Why misophonia can make you feel tired and mentally drained (and 7 ways to fight back)

by | Nov 1, 2017 | Articles | 14 comments

My colleague has been finger drumming the desk for 3 minutes now…

He does this most days.

‘Rational brain’ knows it’s a harmless, innocuous thing, yet every time I hear that sound my brain screams “%@@$£!!” and I just want to sprint out of the office and dive headfirst into the Thames.

… and now he’s stopped.

Thankfully misophonia triggers tend to be fleeting.

The problem is, and maybe you can identify with this too, I still feel on edge.

As far as my brain’s concerned the threat has not fully passed. He might start finger drumming or coughing or rustling again at any moment.

One of the worst things about this disorder is that relentless, droning anxiety that seeps into the liminal spaces in-between triggers.

Let me explain what I mean by that…

Misophonia triggers are intense, overwhelming and unpleasant. That’s the obvious, headline effect of the disorder.

But there’s something else…

A kind of ghostly residue… a slow burning, low-level anxiety in the moments in-between triggers when you feel trapped. You’re not being triggered – your amygdala is calm again (sort of) – yet you feel distracted and overly aware of your surroundings.

You could be in an office, a school, a lecture theatre – anywhere that you cannot easily leave.

The problem starts when you’re triggered by someone (usually a person who you know tends to make a lot of sounds/movements that trigger you) and you have stay in that space with them for a prolonged period of time.

Because you know you may get triggered again by them again soon, anxiety kicks in. You are, to put it bluntly, preparing yourself for more to come…

You’re now constantly aware of that person and start subconsciously monitoring their presence… waiting for the next trigger

I’ve often thought misophones would make wonderful spies. We pick up on the smallest details…

Every micro movement, every breath, every tap.

But why does this happen?

The brain has survival mechanisms built in which are designed to protect us in dangerous situations.

For example, if we see someone running towards us with a machete in their hand, our brain goes into freeze-fight-flight mode so that we can act quickly, on instinct.

The problem is even when the immediate threat of attack has passed, the brain keeps us alert for long as it believes the attacker is present or nearby.

It makes sense. If he comes at you, you want to be ready. In survival scenarios every millisecond counts.

But that doesn’t help us as misophones…

Our main issue is that we’re also triggered by non-threats by non-threatening people, sometimes on a near constant basis.

The science behind this is important, so I want to turn to Dr Brout who puts it eloquently in her excellent article (do check it out) in Psychology Today:

“The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls many organs and muscles within the body, unconsciously, without thought or effort. Within the ANS, the sympathetic nervous system’s function is to prepare the body to deal with a threatening situation by either “fighting” the danger or “fleeing” from it.

When this reaction is triggered, the body is flooded with hormones that give a boost of energy. When the sympathetic nervous system is aroused we may feel an increase in heart rate, and we might notice our palms are sweaty. How the body attempts to combat this reaction (in order to return to a calm state) also involves the ANS. The para-sympathetic nervous system, the other important part of the ANS, puts on the brakes so that the body can relax back into a calm state. This means that periodically throughout the day, every day, a person with misophonia experiences physiological “ups and downs.”

In other words, you are not at fault. When you’re exposed to a trigger, your body automatically prepares itself for danger. Your heart thumps… you might start to sweat… the mind starts racing…

I keep repeating this on Allergic to Sound (and will continue to do so). Our brains are wired to respond in this way, in the same way that a dyslexic brain is wired differently. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it just is. My mum has green eyes, mine are brown, vive la difference.

Neuroscientists are still looking into why this happens to us – and we discuss this elsewhere this site – but what matters is this. It’s a very real neurological and physiological response.

This near constant sensory overload and low-level anxiety between triggers is exhausting

Let’s approach this from a different angle.

You meet up with a friend and ask them how their day was.

They say: “Well, this morning I did a parachute jump. Then on my way to lunch a man wearing a balaclava pointed a gun at me. And just now, on my way to meet you, a tarantula dropped out of a tree and landed on my head.”

