Each conversation—indeed, each word—in our everyday lives resonates into our futures:
- We whisper a secret to share exciting news
- We emphasize a regional accent to make a point that makes our listener perk up and remember the unusual pronunciation
- We argue and reconcile
- We engage a business audience with lighthearted banter and win a career-changing promotion
- We join the roar of the crowd as our team moves to the end zone
These are life’s moments, so it’s hugely personal when something interferes with our ability to hear distinctly, and even more so when we want to listen to someone important to us.
One such hearing dilemma is called the “Cocktail Party Problem,” which refers to difficulty with hearing a person clearly when several people are talking at the same time in a noisy place. A tsunami of noise can cause confusion and frustration for those with hearing challenges, especially when the speaker has to be asked to repeat themselves.
The result holds potentially enormous implications: A misunderstood business deal, an awkward first impression, loss of self-confidence, or even gradual withdrawal from social events.
Hearing loss reduces listeners’ sensitivity to different frequencies, making it impossible to pick out one voice clearly, according to a recent study published in Science Advances. Furthermore, increasing the overall volume provides no help in pinpointing one voice. Instead, it just makes all the noise louder, causing more frustration.
People struggling with hearing loss often feel excluded or unloved. As a result, they have a tendency to self-isolate and withdraw from uncomfortable situations, frustrated that they cannot participate in banter and conversation. This can lead to anxiety and depression.
One study has shown that 11.4 percent of people with self-reported hearing impairment had moderate to severe depression. Another study indicates that about Depression in elderly patients with hearing loss of clinical depression. Thus, there is some evidence to support that the brain is rewired by hearing loss.
Hearing loss and the related frustrations can strain relationships and be a source of shame for those who don’t feel comfortable with letting friends and colleagues in on their challenges.
How to Cope
Coping is different for everyone. The fear of losing control, financial independence, and social standing can have a huge emotional impact, causing high stress levels. It’s not unusual for hearing loss to turn a gregarious, outgoing person into an introspective and worried introvert.
One key coping mechanism is self-compassion, which means recognizing when you are suffering and being kind to yourself.
While some people come by self-compassion naturally, others must learn it. In his book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, Harvard psychologist Christopher Germer spells out five ways to bring self-compassion into your life: via physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual methods.
- Comfort your body. Eat something healthy. Lie down. Massage your neck, feet, or hands. Take a walk. Anything you can do to improve how you feel physically gives you a dose of self-compassion.
- Write a letter to yourself. Describe a situation that caused you to feel pain (your struggle to hear your grandchild talk or a poorly received work assignment). Write a letter to yourself describing the situation without blaming anyone. Acknowledge your feelings.
- Give yourself encouragement. What would you say to a good friend if the same thing happened to them? Direct these compassionate responses toward yourself.
- Practice mindfulness. This is the nonjudgmental observation of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions without trying to suppress or deny them.
- Let others support you. Allow friends and family to offer support as they, too, adjust to what’s happening. By communicating your challenges and feelings, they are more likely to be empathic and patient.
- Professional help. Oftentimes it’s easier to ask for outside help. Ask your doctor or clinician to recommend support groups and professional counseling, if needed.
Hearing loss doesn’t have to be an overwhelming obstacle. As with many of life’s challenges, taking an open and proactive approach to securing what you need from yourself and others will allow you to adapt to new circumstances with relative ease and positivity.