Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/19/2023
Does the sound of chewing or cracking knuckles cause your skin to crawl? While some people may think this is an overreaction to normal sounds, others find them overwhelming and even anxiety-inducing. Noise sensitivity anxiety isn’t an overreaction to everyday sounds, but it can very well affect someone’s quality of life if they struggle with mental disorders.
We’ll discuss what this particular affliction is, along with noise sensitivity anxiety treatment options and how to cope.
Noise sensitivity anxiety is the feelings or strong emotional responses some people may experience when hearing common noises from daily activities. There’s even a condition to name noise sensitivity anxiety: misophonia.
Misophonia is a disorder characterized by strong negative emotions triggered after hearing common, everyday sounds that may not bother others.Noises like chewing, tapping, knocking, scratching or sniffing can be stressful or even terrifying to some.
The condition may even trigger the “fight-or-flight” response. This is your body’s reaction to stress or danger that causes your heart rate to increase and your breathing to become shallow, among other anxiety symptoms.
While misophonia or anxiety noise sensitivity isn’t in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), there’s enough evidence to be diagnosed with this condition.
Misophonia may develop when you’re younger, as a 2017 study of over 300 people with noise sensitivity anxiety found they had the condition since their youth.
Other conditions that might describe noise sensitivity anxiety include:
Hyperacusis or sensitivity to sounds within a certain volume range or frequency
Phonophobia (the fear of certain sounds)
Misophonia can lead to strong emotions or even behavioral responses in people, causing them to avoid certain places or isolate themselves.
Emotional responses to noises may include irritation, anger, disgust or anxiety. Anxiety noise sensitivity could also cause a physiological response — or physical symptoms — such as:
Increased heart rate
Avoiding situations where the sound may occur
While these responses are similar to anxiety symptoms, misophonia isn’t an anxiety disorder or a symptom of anxiety. However, sound sensitivity can occur in people with anxiety disorders, a group of mental disorders that affect how people feel, think and behave.
Noise sensitivities can also happen in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a type of anxiety disorder where one has recurring, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Those with autism spectrum disorders may also have noise aversions.
The cause of misophonia and noise sensitivity anxiety is uncertain. However, an experimental study found that sounds activated certain neurons in the brain that cause people to mimic behavior or sounds. The researchers behind this study believe the negative emotional response caused by the sound is because people feel out of control or can’t complete tasks.
While the cause of anxiety noise sensitivity may be unknown, there are ways to cope with this condition.
Noise sensitivity anxiety treatment typically consists of therapy as your main option, as there’s no medication known to treat this condition or misophonia.
The Misophonia Association lists several types of therapy that may benefit those struggling with noise sensitivity anxiety, such as:
Mindfulness-based stress reduction
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR)
Mental health professionals may help you learn how to desensitize yourself from the sounds that cause the reaction.
But while noise sensitivities — like anxiety — can’t be “fixed,” there are ways to cope with them.
Although your first instinct may be to steer clear of the noise that causes anxiety, avoidance will only increase your fear of the sound. Instead, try to expose yourself to it more often and think of the irritating or loud noise as unimportant. You can use mindfulness techniques to relax and focus on your breathing rather than the sound.
Another way to cope is by reducing stress in your life. When you’re already anxious or stressed, you’re more sensitive to your environment and may be more susceptible to noise aversions.
You can also seek out support from local groups in your area or online through the Misophonia Association.
Sometimes everyday noises can have a real effect on our mental health and cause us to feel more anxious or stressed than others. This is referred to as noise sensitivity anxiety or a condition known as misophonia.
Though misophonia isn’t an anxiety disorder or a symptom of anxiety, people with noise sensitivity anxiety may experience physical symptoms similar to those of anxiety when exposed to a triggering sound. On the other hand, those with anxiety disorders or OCD may be more sensitive to loud noises.
There are ways to cope with noise sensitivity anxiety, mainly through therapy, stress reduction and practicing mindfulness. If you’re looking to get started with therapy, connect with an online mental health professional at Hers today.