How The 5 Stages Of Grief Can Help You Master Your Tinnitus

How The 5 Stages of Grief and Tinnitus

Treble Health’s tinnitus audiologists have observed how the five stages of grief have manifested in the tinnitus habituation process among the dozens of patients we have consulted with. We have seen how by normalizing these stages, patients can feel more empowered, supported, and seen.

Dr. Ben Thompson and Dr. Michelle Neidleman-Kennedy discuss the five stages of grief and how they apply to tinnitus patients

Grief Stage #1: Denial

For tinnitus patients, the denial stage can manifest through such thoughts as “How and why could this have happened to someone like me, who has a healthy lifestyle and protects her ears?” Tinnitus patients may also be in denial that there is no specific physiological cause for their tinnitus. 

"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
– Steve D.
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The denial stage can last days or weeks (or sometimes longer), and it is important to acknowledge this stage so that you can get to a point where you become proactive and seek professional guidance in order to understand the psychology behind your unique case of tinnitus. The earlier this can be done, the greater the likelihood that you’ll be able to initiate the process of tinnitus habituation. 

Grief Stage #2: Anger

For tinnitus patients, the anger stage of grief can manifest in anger towards your current life, anger towards others who aren’t dealing with tinnitus, or just general anger towards the sensation of tinnitus. There is also some anger in the tinnitus community expressed towards medical professionals who haven’t been able to find a cure. While it’s okay to be angry, work to process your anger in a healthy manner so as to not disrupt the help and solutions offered to you.

Grief Stage #3: Bargaining

For tinnitus patients, the bargaining stage can manifest through wishful thinking—for example, thinking that taking supplements or limiting sound exposure will improve your tinnitus. This kind of mental bargaining is not productive, as it’s not based in science and can trick you into withholding the necessary investment of time and effort needed to achieve tinnitus habituation. 

It’s crucial to cultivate patience, as tinnitus habituation is typically achieved over a period of months, not days. Additionally, don’t think you have to cut out the things that once brought you enjoyment and that you have to compromise in order to feel better. More often than not, these small choices won’t result in a perceptible change in your tinnitus. 

Grief Stage #4: Depression

For tinnitus patients, depression can manifest in extreme sadness over the loss of quiet, peace, relaxation, and/or ease of living. Sometimes this sadness can come to incorporate uncertainty about the future and how tinnitus will impact you. While these feelings are definitely normal, you should still be aware of them and work to orient your thinking toward more positive thought patterns.

Depression with tinnitus

Every day is a new opportunity to learn how to adapt and change the way you feel, think, and behave in relation to your tinnitus. Adopting this mindset is foundational to successful tinnitus habituation.

Grief Stage #5: Acceptance

The acceptance stage of grief should be the goal for all tinnitus patients. Accepting tinnitus does not mean that you’re becoming friends with it, but rather that you understand that there’s no quick fix available for it and that you are committed to retraining your brain to perceive tinnitus as just another sound rather than a threat that needs to be resisted. Internalizing an ethic of acceptance calms down the brain’s limbic system, which is the part of the brain responsible for anxiety and fear-based responses. It’s best to work to accept the parts of your tinnitus that you can’t control (like loudness or pitch), and then double down on actions and behaviors that support habituation.

It’s important to know that the stages of grief can, and often will, occur out of order, and that it’s okay if any of these feelings return during your tinnitus habituation journey. Ultimately, it’s most helpful to stay focused on the endpoint or goal of your habituation plan, and realize that you’re not alone in experiencing tinnitus.

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