You’re lying down in bed trying to sleep when you begin to notice the sound: Your ear has a whooshing or pulsating in it. The sound is rhythmic and tuned in to your heartbeat. And once you notice that sound, you can’t tune it out. It keeps you awake, which is not good because you need your sleep and you have a big day tomorrow. And suddenly you feel very anxious, not very sleepy.
Does this sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely related. And you can understand how tinnitus and anxiety could easily conspire to create a vicious cycle, one that deprives you of your sleep, your rest, and can affect your health.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
Tinnitus is typically referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, many different noises can occur from a ringing, buzzing, or humming to a pulsating or whooshing. But the sound you’re hearing isn’t an actual outside sound. For many people, tinnitus can occur when you’re feeling stressed out, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
An anxiety disorder is an affliction in which feelings of fear, worry, or (as the name suggests) anxiety are hard to control and intense enough to interfere with your daily life. This can manifest in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Definitely!
Why is this tinnitus-anxiety combo bad?
There are a couple of reasons why this particular combination of tinnitus and anxiety can lead to bad news:
- Most individuals tend to notice tinnitus more frequently at night. Can ringing in the ears be triggered by anxiety? Certainly, but it’s also feasible that the ringing’s been there all day and your normal activities were simply loud enough to mask the sound. This can make it more difficult to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself lead to more anxiety.
- Tinnitus can often be the first indication of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve recognized the connection between anxiety and tinnitus, any time you notice tinnitus symptoms your anxiety could rise.
Often, tinnitus can begin in one ear and then move to the other. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. In other cases, it might pulsate for a few moments and then go away. Whether constant or intermittent, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How is your sleep impacted by tinnitus and anxiety?
Your sleep loss could certainly be caused by anxiety and tinnitus. Some examples of how are as follows:
- It can be challenging to disregard your tinnitus and that can be extremely stressful. In the silence of the night, your tinnitus can be so unrelenting that you lie awake until morning. As your anxiety about not sleeping increases, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can get louder and even more difficult to tune out.
- Your stress level will continue to rise the longer you go without sleep. As your stress level increases your tinnitus will get worse.
- Most people sleep in locations that are intentionally quiet. It’s nighttime, so you turn off everything. But when everything else is silent, your tinnitus can be much more obvious.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you might fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing sound. It’s not surprising that you’re losing sleep. But lack of sleep leads to all kinds of problems.
Health affects of lack of sleep
As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health impacts of insomnia will grow much more severe. And this can really have a negative impact on your wellness. Here are a few of the most common effects:
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Your long term health and well-being will be impacted over time by lack of sleep. Increased danger of a stroke or heart disease can be the result.
- Poor work results: Clearly, your job performance will suffer if you can’t get a good night’s sleep. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be more negative.
- Increased stress and worry: The anxiety symptoms already present will worsen if you don’t sleep. This can result in a vicious cycle of mental health-related symptoms.
- Reduced reaction times: Your reaction times will be reduced when you’re exhausted. Driving and other daily activities will then be more dangerous. And if, for example, you run heavy machinery, it can be particularly dangerous.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only source of anxiety. It’s important to recognize what these causes are so you can stay away from stress triggers and maybe reduce your tinnitus while you’re at it. Some of the most typical causes of anxiety include the following:
- Medical conditions: You may, in some instances, have a heightened anxiety response because of a medical condition.
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a natural anxiety response when something causes us stress. That’s fantastic if you’re being chased by a lion. But it’s not so good when you’re working on an assignment for work. Sometimes, it’s not so obvious what the relationship between the two is. You could have an anxiety attack today from something that caused a stress response last week. Even a stressor from last year can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can happen when somebody gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. For instance, being around crowds can sometimes cause an anxiety response for some people.
Other factors: Some of the following, less common factors could also cause anxiety:
- Use of stimulants (including caffeine)
- Some recreational drugs
- Poor nutrition
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. And if you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your provider about treatment options.
Dealing with anxiety-induced tinnitus
You have two basic choices to treat anxiety-induced tinnitus. You can either try to address the anxiety or treat the tinnitus. Here’s how that may work in either case:
There are a couple of possibilities for managing anxiety:
- Medication: In some cases, medication could help you deal with your symptoms or make your symptoms less pronounced.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic strategy will help you identify thought patterns that can unintentionally worsen your anxiety symptoms. Patients are able to better avoid anxiety attacks by disrupting those thought patterns.
Tinnitus can be treated in a variety of different ways, especially if it presents while you’re sleeping. Some of the most common treatments include:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you are dealing with tinnitus, CBT strategies can help you generate new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and reduce your tinnitus symptoms.
- White noise machine: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. This could help mask your tinnitus symptoms.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This may help your tinnitus to be less obvious.
You may get better sleep by addressing your tinnitus
As long as that humming or whooshing is keeping you up at night, you’ll be in danger of falling into one of these vicious cycles, fueled by anxiety and tinnitus. One solution is to focus on fixing your tinnitus first. To do that, you should give us a call.