Does the sound of someone chewing make you cringe? Or worse, furious? Have you ever wondered what's up with your reaction to sounds? Let's make sense of misophonia, a term that means "hatred of sound". If you have misophonia, it means you have a negative reaction to everyday sounds that other people probably wouldn't even notice. Misophonia is not considered to be a mental health condition but when moderate to severe, it can definitely cause distress.
You might be triggered by sounds like chewing, slurping, gulping, throat-clearing, sniffling, swallowing, coughing, and even breathing. Some other sounds that can cause a reaction are clicking pens, dripping water, or ticking clocks. If you have misophonia, you might experience such a sound the way someone else might feel when hearing nails scratching a chalkboard. You might feel irritated or disgusted when you hear a trigger sound, or you might feel anxiety, panic, or even rage. The sounds can trigger the fight-or-flight response and you might have physical sensations such as tightness in your chest, increased heart rate, or sweating. You might even have a strong behavioral reaction toward the person who is making the sound. Interestingly, you might have a reaction only when certain people make the sound, and trigger sounds can also change over time.
While researchers haven't yet identified a cause of misophonia, they suspect it is due to differences in brain structure and activity. Having more connections between certain areas of the brain that process sound and manage emotions can cause your fight-and-flight response to get more easily triggered. There seems to be a genetic component to misophonia, so you likely have family members who have it too.
Mild misophonia can be annoying but is generally manageable. If misophonia is more severe, it can be more of a challenge. Having difficulty tolerating chewing or swallowing sounds can make someone want to avoid eating with friends and family, which negatively impacts both socialization and nutrition. Experiencing an extreme reaction to normal, everyday sounds can cause fear, isolation, and other behavioral changes in an effort to avoid being near the source of the sounds.
While there is no one treatment for misophonia, fortunately, there are interventions. Using other noise to block out sounds can be very helpful for some people. A white noise machine, music, or listening to something distracting can help during mealtime or in other triggering environments, because neutral or pleasant noise in the background can make the triggering noises feel less upsetting. Earbuds or noise-canceling headphones can be beneficial too.
There are also therapies similar to those used for anxiety, OCD, or PTSD that have been shown to be helpful for individuals with misophonia. These include CBT, DBT, hypnotherapy, biofeedback, or neurofeedback.
If misophonia is getting in the way of your eating or your life, talk to a professional to see what you can do to help noises become less bothersome. Misophonia is not your fault, and there's probably something you can to do make it better.
Here's to more peaceful meals!