Mindfulness and Tinnitus – Part 1

Marshall:    “Good morning. Come on in, and we’ll get to work”…. “… so after everything that you just told me, your main concern appears to be your tinnitus, right?”

Musician:   “Yes, I just told you that!”

Marshall:     “Can you describe your tinnitus a bit more to me?”

Musician:    “It’s B flat with two overtones; F# and A.”

Marshall:     “Well you seem to know all about it and exactly what it is”

Musician:    “Well, I am a musician and any good musician should be able to discern all of the components of the music! You don’t seem to know much about musicians”

Marshall:      “I do know a fair amount about music; after all, I am an audiologist!”

Musician:     “Now, don’t get defensive on me”

Marshall:      “Sorry- not a good way to start a session, is it? It is true that I, and all audiologists, know quite a bit about music; after all, music is just sound and although we may  use different terminology (440 Hz vs. A, and 85 dBA vs. mezzo forte), it really is the same thing. However, you are correct, that just knowing about music, does not  mean that I know about musicians.”

Musician:     “Well it’s good to know that you don’t think you know everything, but I came to you because people told me that you do know everything!”

Marshall:       “Well, I do know everything- after all I’m an audiologist, but that’s a different issue. Let’s get back to your description of your tinnitus. Most “mere humans” would describe their tinnitus as tonal-like or maybe a “hiss”. You describe your tinnitus as …. Let me look at my notes… “B flat with two overtones of F# and A.” Even before I begin, you seem to be concentrating too much on your tinnitus. Knowing that the tinnitus is at B flat with well-defined overtones, seems a bit scary- it’s almost as if you are paying too much attention to your tinnitus. You must have spent quite some time on your piano trying to figure out exactly the various components of the tinnitus.  And that could be part of your problem.”

Musician:     “So, what’s your point? Are you charging me by the hour?”

Marshall:       “My point is that tinnitus is a very complex thing and can be related to so many different factors.   One of the elements in any tinnitus therapy program is relaxation, or finding things to do that do not involve dwelling on your tinnitus.  You need to learn to do something other than play music so that you can take your mind off of your  tinnitus. There is something called “mindfulness,” which has been taken up by many researchers and clinicians working in the field of tinnitus. When you get home, you should Google the names “Dr. Rich Tyler, PhD” and “Dr. Dick Salvi, PhD”. Both of these researchers have a good handle on ways to distract you from your tinnitus.

Musician:      “Why is it that researchers always use a short form name of “Richard”? This doesn’t sound very impressive.”

Marshall:       “In this field, all of the well-respected researchers have first names that are Richard- it’s a rule or something.” But, let me get back to the concept of “mindfulness”.  Mindfulness, according to an American scientist named Jon Kabat-Zinn, is “awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way- on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” If people pay attention to the present, and not how their tinnitus sounded last night, this process can help lessen the effects of the tinnitus. When a person is “mindful” it means that they can think about or meditate on their breathing, physical and emotional thoughts that are here and now, but not that they need to do anything about it. It’s like a time-out or finding your own reset button.

This is one thing that adults are better at  than kids. I frequently take part in a karate black belt re-certification- about once every 6 months.   This is a time when any new brown belts can be tested for their brown belts. It is a grueling test that goes on for hours (more than 10), and the way to get through it is to forget that you were just knocked down five times in a free sparring match- you need to get up, hit your reset button, and start again as if nothing has happened. The younger black belt candidates just don’t have the world experience to know where their reset button is and subsequently have a very hard time. Professional musicians have been “around the block” a few times and, in doing so, have learned how to hit their “reset button”- some drink a bit too much, some smoke a bit too much, and others do exercise. All of these work but I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that the first two should be minimized.”

Musician:   “It almost sounds like a form of meditation that you are talking about?”

Marshall:     “Well, it is. Mindfulness can be traced back to the early Buddhist traditions of 2500 years ago. The revival isn’t so much that we have discovered Buddhism, but that current research has found that there are a number of emotional and physical benefits of finding one’s own reset button. It may be meditative, exercise or a sport (like karate), or even a hobby like reading- everyone has their own reset button- pay attention to the here and now and forget about what happened yesterday.”

Musician:    “Neat. Can you tell me more about some recent research findings on mindfulness?”

Marshall:    “No- now go away; your time is up!  Actually, part 2 of this blog will review some hearing and non-hearing related chronic problems that have been helped by mindfulness. Stay tuned.”

About Marshall Chasin

Marshall Chasin, AuD, is a clinical and research audiologist who has a special interest in the prevention of hearing loss for musicians, as well as the treatment of those who have hearing loss. I have other special interests such as clarinet and karate, but those may come out in the blog over time.

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