Adjusting your lifestyle

The anecdotal evidence of a link between stress and the exacerbation of tinnitus is very strong.

It is therefore important that you reduce the amount of stress in your life whenever possible. Although stress is a part of every day life, recognizing those periods of stress and being proactive about reducing the stress levels by undertaking relaxation therapies is important in managing your tinnitus.

Reacting to Tinnitus

The more you pay attention to your tinnitus, the more sensitive your brain will become to the unwanted intrusion and the more distressing your tinnitus will become. In the early stages it is very easy to get into bad habits that will prevent you from reaching habituation. Some of the Do's and Don'ts of managing your tinnitus are:

DON'T ... DO ...
  • Continually monitor the level of your tinnitus
  • Work through an endless range of cures
  • Live in hope of a miracle cure
  • Talk about it constantly with family and friends
  • Remain angry about this unfair intrusion in your life
  • Spend frequent periods listening to your tinnitus
  • Remain anxious/depressed about your tinnitus
  • Feel guilty about not coping
  • Overcome your fear of tinnitus
  • Accept your tinnitus as a normal part of your life
  • Stop worrying about it
  • Keep busy and focus on stimulating and enjoyable activities
  • Surround yourself with ambient and environmental sounds
  • Gain strength from others who successfully manage their tinnitus
  • Employ relaxation & stress management strategies that work for you

Normalising Your Life

Ian Paterson, Tinnitus Association of Victoria

In addition to the 4 keys to successful tinnitus management, over the last few years I have come to realise the importance of a 'fifth key', it is to 'Normalise your life as much as possible'.

We assume that by instituting the fours keys outlined previously that the natural outcome is a return to a 'normal' life similar to what we enjoyed prior to developing tinnitus. Unfortunately this is not always the case as many people continue to allow their tinnitus to have a greater level of importance in their brain than it deserves, thus affecting their reaching 'total habituation' and acceptance of their tinnitus.

Far more importantly for those who have just developed tinnitus or those that are on the route to habituation but are still not completely comfortable with their tinnitus, normalising your life during the habituation process actually accelerates that process. It is the little things that will make the difference, going to that social function even though there will be noise greater than you are comfortable with (take ear plugs!), or doing the normal chores such as mowing the lawn (use ear plugs and or ear muffs), going shopping or visiting the kids or grandkids - these things are the very essence of a 'normal' life.

By doing these 'normal' activities, and not mentally or physically isolating yourself because of your tinnitus, will provide short term quality of life experiences as well as a process that will hasten the habituation process.

The opposite of what I am suggesting is of course surrendering to your tinnitus and using it as an excuse not to partake in life. Almost invariably when I get someone on the advice line saying that their tinnitus has 'ruined their quality of life', it turns out that they have cut off almost if not all 'normal' activities. It is what we describe as the 'tinnitus prison' where the person has built a psychological wall around themselves that mentally and physically isolates them. This leads to the person focusing on their tinnitus and allowing the tinnitus to manage and determine everything they do rather than them learning to manage it.

So what can you do to 'normalise' your life?
I tell people that it is a simple 6 step plan

  1. Determine that you are going to manage your tinnitus from this point forward and not let it manage you.
  2. Always ask yourself 'if I didn't have tinnitus, what would I be doing today' and DO IT!
  3. Plan your days each evening so that you have a 'plan' for the following few days, do not just fill up your plan with 'chores', include 'treats' for yourself such as meeting friends for coffee and cake at your favourite patisserie etc.
  4. Maintain your social contacts and outings, no matter how your tinnitus is affecting you at that time.
  5. NEVER use your tinnitus as an excuse not to do something whether it is mowing the lawn, going out, sitting quietly reading a book (yes you can do that!) or having that red wine, chocolate or other foods that you may enjoy.
  6. Maintain a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) as the more you work at implementing the '5 keys', the faster you will reach habituation and be totally comfortable and relaxed with your tinnitus.

The Tinnitus Prison

Ian Paterson, Tinnitus Association of Victoria

It is common for the brain to concentrate on negatives in a person's life and cause the person to view their particular problem, or situation, in unrealistic or exaggerated circumstances. The bigger the negative or perceived problem, the more the mind focuses on the problem.

This increased focus can cause mental and physical problems, resulting in further isolation from friends, family and society. When this happens, your life has no enjoyment or fun and every minute of your existence revolves around your tinnitus. Thus you are confined and isolated in your tinnitus prison.

