Anxiety and Sensitivity to Noise (2023)


Anxiety and Sensitivity to Noise (1)

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by Wendy M Yoder, Ph.D. and Micah Abraham, BSc

Anxiety and Sensitivity to Noise (2)

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Anxiety and Sensitivity to Noise (3)

Extreme stress can have a lasting effect on your well-being. In some cases, anxiety can cause you to become more sensitive to otherwise normal events, potentially leading to increased anxiety.

That is sometimes the case with anxiety and noise. Depending on your level of stress and anxiety, you may become more sensitive to noise, and loud noises or surprise noises may end up causing more anxiety.

The Cause of Noise Anxiety

Noise anxiety is most commonly a response to trauma, although in some ways it can affect those with nearly any type of anxiety.

The main issue with noise anxiety is that it occurs because of a raised anxiety baseline, common with PTSD. Noise jumps the anxiety above the baseline, potentially leading to increased startle reflexes and possibly panic attacks.

What is a Raised Baseline?

Imagine anxiety fit on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is relaxation and 10 is complete and utter terror. People that undergo traumatic events or experience severe anxiety experience a raised baseline, which is when they can never get their number down to 1, 2, or 3. In a way, they are always living with an anxiety of 6, 7, or 8 on the scale.

Because the body is so adaptive, it adjusts to match that baseline. That means when you're experiencing a 6, 7, or 8 on the anxiety scale - which would normally signify a considerable amount of anxiety - they feel as though they're actually relaxed. Their mind has adjusted to reduce anxiety symptoms at this level.

But when something startles them or causes them to experience any type of burst in anxiety, suddenly they go from an 8 to a 9, and the body hasn't adjusted for that, so it still experiences profound anxiety. That's where anxiety from loud noises often comes from - it jumps the body up a little bit more on the anxiety scale for those that already have a much higher baseline than others.

Another reason that noise issues may result in anxiety is because noises can sometimes be associated with traumatic events. This is known as classical conditioning. If a loud noise or some type of noise became attributed to anxiety something that causes fear or simply anxiety itself, hearing that type of noise may cause you to experience more anxiety.

Also, anxiety can cause people to become more irritable and sensitive in general. Hearing noises may simply cause the person to feel overwhelmed, as though they cannot control their thoughts or the world around them. Anyone that has started to feel like they're losing control with the world around them may find that too many noises causes them to experience stress.

Finally, some people fear noises with anxiety. It's not clear why these noises occur, but those that hear noises as a result of their anxiety and panic often experience more anxiety as a result, worried that they're going crazy.

Reducing the Anxiety of Sounds and Noises

If you find that noise is starting to make you feel anxious, or that you're responding to noises with intense stress, you should seek help immediately. Talk to a professional, especially if you think you may have developed post traumatic stress disorder. Getting help right away is the best way to make an impact.

  • Exercise Everyone tells you to exercise for your physical health. But when you don't exercise, your ability to cope with stress takes a huge blow. Your anxiety will often become much worse when you don't exercise because your muscles turn that pent-up energy into physical stress, which in turn becomes mental stress. On the flipside, when you exercise, you not only reduce that extra energy, you also improve hormone balance, release neurotransmitters that enhance mood and improve breathing. Exercise is one of the most potent, healthy anxiety management tools available.
  • Sleep, Eating Healthy, etc. Living a healthy lifestyle is also important. From sleep to nutrition to hydration, the healthier your body is, the better it works, and the better it works, the less you'll experience anxiety. These aren't anxiety cures. Anxiety, of course, is more of a mental health disorder forged through years of experiences. Simply sleeping more isn't going to magically take it away, but they'll drastically reduce the symptoms, which should help you cope with anxiety much more easily.
  • Yoga Yoga is a type of exercise that has additional benefits for reducing anxiety. First, it is a slower form of exercise but equally challenging. Those with anxiety issues need an opportunity to slow down their lives so that it feels more manageable. Yoga also teaches breathing techniques that can be quite valuable for fighting anxiety.
  • Memory Creation Another strategy that many people don't realize can be effective is creating memories. For example, trying new cuisines or traveling to nearby museums. This can be very hard for those with severe anxiety since it requires going out into the world, but the more you can force yourself to do and enjoy every day (happy memories) the more positive thoughts you'll have when you're struggling with stress.
  • Relaxation Strategies Many relaxation strategies exist that help you cope with anxiety. Visualization is a great one. It involves imagining yourself and your five senses in a more relaxed place. These strategies give your mind an opportunity to be calmer so that you have a chance to relearn how to cope with stress naturally.
  • Distractions Distractions are also an important part of anxiety management. Your thoughts tend to be your enemy when suffering from anxiety. Distractions allow you to stop focusing on such thoughts and provide an opportunity to calm down. Talking on the phone about positive topics (negativity still breeds anxiety) can be more powerful than you realize and a great way to regain that mental strength you used to have.
  • Journaling Writing down thoughts in a journal may seem like something you only did as a child, but it's a powerful coping tool. It benefits anxiety in two ways:
    • First, journaling provides an opportunity to release thoughts - something that far too many people hold inside.
    • Second, writing down worries puts thoughts in a permanent place and tells your brain that it doesn't have to focus on remembering them as much. These are only examples of anxiety management strategies. You may also find your own strategies that work for you. For example, perhaps you find skipping stones at a park to be therapeutic, or maybe reading happy poetry gives you warmer feelings.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question


Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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