Although we are not doctors and therefore cannot make a formal diagnosis, what you are describing sounds like misophonia, a relatively rare brain disorder which causes sufferers to react irrationally to “trigger” sounds like chewing, dripping, crunching, slurping, etc. While many of us may dislike the sound of chewing or slurping, people with misophonia become incredibly agitated–even panicky–when confronted with those noises. As a result, people with misophonia may become enraged at people they love (e.g., a husband) for making normal human noises. Some other common triggers include tongue clicking, sniffling, tapping (e.g., with a hand or pencil), nail clipping, and keys jangling.
There has been very little research on misophonia. However, a few recent studies using brain imaging have shown a correlation between triggering noises and increased activity in various regions of the brain in people with this disorder vs. a control group. Somehow, the brains of those with this sensitivity perceive certain “normal” sounds as threatening (much in the same way an anxiety brain perceives certain “normal” situations as threatening). In fact, brain scans show that a lot of the same regions that are involved in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are also activated in misophonia.
The good news is that, since 2000, this condition has a name, so it is clear that (1) you are not alone (2) this is not your fault and (3) you are not just being too sensitive. The less good news (also known as bad news) is that there is no cure or treatment protocol (yet). Here are our suggestions for ways to manage misophonia:
One Anxiety Sister told us that therapy has been quite helpful in teaching her how to cope with her misophonia as well as her anxiety disorder. She has worked with her therapist to develop strategies on how to manage tough situations and to figure out how to best take care of herself. For example, she has learned that when she is tired or hungry, she is more easily triggered by certain sounds. She now knows that she should eat alone when she is in this situation. Exposure Therapy–repeated exposure to trigger noises in order to lessen their impact–is another tool that can be used in the treatment of misophonia.
Another Anxiety Sister, since starting an SSRI for her anxiety disorder, feels that the intensity of her agitation around chewing noises is less intense (even if her sensitivity is not). You should know that SSRI’s have not been approved for the treatment of misophonia, and she is on an SSRI primarily to treat her anxiety disorder.
We are big believers in Spin Kits (which we always recommend for anxiety of all kinds). Misophonia Sisters can carry earplugs to block out some of the noises that are triggers as well as, perhaps, a calming scent, soft music, something soothing to touch, peppermints or lemon drops, and other sensory aides.
Creating a noise-free environment where you can escape both at home and at work is another way of managing misophonia. Explaining the condition to loved ones will usually result in their support of such a space.
Those of us familiar with sensory processing dysfunction (also known as sensory integration disorder) can easily see how misophonia may be connected to sensory issues (often found in people with autism). Since occupational therapists often have expertise in helping people deal with sensory issues, they may also be a great resource in helping with strategies for dealing with misophonia. It may be worth reaching out to some (particularly pediatric) occupational therapists.
Anyone have any other strategies or techniques to share with the Sisterhood? Please let us know…