You know how you can be in a really bad mood and then you hear your favorite song on the radio and suddenly everything seems okay again? Or you start your day with someone talking to you in a rude or unhappy tone of voice and the rest of the day seems like everything is horrible? Sounds, and how we perceive them, can make or break your mood. I’ve learned throughout my hearing loss and subsequent new hearing that the reverse is also true – your mood can dramatically affect how you hear.
A study in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2006 determined “dopamine is essential in maintaining the health of auditory nerve neurons and the way they respond to sound stimulation.” It’s been proved that music therapy increases dopamine and serotonin. So while a cochlear implant bypasses the auditory nerve, I don’t think it’s really much of a stretch to think that the brain’s chemical balances also affect how the brain interprets sound.
Most people when they are tired don’t hear as well. You ask for repeats more when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, or when you’re sick. “Brain fog” when one is not physically at their best is familiar to all of us – and this includes your brain’s ability to correctly interpret sound. That is only magnified for people who are already working extra hard to hear. Sounds become too loud – often painfully so – and words you’d normally be able to interpret based on context or other cues become that much harder. This has become increasingly clear during this cold and flu season. It’s also true when your brain is overactive and riding high on anxiety or stress.
I will not lie, I’ve had ridiculous anxiety for the last several months, and it seems to be coming to a head this week. I’m anxious about my job, my health, my relationships, my dogs’ health, global warming, the state of the world. You name it, I’ve got anxiety about it right now. Of course what I do at 3am when I am waiting for my Ativan to kick in is intently analyze how this anxiety is affecting my health and my hearing. The health effects are obvious, and not what this blog is about, so I’ll skip that. The hearing on the other hand are not so obvious and have only slowly been creeping up on me.
The other day I found myself turning down my cochlear implant two spots and leaving my hearing aid side at normal volume. I was doing this for almost two weeks before I realized that it was not because the implant sound was too loud, it was because it was just uncomfortable. I spent so many years relying on hearing only from my hearing aid in my left ear that what’s comfortable to me is to let that ear take charge. Thankfully, I caught early that this was the case. If I’d kept at that setting, I suspect I would have kept sliding backwards. So in the last few days I’ve been forcing myself to listen at only one spot down, and will be moving it back to “normal” in the next few days. Baby steps to retrain the brain that it’s okay to let the right ear take some control again.
I’m also very purposefully seeking out “calming” sounds – birds, certain playlists, purring cats, etc. But the most calming moment of my week was when I was outside walking the dogs in the freezing cold at twilight. Suddenly the neighborhood was completely quiet. No cars or traffic. No barking dogs or lawn/snow tools. Just the crunching of the snow underneath my feet. It wasn’t that my hearing had stopped working – that’s a different feeling of silence that is unpleasant. This was true, natural silence, and it was as glorious as the sounds I can now hear.