reasons, because of different factors, the tinnitus became this kind of red-alert reaction, this intense response, that we want to stop or limit.

One reaction someone might have to the tinnitus that’s now a bother and a burden in their lives is, “This tinnitus is killing me.” And that sends a message to our emotional brain, to our limbic system, that this tinnitus is not welcome. It’s a threat, it’s going to harm us. So then the tinnitus increases its intensity, sometimes increases in volume, or the level that we’re bothered by it.

Dr. Thompson explains how negative thinking patterns affect tinnitus.

Of course, that might bring up the next thought: “I can’t live with my tinnitus. I just can’t live with it.” Those are the kind of words that someone might use. Psychology calls this a negative thought.

We’re not trying to stop negative thinking at this point. We’re just trying to recognize it, and have some awareness that a thought like “I can’t live with my tinnitus” tells our emotional brain that this tinnitus is a threat. It’s a big threat, and now it’s growing in size. As you can see, this is a vicious circle where negative thinking increases the tinnitus response, which increases the negative thinking.

The next thought someone might have if they’re in this vicious circle is, “Why me? Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?” And the answer is nothing. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. This is not your karma. This has nothing to do with your past actions. It’s just something that you’re having to deal with at this moment in time.

Harmful Neuroplasticity You Need to Know

So you might have these thoughts like “Why me?” or “I’m cursed. I don’t know why this is happening to me, I must be cursed.” And again, that negative thinking intensifies the tinnitus response.

Now we have these different levels of tinnitus intensity, getting louder over time. And to some degree, it can be correlated with this negative thinking, and the progressively negative psychology that comes with it.

I know this is not easy for you to hear. It isn’t easy for me to say. And if you’re going through this, it’s not going to be a snap of the fingers to get out of it. But as someone who cares about your improvement, I want to bring light to how negative thought patterns can keep us stuck in our symptoms.

What we’re talking about here is the relationship between our limbic system and the tinnitus response. The protocols for helping individuals with tinnitus are designed knowing that the psychology component to the condition is key. It affects our body’s reaction of being tense and tight. That contributes to tinnitus staying loud in most cases, as well as the fight or flight response in the mind. If we’re stuck in that, it also keeps the tinnitus loud.

I’m not here to say your tinnitus is going to be cured or go down to zero if you change your thinking patterns, but it has shown an effect for many people. Consider that as you’re figuring out the best way for you to improve your tinnitus.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Tinnitus

The most evidence-based method for how to improve this kind of reaction, how to stop the vicious cycle, is through cognitive behavioral techniques for tinnitus. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been studied to improve tinnitus, and these studies showed that the negative reactions to tinnitus were greatly improved by getting into this psychological patterning, unwinding it, and rewinding it right.

The psychology of negative thinking goes into a very dark place. Cognitive behavioral therapy allows us to approach what’s happening from a more neutral, pragmatic place. When we can do that, suddenly the tinnitus, which has grown over time, can start to become more subdued. It may go back down near its previous level, because that’s where it started from. We may be able to bring it down somewhat.

Again, this is not to say that the goal is to silence the tinnitus or get it down to 0%. This is because, while science and the medical community have tried a lot to find a cure, we haven’t found one yet. This is going to be one aspect of the holistic management of tinnitus.

Case Study of Someone With Tinnitus Who Got Better

Now, let me give you a case study of someone who had these kinds of negative thinking patterns, worked with a therapist for their tinnitus, and realized that when they changed the self-talk inside of their own mind, that it was helping them cope a lot better. This helped their energy levels, sleep, and health, as well as their overall happiness and quality of life.

This person is a 55-year-old male who has had unilateral tinnitus, or tinnitus in one ear, for the past four years. For the first few years, they tried alternative treatments. They tried all sorts of things, even bought the pills online that claim to help cure tinnitus, but nothing did it for them. Eventually, they worked with therapists and psychologists who helped them a lot, and they changed their thinking patterns in the following ways.

First, instead of saying, “I’m fighting the tinnitus,” change that to a more neutral phrase. For example, “I’m doing my best right now, with all of the energy and all of the resources that I have. I’m doing the best I can, and I’m proud of that.”

The second kind of thinking pattern is saying, “I can’t live with this.” Instead, remind yourself internally, “I am strong because I am living through this. This is challenging. This is not easy. But I’m strong, because I’m still here, I’m still standing.”

The third example that this individual says helped them is, instead of saying “It’s killing me,” saying, “It’s loud right now.” Using a phrase like “It’s killing me” implies that your tinnitus could actually kill you, and that sends our body and our mind and our psychology into a negative place into a challenging place to get out of. An example of more neutral, realistic, or pragmatic self-talk is, “My tinnitus is very loud right now, and it’s challenging me, but I’m still able to live. I’m still able to breathe, and I know that this will pass as well.”

I hope you enjoyed this article, and that it helped you to understand something about the vicious cycle of negative thinking and tinnitus. My intention here is to bring light to the reality that most of us get caught in negative thinking patterns and loops. That can be a vicious circle. And due to the nature of the condition, the tinnitus can actually get louder when we’re trapped in it.

This is where it gets very challenging, and what most people don’t understand about tinnitus. The reason it can become worse and worse over time is because this cycle continues the tinnitus. What initially was just a low-level, baseline response now keeps firing, keeps getting louder. That’s going to affect one side, which affects the other, which affects the first again, and it goes around and around.

To learn what may help you manage your tinnitus, please download our free 10-page e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Tinnitus Relief.

Dr. Ben Thompson, Au.D.

Dr. Ben Thompson, Au.D.

Dr. Ben Thompson is an audiologist in California and founder of Pure Tinnitus. Dr. Thompson has a comprehensive knowledge of tinnitus management. He completed his residency at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and is a past board member of the California Academy of Audiology. Via telehealth, Dr. Thompson provides services to patients with hearing loss and tinnitus.

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