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Our Mental Health Blogs

Noise Sensitivity: When The World Is Too Loud

Noise sensitivity can be a mental health trigger, but there are things you can do to lessen noise sensitivity (hyperacusis). Get tips here.
Noise sensitivity can be likened to nails on a blackboard. The constant buzz and whir of music, technology, the buzzing of Facebook notifications, ringing phones and loud conversations can be overwhelming. This sensitivity to noise is known as hyperacusis, a condition that arises from a problem in the way the brain processes noise.


When a sufferer comes to dread social settings due to the noise, it can become a mental health trigger. Sufferers may feel trapped with no escape, want some place quiet or feel disoriented, as though he or she can hear every noise or conversation in a room.  The effect is similar to being in an echo chamber.

Causes of Noise Sensitivity

Hearing loss does not necessarily reduce sensory overload.  The way in which the brain processes the sound does not mean that a person with hyperacusis, or sensitivity to sound in general, has better hearing. It’s just that he or she is more sensitive to certain sounds:  paper rustling, conversations, heating and air system sounds, etc.

Some causes of sensory overload include:

  • brain injury
  • airbag deployment
  • epilepsy
  • ear damage
  • TMJ
  • Neurological conditions such as migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome and posttraumatic stress disorder can also be associated with increased sensitivity to noise.

Tips to Reduce Noise Sensitivity

  • Incorporate some white noise into your surroundings  – run a fan, invest in a white noise machine, open a window or install a white noise app on your cell phone.
  • Wear noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds.
  • Try positioning yourself in another area of the room.
  • If you are wearing a hoodie, putting the hood up can lessen the stimulation.
  • Using a tactile tool, such as rubbing a smooth stone can provide enough of a distraction to facilitate calming (Using Objects to Reduce Anxiety).
  • Use post-it notes to cover sensors on auto-flushing toilets or automatic hand driers.
  • Visiting during non-peak times and seeking seating on the perimeter can help to reduce exposure to noise.

What do you do when the world becomes too loud?  We’d love to hear what has worked for you.

You can also connect with Paulissa Kipp on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest and her website, Paulissakippisms.

181 thoughts on “Noise Sensitivity: When The World Is Too Loud”

  1. Hi I find that children shouting or babies screaming gets me angry allso loud talking and laughing in pubs makes me angry. my friends are allways saying it doesent bother them.
    Think I must be going insane as when I mention it to people thay think I am mad.

  2. So month or two ago I was talking to my psychiatrist about discovering Dr Elaine Arron’s blog, The Highly Sensitive Person–There were so many things that struck a chord, I had to mention it to him. He said it sounded a lot like ADHD (which I was diagnosed with a few years ago), and when he did I recalled reading some very similar things in the books on ADHD I had researched after being diagnosed. After reading this post, I think I’ve sort of figured out a distinction of two similar and frequently-but-not-always-co-morbid issues with noise (which I’ve been trying to sort out for a while).

    There are times when noises compete with noise, when my inattention is kicked up a notch, and during those times I need quiet, or at least something brown-noise-ish, like familiar classical music/nature tracks (without too many sudden movements), which my brain knows, so that my brain gets the support it needs to find a flow state. There are also times when I am in a noisy room with chattering around, and sometimes I am ok. Sometimes I jump from conversation to conversation, and sometimes I engage in a discussion and the competing noise fades more appropriately into the background. This is how the ADHD plays with noise processing, I think.

    However, when my nervous system cranks up, which is frequently under circumstances that also worsen ADHD symptoms (both making it hard to differentiate as well as creating a feedback loop as my anxieties mount from trying to deal with the various ADHD fallout and then the irrational irritants muck with my focus and prevent flow), my sensory processing goes haywire. Loud is louder and normal is loud and quiet can be loud and all is painful and irritating, especially when the noise is sporadic and/or punctuated. My attitude turns to s**t and I have more and more trouble hiding how grossed out, anxious, and cranky I increasingly am. It’s not just audio, but also olfactory and tactile. It’s not just that all input is the same and it’s hard to prioritize my focus; instead I am hyper aware and frequently have trouble with any sort of higher brain functions beyond my immediate need to alleviate/escape the pain. My anxiety hikes, and now that this has been a problem of increasing severity for some years, it is also general incredibly depressing. I am trapped, forced to confront how non-neurotypical I am and how hobbled I’ve become. This spirals down into all the different ways I now have cause to experience those feelings, over and over, and how it all just seems to be getting worse, not better.

    It sucks.

    With either of these, I can more frequently find myself dealing with the sensory input as the school year goes on (drama department), especially after a show run if I stay rested enough and eat my non-allergies, because pre-show can be pretty communal, yet I am forced to take care of business anyway. If I join in voluntarily and keep a balance between personal warmup and the group flow I do the best.

    Other things that we do in my program probably help too–a lot of our warmups have meditative qualities to them, and exercise in general can help a bit if I have been taking care of myself.

    And in order to keep my instrument at its best, I have to be healthy, because it is my connected body and mind that I need to do my work. For me that is a lot–I have a lot of allergies and digestive issues that make it difficult to keep inflammation down. I need appropriate sleep schedules to keep my body, nerves (both physiological system and mental states), appetite, and ADHD manageable– and I need to take care of those last three to prevent the domino effect on my body that can happen. Unfortunately insomnia is a problem (another feedback looper, grr). And do also have sleep apnea, to boot. But mostly am just an idiot and/or too anxious by the time I start to get tired that I have trouble doing what I need to.

