We’ve all left a boring meeting, training session or lecture feeling exhausted. But if you have hearing loss, that sentiment might feel especially bone deep. This is because of a phenomena called listening fatigue. And, as uninteresting as your lecturer might be, something deeper than mere boredom might be at play.
People with hearing loss often report feelings of extreme tired-ness. As conversations become less easy to hear, the person with hearing loss is often working twice or three times as hard as a person with healthy hearing to participate.
Why listening fatigue happens
Listening fatigue affects people with hearing loss significantly more than a person with healthy hearing. This is because much of what we think of as hearing happens in your brain. Sure, our ears get a lot of the fanfare, but they simply collect sound information. Once it is received by the fine hair cells in the middle ear, those electrical signals are sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. In the processing centers of the brain, these electrical signals of sound are turned into language, comprehension and what we perceive as hearing.
In people who have hearing loss, it is often because the fine cells of the middle ear have been damaged or decayed. Put simply, less sound information is collected to be transmitted to the brain, specifically missing frequencies. In working towards comprehension without all the information, your brain has to do a puzzle while it’s missing pieces here and there. Sounds frustrating? That’s because it is! It means that your brain must work extra hard to comprehend what is being said. It’s enough to make anyone feel exhausted.
Ways to alleviate listening fatigue
When you are feeling tired, it is usually because you need rest. Instead of pushing past limits to reach total exhaustion, pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you know that you will be in a scenario, professional or social, that requires a large chunk of time listening, you can prepare by scheduling time for rest afterwards.
It can also be helpful to block out time for rest in between meetings or social engagements. If you have a lunch with friends planned where you’re planning on catching up verbally, don’t schedule a meeting directly afterwards. Rest can be a 20-30 minute nap, an interval proven to increase alertness. You might instead give yourself time in total quiet, if a nap isn’t an option.
When possible, try to eliminate background noise during conversation. The more able you are to focus merely on what your conversation partner is saying rather than the competing chaos of noise around you, the less effortful your verbal interaction will feel.
Deep breathing or meditation can restore feelings of calm and alertness. To practice, begin with a short period of time, between three and five minutes. You can work up to 20 or 30 minutes of meditation with practice. Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor and feel the heaviness of your body. Notice your breathing and begin to take deeper breaths. Count to four on your inhalations and then count to four on your exhalations, making sure they are equal in length. Your mind will wander — it just means that your brain is working! Thank your mind for doing its job and return again and again to counting to four on each inhale and exhale.
If you’d like to experiment with guided meditations or other ways of practicing mindfulness, you can dip a toe into many different modalities with a quick google search. There are any number of ways to meditate and the trick to success is to find the way that suits your unique needs.
Investigate hearing loss treatment
For many people, the effects of listening fatigue can be lessened by treating hearing loss with hearing aids or a cochlear implant. Because hearing aids work by amplifying sound information, your brain receives more pieces of the puzzle to work towards comprehension. Listening can become decidedly less effortful.
Our team of hearing health professionals are eager to launch you on the road to better hearing. Schedule a quick and easy hearing test with us to begin. Once we have your level of hearing loss, if any, we can work together to find the best intervention for you.