This not only affects you, it can affect everyone you care about and have contact with as they suffer the results of your depression and your withdrawal from life. Inevitably you end up in a downward spiral where your tinnitus and self imposed isolation builds a mental 'brick wall' around you as impenetrable as any prison wall.

You must break out of this 'tinnitus prison' and start 'living life'.

To do this takes planning - planning to enjoy yourself; planning to start living life; planning for the future - by building ladders of positive expectations to scale the walls of the prison you are in.

This can be in the form of a day-by-day plan to visit friends, go for a walk etc, or it can take a more structured and long-term form.

Personal Planning Documents are available on the Internet. Pick one that you think is to your liking and fill it out. The difference between living a full, satisfying life and just existing, is planning.

Remember, you are in control of your life. If you decide that you want more out of life, you can have it.

You only need to decide what you want and work towards it.

The planning process is about assessing the past, determining future objectives and then identifying the intermediate steps necessary to reach those objectives within realistic time frames.

Remember that your objectives should be SMART i.e. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Timely. When you have gone over your Personal Plan and it is as good as you can make it, put it where you will see it each day, and review it and your progress towards the objectives each month.

Be pro-active, take charge of your own destiny. Nobody can or will do it for you, you must do it yourself!

You Have Two Choices

Ian Paterson, Tinnitus Association of Victoria

At the Tinnitus Management Seminars we illustrate the point that 'The way you think about a situation determines your emotional and physical reaction'. In other words, if you have the correct mental approach to your tinnitus, it will cease to be a problem. This change in mental approach is fundamental to getting on top of your tinnitus and is the basis of the 4 keys to managing tinnitus that we teach in the seminars.

While sorting through the emails that arrived at my computer recently, I came across one from a co-worker with whom I had been discussing the difference in mental approach of another two co-workers that illustrated the point perfectly. The email was not about tinnitus, but like so many stories illustrating how to get the most out of life, it has a powerful and very pertinent message that any person with tinnitus should understand and live by. The author of the story is unknown, but I would like to share the story with you and encourage everyone to examine how changing your attitude to your tinnitus could improve your perception of your tinnitus and ultimately your quality of life.

Jerry is the manager of a restaurant. He is always in a good mood. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would always reply "If I were any better, I would be twins"

Many of the waiters at the restaurant quit their jobs when he changed jobs, so they could follow him around and work where he worked.


Because Jerry was a natural motivator. If an employee had a bad day, Jerry was always there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.

Observing this made me curious, so one day I went up to Jerry and asked him "I don't get it! No one can be a positive person all the time. How do you do it?"

Jerry Replied, "Each morning I wake up and say to myself, I have two choices today. I can choose to be in a good mood or I can choose to be in a bad mood, I always choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I always choose to learn from it".

"Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I always choose the positive side of life"

"But it is not always that easy" I protested "Yes it is," Jerry said.

"Life is about choices, when you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people will affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or a bad mood. It's you choice how you live your life"

Several years later I heard that Jerry accidentally did something you are never supposed to do in a restaurant, he left the back door to the restaurant open and in the morning he was robbed by three armed men. When Jerry was nervously trying to open the safe for the robbers, his hand slipped off the combination. The robbers panicked and shot him.

Luckily Jerry was found quickly and rushed to hospital. After much surgery and weeks of intensive care Jerry was released from hospital with bullet fragments still in his body. I saw Jerry 6 months after the shooting and asked how he was. He replied "If I was any better I'd be twins." I asked Jerry what had gone through his mind as the robbery took place.

"The first thing that went through my mind was that I should have locked the back door, then after they shot me and I remembered that I had two choices, I could choose to live or I could choose to die. I chose to live." When the paramedics got me to the emergency room and I saw the expressions on the faces of the staff, I knew that in their eyes I was going to die. I knew I needed to take action.

At the time there was a nurse shouting questions at me asking if I was allergic to anything." "yes I replied" The doctors and nurses stopped working waiting for my reply, I took a deep breath and yelled "Bullets". Over their laughter I told them "I am choosing to live. Please operate on me as if I am alive, not dead". Jerry lived because of the skill of the doctors and his will to live.

I learned from him that every day you have the choice to either enjoy your life or hate it. The only thing that is truly yours and no one can take it from you is your attitude to life.

So you have two choices, you can choose to allow tinnitus to rule your life, or you can choose to get on and live life to the full not allowing tinnitus to interfere in your life in any way. Personally I chose to live life to the full and not let my tinnitus manage me or affect my quality of life - you can do the same!

DVD – The 4 Keys to Successful Tinnitus Management

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