Torture and healing through sound: my life with misophonia

Torture and healing through sound: my life with misophonia

You might be among the majority of people who have never heard of a condition called misophonia, where certain innocuous "normal" sounds trigger an autonomic fight or flight response in the person hearing them. Common triggers are repetitive sounds such as chewing, popping of gum, repeated clicking of a pen or tapping of a finger that cause a mental and physical reaction. Sounds that most people wouldn't even notice are so damaging to someone with misophonia that they trigger intense anger and a strong need to escape the situation.   

For me, I get physically hot, flush, and sweaty, with an elevated heart rate. I also experience tunnel vision and hearing where I can only hear the sound causing the nervous system response and zero in on where it's coming from, and I feel a rush of adrenaline and anger bubbling up inside me. 

It's hard to believe I worked in an open office environment for 12 years. I remember the utter torture of hearing keyboards clicking or people eating nearby. Thankfully, I'm lucky enough to work from home now, where I can curate my environment to eliminate triggers so I can focus. 

People with this condition often feel embarrassed and end up self-isolating. It's hard to sit in restaurants with people eating nearby, the clanking of silverware, the loud voices shouting over each other. People with misophonia often avoid social gatherings, flying, public transportation, and meals with others.

I remember the girl who chewed and popped her gum behind me in algebra class every day. I failed that class, not because of the content, but because my stress response was so elevated that it was impossible to focus on anything but the sound. I'd sometimes leave the class and stall as long as I could in the bathroom or hallway just to avoid it. 

I realize this makes me sound completely crazy, because it makes me feel completely crazy. I only know a handful of other people who also suffer from misophonia, and we all feel like we're crazy when we're triggered. 

Misophonia hasn't been widely studied, and there are no known treatments, just bandaids, like using white noise machines or noise-cancelling headphones. However, here are some things that have helped me: 


Just as sound can torture, it can also heal. Here are some healing sounds and the apps I use: 

Bettersleep app: This app is incredible. It has sounds for ASMR, as well as all of the color sounds. Some examples are: 

Brown noise - can trigger your natural relaxation response, reduce symptoms of tinnitus, and assist in your transition to REM sleep.

Pink noise - can boost memory recall, increase attention span, and improve sleep quality by matching slower brain waves. 

White noise - can help manage sleep disorders like insomnia, relax colicky babies, reduce ADHD symptoms, and improve working memory. 

Do yourself a favor and get a white noise machine. I have one in my office to reduce distractions from outside noise, and one in my bedroom to help me fall and stay asleep. 

Sound baths: have you ever felt hugged by sound? To me, that's what a sound bath is. It's a meditation class guided by deep, vibrational notes and tones that can relieve pain, lift your mood, promote relaxation, and help you let go of anxious thoughts. The teacher guides you through an auditory journey using gongs, crystal singing bowls, tuning forks, chimes, and rain sticks. Sound baths help quiet my inner critic, release tension, and allow me to focus my attention on one sound at a time. I've found they have a reverberating effect to reduce my misophonia symptoms for a few days after.

And guess what! You can take a sound bath at home or anywhere with BetterSleep. It has sounds like rain stick and bamboo chimes. 

ASMR: autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a pleasant tingling sensation that typically starts at your scalp and makes its way down your body into your extremities. It's a form of paresthesia (the tingling sensation), and is often considered a form of auditory-tactile synesthesia.

It can be triggered by things like the brushing of soft bristles, someone whispering into the microphone, personal attention, or the crinkling of paper. Also common are videos of back tracing, hair brushing, and role-play makeup or skincare application. Personally, I think it makes us feel good because it's a deep nostalgia for the sensation of being cared for as a baby. 

ASMR can be highly beneficial for helping you fall asleep, coping with PTSD, and people with neurodivergent triggers and misophonia. According to the National Library of Medicine states, "Data obtained also illustrates temporary improvements in symptoms of depression and chronic pain in those who engage in ASMR. A high prevalence of synaesthesia (5.9%) within the sample suggests a possible link between ASMR and synaesthesia, similar to that of misophonia. Links between number of effective triggers and heightened flow state suggest that flow may be necessary to achieve sensations associated with ASMR." 

YouTube has blown up with ASMR channels and creators. Here are some of my favorites: itsblitzzz em vy 

Other non-sound-related tools: 

Propanolol (beta blocker): can help relieve symptoms of anxiety like flush, sweating, heart-racing and anger.

Microdosing: while mushrooms can enhance hearing making sounds more prominent, they also grant new perspectives. For me, this meant a new found empathy for myself and the feelings I experience with misophonia. 

Kanna: kanna is an empathogenic succulent plant that is safe for daily use. It can create feelings of joy, empathy, and optimism, and for me, it has helped relieve the anger and flight response felt during a misophonic episode. It also helps avoid those symptoms to begin with, by boosting serotonin levels and inducing a calm euphoric state, making my nervous system less primed to react. Try it for yourself in our euphoric mouth spray, Sidekick

Now for some less popular but realistic ways to avoid triggers: 

Select restaurants that have more space between tables, so you don't find yourself seated too close to loud diners. 

Noise-cancelling headphones on airplanes or any form of public transport are an absolute must. Make the investment in a nice pair - you'll be glad you did. 

Talk to your family and friends about your condition. My family likes to poke fun, but at least they understand that it is very, very real, and they're more aware of my triggers and how to avoid them. 

Ask for accommodations at work. I wish I had done this during my 12 year career working in an office environment. I was too afraid to ask for a dedicated closed-door room or to work from home more often. If getting a room or working from home aren't an option for you, ask if you can wear headphones or earplugs. Trust me, I know how difficult it is to work in an environment with very limited accommodations available to you, but if there are any, don't be afraid to ask! 

If I find other coping or treatment methods that work well for me, I will update this blog. 

Thanks for reading and stay curious. 

The Good Journal