Most people have had the experience of a long day after which we are completely drained. It’s that day where you barely make it through the front door, before you’re crawling into bed. This usually happens when we are given extraordinary challenges to contend with. Time for rejuvenation is required as we tend to ourselves in order to return to a healthy equilibrium.
But what if it wasn’t the odd long or uniquely challenging day that led you to that feeling of complete lethargy? For people with hearing loss, simply living an ordinary day in a world built for those with healthy hearing can be that draining. Hearing loss fatigue is a real threat to mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
What is hearing loss fatigue?
Hearing loss fatigue can be characterized as fatigue beyond mere tiredness. It’s more like complete exhaustion that continues on without end, all from interacting with daily communication in the world. What’s more, as science understands more about how the nervous system functions, we are able to better understand how stress can compound feelings of exhaustion. Additional stress, which is part and parcel of navigating hearing loss particularly in the workplace, can cause the nervous system to run on overdrive. Eventually, this sort of constant hyper awareness without intervention leads to burnout.
Why the brain has to work harder to hear
Contrary to the ways most of us think about hearing, it’s a function that actually takes place mostly in the brain. The ear is an instrument that collects this sound data, largely in the inner ear where delicate cells receive these fine vibrations. This information is then transmitted along the auditory nerve connected to the brain. It is in the brain that this sound is then interpreted.
Cognitive energy is required to take the sound information received and translate it into meaning. When the delicate cells of the inner ear are damaged, less information is available to the brain, which puts us in the position of having to interpret meaning without all of the pieces once available to us. We might feel as though we are “straining” to hear better, which feels like physical effort. In fact, the brain is straining to construct meaningful use of piecemeal information. This mental labor is ongoing, though might not be felt as acutely as the physical labor.
Intervening in hearing loss can help
Treating hearing loss with hearing aids can bring some relief to hearing loss fatigue. On a fairly broad note, being able to hear environmental sounds reorients you to the world. These can include the ubiquitous sounds of daily life, like traffic noise, birdsong and the background chatter of strangers. Disconnection from this is disorienting, particularly if hearing is something lost later in life. Using hearing aids to restore some of this function can alleviate feelings of isolation and stress.
Beyond that, much of the listening labor associated with hearing loss can be reduced by treating hearing loss with hearing aids. Essentially, you’re sending more sound information to the brain which reduces the amount of mental effort required to make a meaningful interpretation. Listening becomes less effortful.
Coping mechanisms for hearing loss fatigue
Beyond intervening in the physical condition of hearing loss, there are a few tools that can help someone with hearing loss replenish their mental and emotional wellbeing. Many people with hearing loss find success in cultivating a meditation practice. This can be as in depth as signing up for a class or as low key as sitting still and quiet for a minute to five minutes at a time. In between those two polarities, you might just search the internet or app store for meditation programs to try before you find the one that best fits your life.
An exercise routine can help to restore calmness. Think about the ways that your brain is exhausted from listening labor. Working the body to reach physical fatigue can help balance out energy levels and result in better and more restorative sleep and restfulness.
Finally, consider leisure activities that don’t require listening or communication and when you must, be attentive to your own listening needs. Speak up and request the table in the restaurant that has less background noise. You’ll enjoy your social connections more and they’ll become more rejuvenating if your own needs are met. When enjoying a movie or program with others, ask to have subtitles on when watching television so that your family can enjoy the entertainment together without you doing additional listening work that makes your relaxation time laborious.
Support your cognitive health and overall health by treating hearing loss. If you’ve experienced changes in your hearing, contact us at Active Hearing and Audiology to schedule a hearing test today!