    Tonight, for example, I was driven by weeks of poor sleep habits + interrupted sleep from the noises of my mother cleaning, which freak me the fuck out, especially when I can hear her cleaning my bathroom through the connecting wall–it’s not only sporadic, punctuated, agressive noise, but she’s also just invaded my territory and I know I will be faced with change and possibly the scents of detergent. She also might freak out at any moment from overwhelm and verbally attack me; the closer she is to where I am, the more on guard I am. And then it doesn’t matter if she’s clattering dishes in the sink across the house or dropping things around her bedroom or chewing food while watching tv (again, across the house). I am screwed and trapped, forced to avoidance, because risking getting in the way or bringing attention to myself is just asking to be told to do some sensorily-uncomfortable task and/or asking for a conflict if she’s already hair-trigger anxious. Tonight our visiting relatives (the catalyst of the anxious thorough house cleaning) came for supper. While she put together supper I tried to sit with a guest and talk, but her clanging and clanking and pounding and clinking was just too much; I couldn’t even produce complete coherent sentences. It probably didn’t help that my ADHD med was in its wearing-off phase (which I find can be particularly sensitive) or that I hadn’t eaten much today, either. Or that I’d had caffeine, which can worsen it, especially as it wears off, too. I rudely excused myself and abruptly ran to my room, shortly starting to search for my earplugs as the kitchen noises were still getting to me. The yelling for me to come to supper was terrible. I was in a panic until I found them. It wasn’t even completely ready, so I ran out to the living room while people clinked and talked, searching for what to do when the world was too loud and finding this link. Supper was so-so, improved by earplugs, but still hard to focus on keeping up my end of the conversation. At least Most of the eating sounds were muffled by my talking and being forced to hear my own eating sounds in my head and my blood pounding along my eardrums. I only have to think about someone eating and I get the creepy crawlies, bringing tension into my back, shoulders, and jaw. My bro also has clicking TMJ, so there’s that added irritant. It’s yet another thing that makes me sad; I love my bro, but most of the time we run into each other it’s in the kitchen, and/or when we hang out there are frequently snacks involved. So I see him less now. I see most people less now, even though I need to spend time with them to be happy.

    It’s all a balancing act that I’ve grown rather tired of trying to figure out, but in writing this I’ve noticed that while it has grown less ignorable over the years (and yes, was also worse after my car accident a few months ago) and possibly more painful, this year I’ve made some progress, I think. I’m still looking for answers, but between some basic self-care and my latest medication regimen (or near-regimen) I find pockets where I can deal, and sometimes not even be too affected. It’s a start, I guess.

  3. Although I don’t believe I have Noise Sensitivity, I am, and always have been, ridiculously hyper-aware of background noises. It is as if the foresound-what I’m calling the sound I should be focused upon-and the backsounds are fighting for dominance. I will watch a film with headphones, for instance, and hear just as loudly as the scene upon the screen, the television from the other room. If I turn my volume up, which I don’t prefer to do, the television in the other room gets just as loud. Funnily enough, when I go to confront them of their loud television, I am surprised to find they are watching at a relatively low volume. My mind only perceives the noise as loud if I leave the room. As one might imagine, it gets aggravating for both parties involved. I despise loud noises in general-loudness of all sorts really-but only background noise messes about like some sort of pesky younger sibling. Provoking you and then pretending it was completely innocent. I don’t believe that is Noise Sensitivity, but it seems to be the closest relating term and this article does have good advice I might take. Because nothing’s worked thus far. The background noise gets louder the more I try to block it out.

  4. Finding this article couldn’t have come to my attention with more perfect timing. Just last night I went out to dinner with my roommates and had to get up and walk outside. For the first time ever though, I was able to explain why I hate going out to eat. I really could hear every tiny sound and every conversation in the room. It was extremely overwhelming. Today I read this. The second thing listed for possible causes, airbag deployment. I was involved in a pretty nasty car accident last April, so now I’m wondering, maybe? Maybe it’s had more of an effect than I thought. I’ve recently been going to the doctor for severe migraines and feeling tired all the time. Blood work is normal except for low vitamin d. Hmm.. I’ll definitely bring this with me to my next appointment. Thank you for the article. The world really is too loud!

  5. Please do NOT use a fan at work. THAT could very well be the cause of someone else’s torment. I have a neighbor in the cube next to mine that runs a small fan. It is rather loud – I can hear it NOW, over the music emanating from my headphones. I want to take it and throw it out the window.

  6. I have to carry a 2-way radio at work, and be available in case I am called. The problem is, when the conversational traffic is very heavy, my nerves start to get on edge and it makes me feel so irritated. I hate the noise! It’s tough to concentrate at times, and tuning out the noise is impossible, because I have to be able to hear it if I’m the one being paged. I wondered if there was a disorder associated with this. Thanks for the place to vent and discuss!

  7. I’m new to the non-stop headaches, chanting in my head. I’m going to see a nurologist soon. I found out I have Lyme disease again, tmj,anxiety, depressed,sleep epna. I’m scared I’ve lost my balance, everyday chores and driving. What’s happening to me

  8. It’s good to know other people have similar problems. I have ptsd which leads to hypervigilance, anxiety and stress. One way this manifests is by noise sensitivity which gets worse when overstimulated,lacking sleep or other stresses are added. Machine noises, building works, repetitive or sudden noises, music (especially people’s headphones) etc cause irritation and stress. Can feel frightening at the time as I worry whether things will remain this way but it’s helping to have therapy and meditation which helps to make me feel more in control of the emotions caused. Just got to remind myself of all the coping mechanisms and use them regularly. Hoping it gets better. All the best to all of you who are dealing with these stresses.

  9. The people I work with scream in each others faces I just want to walk up to them and tell them to shut the hell up!

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