Extreme stress amplifies sound sensitivity

By Shayna Brouker • Published: April 25th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Life is loud, both physically and metaphorically. The daily rhythm and sounds of work and home life are enough to cause chronic stress, minus the occasional interruptions like a breakup, a layoff, illness or a death in the family. Turns out stress renders not only your emotional state and your nerves sensitive, but your ears too. A Swedish study published in the journal PLoS One found that even normal, non-deafening sounds, like conversation, can feel deafening to the emotionally exhausted person — to the point that physicians should take stress levels into consideration when evaluating hearing.

Well-rested and less-stressed people, on the other hand, were found to be less sensitive to sound after being exposed to a stressful situation. Scientists describe this reaction as “shutting their ears,” a typical defense to stress. Women in particular felt the difference. What’s also interesting is that the subjects noted no difference in sounds before being exposed to stress.

Stress can affect your body and senses in some other unexpected ways. It can cause canker and cold sores, teeth grinding and gum disease. It can contribute to poor eating habits and overall hygiene. It can make stomach problems, acne, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma worse. Anxiety dampens libido and decreases fertility.

But stress doesn’t have to spell misery — certain techniques and strategies can help you manage the way you react to life’s little surprises. Remember that not everything is in your control and try to keep a positive attitude. Learn to say “no” and create limits and boundaries. Value your time and others will follow suit. Learn to be assertive rather than aggressive when others broach your boundaries, and express your feelings rather than withdrawing or lashing out. And of course, exercise does wonders to combat stress and help life sound a little less loud.