let's relax for tinnitus

Yesterday I spoke at Europe’s largest professional Optics and Audiology Conference at Birmingham International Conference Centre; Specsavers PAC. 2000 clinicians came together to develop their clinical practice and network with like-minded individuals.

My session, which I delivered on behalf of Widex UK, enabled clinicians to experience relaxation therapy for tinnitus en masse, and learn about a useful baseline tool for those with tinnitus to take ownership of their tinnitus healthcare, beyond the confines of a clinical room; The Widex Zen Tinnitus Management App (available on Android and iPhone).

Just as a side note…a little thought on tinnitus…

Individuals with tinnitus experience more stress, anxiety and depression than average.

Tinnitus in itself, can lead to psychological distress depending on the perceived severity/annoyance to the individual – what might be felt to be mild tinnitus for one person could drive another individual to distraction.

If someone is having a stressful time in life generally, and they have tinnitus, what may have been an underlying noise for them can begin to feel worse as they can focus on their tinnitus, which can lead to further emotional distress.

Therefore, besides daily life stressors that people experience, tinnitus itself can be a stressor…and thus a vicious cycle of tension can begin.

They detect the tinnitus, they have negative thoughts about the tinnitus, they focus in on the tinnitus causing more negative thoughts…potentially distorted thoughts…which cause further distress. Some people may develop safety behaviour as consequence of their negative thoughts which can temporarily seemingly placate the issue but only serve to cause further anxiety in the long run – for example – if someone has social anxiety and they are meeting new people, their safety behaviour may be to talk really fast in the hope that it’ll all be over soon and it’ll get them through the conversation, but by doing this, they’re not addressing the issue, they’re just masking it like a painkiller.

When we see a tinnitus patient and they complain of tinnitus distress (aside from any questionnaires we may perform which is beyond the scope of this blog) – it is a very good starting point to sensitively take some time to begin to understand their overall life….can we surmise whether this person is experiencing stressors aside from the tinnitus, or whether the tinnitus is the main stressor?

So let’s take a moment to think about what happens when we become stressed; our heart begins to beat faster, our breathing get faster and shallower, our body begins to tense up, from our toes to our fingertips to our jaw…sometimes it can even have an effect on our insides. We can become tired, our attention span is short, it can affect our motivation, our overall wellbeing of physical and mental health, especially if stress is prolonged.

There is a strong evidence base which indicates that relaxation therapy is clinically proven to change someone’s response to their tinnitus by releasing tension.This isn’t right for everyone with tinnitus, but for some people, it can help enormously. If you would like some papers to read about this, I have provided a few references for you at the end.

I have only ever delivered relaxation therapy to one person at a time, and so I had no idea if could relax an entire room…this really was a gamble!

audiology conference in Europe

It was time for the first session and I was overwhelmed at how game the clinicians were – they kicked off their shoes, got comfortable in their chairs and committed to the session ahead; their motivation and engagement instantly relaxed me.

It turns out, I can apparently zonk out an entire room…what a skill…I wonder what I can use this newly found skill for? 😉

They were so relaxed that I did in fact hear a few little snores in the audience!

I delivered 3 sessions in a row and each session felt incredibly rewarding as I had clinicians approaching me after the session to advise that they intend to use the techniques and the app beyond tinnitus clinical practice, but for themselves as they found the session useful for their own anxieties beyond tinnitus.

This made me pause for thought; with the hustle and bustle of modern life, I think we have forgotten HOW to properly reach a state of complete relaxation. Think about it. When was the last time you felt completely serene? In a conference situation such as that which is so high paced, these clinicians were able to shake the shackles of the corporate world, be completely and utterly themselves within their mind, free of any worry and thought beyond what was happening in that moment, in that room.

I believe we should all take more time to be a little Zen; who knows what impact it may have on our wider life.

Here’s a video which I think you may find useful to understand tinnitus management further…

Some articles you may find useful/interesting:

Andersson, G. and Kaldo, V. (2006). Cognitive-behavioural therapy with applied relaxation, in Tinnitus Treatment: Clinical Protocols, Tyler, R (ed), ch 8, p. 96 – 113, Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc. New York.

Andersson, G. Freijd, A., Baguley, D. and Idrizbegovic, E. (2009). Tinnitus distress, anxiety, depression and hearing problems among cochlear implant patients with tinnitus. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 20, 315 – 319.

Balslev, Ditte. (2017). A compilation of Widex Zen Therapy Evidence. Widex Press No.37

Biesinger, E., Kipman, U., Schatz, S., and Langgurth, B. (2010). Qigong for the treatment of tinnitus: a prospective randomized controlled study. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 69, 299 – 304

Carlson, C., & Hoyle, R. (1993). Efficacy of abbreviated progressive muscle relaxation training: A quantitative review of behavioural medicine research. Journal of Consult Clinical Psychology, 61, 1059-1067

Herbert, S. and Lupien, S.J. (2009). Salivary cortisol levels, subjective stress and tinnitus intensity in tinnitus sufferers during noise exposure in the laboratory. International Journal of Hygiene Environmental Health, 212, 37 – 44

Nyenhuis, N., Golm, D. and Kroner-Herwig, B. (2013). Systematic review and meta-analysis on the efficacy of self-help interventions in tinnitus. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 42 (2), 159 – 169.

Sweetow, R.W. and Jeppesen, A.K. (2012). A New Integrated Programme for Tinnitus Management: Widex Zen Therapy. The Hearing Review, July 2012.

Weber, C, Ark, P., Mazurek, B. and Klapp, B.F. (2002). Impact of a relaxation training on psychometric and immunologic parameters in tinnitus sufferers. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 52, 29 – 33.