After you gasp, give them a hug and check, very discreetly, that they no longer have a tarantula on their head, you reflect on what they’ve just told you.

They have experienced events that would each trigger a freeze-flight-fight response in the brain. While none of these are particularly physical events, but they are all exhilarating, terrifying and extremely mentally taxing.

And so you would fully expect that person would feel completely and utterly drained and exhausted.

Now consider this…

As misophones we’re often thrust in and out of freeze-fight-flight mode 5, 10, 15, 20 times in a single day.

On top of that, in many situations we also then have this anticipation of further triggers.

So we have these 2 great strains placed on us througout the day:

1. The immediate neurological and physiological response to misophonia triggers. Big, brain-busting misophodes. Your head’s screaming “STOP!” and you’re doing everything you can to hold yourself together and not flip out. This is exhausting.

2. That constant, low level anxiety that can exist between triggers. Sensory overload… the anticipation of more triggers… the subconscious monitoring… the hyper awareness. Again, this is exhausting and nerve wracking.

So it’s little surprise that at the end of a full day at work or school – or anywhere where don’t feel we can escape – we often feel completely exhausted.

We spend the whole day noticing and processing everything around us. Burning through energy reserves during full blown misophodes and then getting hit with that slow, consistent drain as we continually monitor those moments in-between triggers.

So now you know why you often feel mentally drained after a day sat in a mundane office or classroom.

7 things you do to help overcome sensory overload and misophonia exhaustion

1. Be aware that it’s happening – Just noticing and realising the impact it’s having is a good start. Knowing that the problem is there puts you in the driving seat because you’re no longer battling an invisible foe

2. Work with your misophonia, not against it – It’s not going anywhere and the people around us aren’t going to suddenly stop making normal, human sounds, so let’s find ways to work with it. Instead of spending precious time and energy placing the blame on ourselves or others, we can get prepared. That means:

3. Always have a simple escape plan prepared just in case – When it gets too much, get up and go to the toilet/bathroom and take some time out – that’s a super easy one

4. Try (if possible) to discuss flexible ways to work with your boss/school – Ask if there’s a quiet room where you can study or take a laptop when you need to… see if you can work certain days from home… try sitting in a different area… take regular breaks

5. Always have your emergency misophonia tools to hand and keep spares in accessible places – Ear/headphones are life savers

6. Try to make your living space a safe, noise-free haven where you can recharge – If you go into work or school or a public space already feeling tired, stressed and on edge, everything will feel ten times worse. You need time to recharge and reset. Got noisy neighbours? See if you can put better noise insulation (even putting a bookshelf filled with books against a noisy wall and/or some thick wall hangings can do wonders). Or try investing in a great pair of headphones

7. Take regular misophonia holidays – Go for regular walks in the park… try mindfulness or meditation… give yourself the space to switch off and take time out from the misophonia


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  1. John avera

    Very well written and informative, thank you

    • David

      As usual with these type of things, it’s amazing, the actual problem iskated over and ignored. I have a next door neighbor, I work from home, thin walls in the house and they have a large fan they have on all day, 10.30 hoiurs so far today, and its only 6 pm in the evening. Trying to work, this humming sound impacts on my ears all day. There are times when it’s 13 to 14 hours per day. The noise resonates alll over the house, so the escape to the bathroom is pointless as a suggestion or solution. I have spoken to them but that just makes them have it on longer and louder. There are times when I just want to kick their door down and thrwo the item into the street. Can’t work here anymore, can’t get an office, virus, and the noise is making it difficult to work, to think and create. The worst thing is people think you are mad, they can’t hear it you see. So you end upnot mentioning it anymore.

      • Dennis Morrigan McDonough

        Use earbuds or headphones with music, white noise, other possible soothing sounds. Seriously, your neighbors can only do so much. You need to help yourself.

