Picture of arms coming through a desk representing stress and hearing loss.

Let’s face it. There’s a lot to be stressed about these days. The average American has over $16 thousand in credit card debt, and that number goes up to over $130 thousand if you count the mortgage.

Between managing a household, paying the bills, keeping up with changing technology, and helping your kids out from time to time, it’s a lot.

If you find this article a bit distressing, it’s time to find out how all of this stress could be doing permanent damage to your hearing. And we’ll take a look at what you can do to stop it.

What Is Stress, Really?

Stress isn’t something on the outside making you feel overwhelmed. Rather, it’s your body’s response to environmental stressors.

The human body is really very amazing. It’s designed to respond to danger. When it senses something, it releases “fight or flight” hormones that trigger:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Hyper-awareness
  • Narrowing of blood vessels (high blood pressure)

All of these are important if you need to escape a bear. You breathe rapidly to get burst of oxygen to run away. Your heart beats fast to avoid muscle fatigue.

You’re hyper-aware so you can act fast. You’re blood vessels narrow to channel blood where it’s needed most.

But there’s a big problem. There aren’t any bears to run away from. Instead, it’s stress from:

  • Finances
  • Family
  • Health
  • Job
  • Friends

None of these require this kind of physical response, but the body is acting as if you do.

How Stress Strips Your Hearing

Chronic stress — the kind that hangs over you constantly — keeps your body in a perpetual state of fight or flight.

The result? You feel anxious or depressed? You may suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress) symptoms. You’re hyper-alert, which can also mean you’re hypersensitive.

In order to flee that bear, your body sends extra blood to your arm and leg muscles. To do that, it must pull it away from systems you don’t need as much in that moment like your:

  • Digestive tract
  • Immune system
  • Circadian rhythm (that regulates sleep)
  • Your ears

Did you just have an “ah ha” moment? The first three systems in this list are significantly impacted when you stay stressed. You have indigestion or IBS. You can’t sleep. You get sick more often.

Your hearing is being impacted just the same. It just takes longer to realize it.

And “hear in” lies the cause of stress-related hearing loss. Some may experience this as loss of ability to hear. Others will experience tinnitus. That’s a ringing or other constant sound in the ears.

Both, left untreated, will become debilitating.

How to Prevent Stress-Related Hearing Loss

Know that some stress is good. It serves a purpose. It can push us to make changes in our lives or handle a life-or-death situation.

But chronic stress will destroy your health. That includes your ability to hear. What can you do?

Know the Signs

Listen to your body. Feel what it feels like to be stressed. Pay attention to how often you feel stressed. If it’s most of the day and most days, it’s likely chronic.

Talk to Your Doctor

In some cases, you may need medical care to help manage chronic stress. If you suffer from chronic stress, get your hearing checked by an audiologist annually to keep track of how it’s impacting your hearing.

It could just push you to find a solution to all that stress.

Get More Exercise

If you’re like most people, you’re not getting enough. Exercise helps reset your body after a stressful event. That’s why going for a walk to clear your head is “a thing.”

Whether you’re lifting weights or running on the treadmill, you’re actually clearing that hormone out of your body so that it can function normally again.

Be Mindful of Negative Self-Talk

Negative thoughts can turn a “bad” situation into a nightmare. And it comes down to how you think about it.

Try to think in terms of solutions rather than focusing on the problem. Put actions behind your thoughts to change situations. Replace negativity with positive affirmations.

Maintain Healthy Boundaries

A top stressor in many lives is taking responsibility for the lives and feelings of our friends, co-workers, family and even the world.

At the end of the day, you only have control over your own actions and how you choose to respond to situations. If you take responsibility for everyone else…

1) You’re in a losing battle because you can’t control them.

2) You’re not focusing your energy on things you can change for the better.

Meditate

There are many forms of meditation. Some people find it meditative to read a good book. Some find cooking very meditative. For some, it’s sitting out in nature. For others, it’s graceful movements like Taichi.

Find a meditation form that speaks to you. And turn to it when you get stressed.

Your hearing and your long-term health will thank you with a happier, healthier you.