  2. Norma Lopez

    Thank you so very much for this information!!! This really helps me understand me. ♥♥♥♥

  3. angela

    i hate chewing,smackimg.whybis theis the case

  4. Sky

    My trigger is the sound of my 2 year old son.. I also have a 20 yr old daughter.. I swore I’d never have any more kids (and I always said never again, cause I can’t handle the sound of a crying sooking whining baby) but of course it only hit me recently that it was because of being misophonia my son cries, soooo much, and whines and I tell U it’s constant.. most days I feel as though I’m going crazy, some days it gets so bad that I want to kill myself.. I hate my life on all days that end with “Y” I just got noise cancelling head phones.. but sometimes I’m not quick enough.. and bam I’m done for.. plus it’s not safe to have them on all the time. Cause I need to be able to hear where my son is.. i have little to no help.. besides my husband who works 6 days a week.. anyone else here going through the same thing? Hit me up.. skymostra@gmail.com would love to chat with someone who understands..

    • Sue

      Hang in there.

      I absolutely understand. I went through a similar thing. Looking back on it, l would say that the lack of sleep and worry is a big part of feeling overwhelmed. If possible, try to get some sleep but having someone look after your son while you have a proper nap. Make sure it’s someone you trust so you don’t worry about him too much (so you can try to relax). Make sure they know not to wake you unless it’s absolutely necessary. There is nothing wrong with napping in the day.

      Do you have postnatal depression? A lack of interest in the things you used to enjoy is a sign of this. A lack of joy or happiness? If so maybe medication can help – l didn’t realise l had postnatal depression and thought l was going mad – l used to do a lot of ‘self-harm’ and now that makes sense – you are trying to feel something and you are trying to get control back. The medication helped me as did the ability to talk to other mums (they put up with a lot of negativity from me). Try joining a support group but make sure you prioritise sleep.

      Things to help your son – try a lollipop. Seriously, something to suck on is a great help. Also, make sure he is fully fed – a full tummy helps to settle an infant. Make sure he is getting enough sleep too – crying is often due to being overtired. If he’s teething try the usual teething creams and ice cubes can help too. Make sure he has a routine and keep him in a dark space when he’s sleeping. If it’s not too hot try wrapping him tightly in a blanket and cuddling him, rock him back and forth if possible and make sure he doesn’t have trapped wind by gentle rubbing his back in a circular motion. Reading a story also helps a huge amount, that really helps to settle a toddler – especially if you can do this while he is in a dark space and being rocked.

      Remember, things will get better but get support – talk to others, let them know what is happening to you and ask for help. You are perfectly OK, you are not a ‘bad’ person if anything you probably care about your children too much. Care for yourself too!

      I promise it will get better. Try to get that sleep, it’s so important for you and for your son.

      Big virtual hugs, Sue 🙂

  5. Sanita

    I just left school today in tears because I was trying to finish my Report for Communications in computer classroom early in the morning. Then students started come in with all problems and non-stop bla bla bla. Some people just never stop talking. And it happens every day. I am here to study but its not possible. I said: will you ever stop. Replay was: stop wailing.
    Instant klicking pen,phone, opening and closing drinkig bottles, schewing gum and non-stop talking. How to manage this for hours if you must study? You cannot use headphones or escape.

  6. Nicole

    This is the post I’m going to show people when they don’t understand how much misophonia affects me. Thank you so much for writing this, I just recently discovered my misophonia and it’s been rapidly getting nearly unbearable, so having a place where I can learn more means the world to me, and hearing first-hand accounts makes me feel safe and not alone.

    • Allergic to Sound

      Hi Nicole, thank you for your kind words! I’m so happy you found this article helpful and that this site is providing some solace in some small way.

  7. Ela Ozatay

    Hello, I am in high school and wow this…makes sense. This was very well written, and it is nice to know I am not crazy or alone!

  8. Vaeda

    This article really helped! I’m a 13-year-old high school student, and my triggers are the following: Loud breathing, all eating noises (except in small children and animals), the clicking of pens/tapping, and the sound of people closing their eyes; so I really needed this!


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