The question I’m most often asked by readers is what are the best misophonia coping strategies?
Are there any techniques that we can use to help us cope when we hear misophonia trigger sounds and how can we stop that feeling of sheer panic from ruling us?
Let’s start with the good news. Just discovering that our disorder is real and has a name is enabling. It gives us that all important foothold with which we can start to find acceptance and get help.
Many of us will have spent a large proportion of our lives thinking that there was something wrong with us and it’s a horrible feeling. Knowing that this is a genuine disorder is a validation, a weight off the shoulders. We’re no longer haunted by the unknown.
And because misophonia finally has a name, it also means that we can finally connect with one another and empathise and share stories. If you’ve ever tried explaining what misophonia is like to someone who doesn’t have it you’ll know just how important this is.
What follows is a set of techniques that you may find helpful. This list has been compiled based on readings from:
1. The current body of peer-reviewed studies on misophonia – We’ve catalogued these on the site for you here. Some really exciting findings have been released and I urge to take a look when you have the time. I also try to incorporate any wider literature on the brain in general, which may be relevant or useful.
2. Reports from other misophones via Allergic to Sound and other relevant sources – The misophonia community is a valuable source of support, knowledge and insight. Every week I get dozens of emails and comments from people with misophonia and their parents, partners and carers. I’ve tried to incorporate useful insights here (you can also see a full list of reader’s coping techniques here).
3. My own experience with misophonia – I’ve included the coping mechanisms and techniques that have personally helped me, over the years with my misophonia. We’re all different and what works for me may not work for you but I’ve added here anything which I think might be useful.
This is about acceptance of the disorder, knowing your own body and having different tools at your disposal to work with your misophonia so that you can find what works for you.
1. Get to know the science behind misophonia
We are learning more and more about this disorder each year. One thing we do know, with a degree of certainty, is which areas of the brain are affected when we hear trigger sounds.
fMRI scans have revealed that it’s the amygdala that’s activated – a cluster of almond shaped nuclei buried deep within the temporal lobes of the brain. The amygdala is the primordial, alarm centre of the brain and is responsible for processing danger signals.
When someone with misophonia is exposed to a trigger sound, we know that the amygdala is activated and initiates what is known as the ‘freeze-fight-flight’ response, or survival mode.
The body releases adrenaline and cortisone – hormones which increase the heart rate and levels of alertness and readies our body to react to a perceived threat.
The problem for anyone with misophonia is that in reality there is no threat or danger. There is nothing inherently dangerous about someone eating soup loudly, or chewing gum. Unfortunately the amygdala doesn’t know that.
For whatever reason it interprets these noises as danger signals – akin to a human or a wild animal acting in an aggressive or threatening way.
We currently don’t have an effective way to halt or rewire this response but there is some fantastic research underway.
In the meantime just knowing and understanding what is really happening, during what is otherwise a confusing, disorientating and frightening experience, can be a help in itself.
2. Always keep a set of earphones with you
Studies have revealed that people with misophonia experience difficulties with ‘sensory gating’.
This means that certain sounds, that would simply melt into the background for neurotypicals, can be startling and impossible to ignore for someone with misophonia.
By making a different sound your primary input, you can help mitigate this response.
Keep a pair of earphones with you in case things get desperate and you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. Rather than sitting there boiling over, recognise that your neurophysiological makeup means you have trouble filtering out certain sounds. Try putting on some music, white noise, the radio or a podcast to help dampen the triggers.
Earphones are an invaluable tool on public transport but can also be incredibly useful in work or study situations. While this technique shouldn’t be thought of as an avoidance strategy to be used in every situation it can be extremely effective in cases where you’re feeling overwhelmed.
If you think you might need permission to wear earphones in your organisation try speaking to an understanding teacher or boss first. Explain that you’re more productive when you listen to classical music (sounds classier) and block out distractions.
You don’t even need to go into the details of your misophonia with them if you don’t want to. Most people get the concept that headspace without distractions is better. The antiquated Victorian system that most of our modern day schooling is based on and the battery hen like conditions we see in many offices is not a natural environment.
If you’re able to frame your request in such a way that’s positive for them (i.e. they’ll get more work out of you!) it should be a win win situation.
3. Background noise during mealtimes can help
This is also based on mitigating some of those the difficulties we experience around sensory gating and filtering out sounds.
For someone with misophonia, the sound of a person chewing or banging cutlery or slurping is like a thousand klaxons being blasted simultaneously. Many misophones report feeling panic, disgust or anger in the presence of these sounds.
Putting music, the TV or some background noise on can help. I know, outrageous! Recommending watching TV when you eat with your loved ones! It doesn’t have to be TV it can be any kind of background sound – like the radio, or some music.
It might sound counterintuitive – adding sound to sound – but the background noise does two things. It helps to drown out and dampen the triggers and distract the brain.
Yes, you will probably still experience some triggering but they are likely to be less intense than if you were in an environment where the only thing you can hear is eating.
If you are in a relationship – and mealtimes are becoming particularly fraught – you could also trying sitting beside your partner rather than opposite them. This will help to keep the misokinesia (visuals) to a minimum and may also lessen the impact of the trigger sounds, simply because of the way sound travels.
4. Stay on top of your stress levels
Easier said than done, I know, but this means your health and stress levels in general, outside of you misophonia.
The more relaxed you are in other areas of your life, the better you will be at dealing with triggers.
Yes, you will still trigger, and being less stressed won’t magically alter your brain and body’s physiological reaction, however your ability to copy will be boosted significantly. You’ll have more headspace to react faster and deploy other coping mechanisms during a misophonia episode.
Make sure you get good quality sleep each night, try to exercise (long walks are great) and get plenty of fresh air.
It’s also worth trying mindfulness or meditation each day (even if it’s just for 10 – 20 minutes). Headspace have a fantastic app which has a free set of mindfulness sessions. If you like it you can choose to subscribe, but the free sessions are great as standalones and you can simply repeat them if you wish.
5. Have an escape plan for emergencies
You’re in the middle of a misophonia episode and you feel like you’re about to explode. Your brain’s fizzing in a state of total panic and you worry that any moment you might do something you’ll later regret.
Maybe you’ll say something unkind… or get caught mimicking the person making the noise… or roar in frustration. So what do you do?
Take a tactical time out! If you have reached your limit find a way to politely excuse yourself.
Here are some phrases that I find work well:
“Hey, I’m just going to the toilet/bathroom.”
“I’m going to grab a glass of water (you can replace this with any drink), can I grab you one?”
“I’m just going outside for some fresh air.”
“Does anyone want a tea or a coffee?”
“I’ve just realised I’ve forgotten my [insert item here], I’m just going to go get it, catch you later.”
“Do you mind if I excuse myself? I’ve got this deadline that I really need to hit.”
“I’m just going to get some salt/pepper/ketchup, can I get you anything?”
“I don’t want to be late for my appointment so I’m going to head off a little earlier.”
These are just a few examples and you’ll find some work better than others in different environments. For example I often use the tea one at work.
The good thing is you don’t actually have to lie. If you say that you’re going to the bathroom people won’t ask why (and if they do, you might want to hang out with less creepy people!)
When you go the bathroom, lock the door and try to shake the tension out of your system (think jazz hands and a bit of a shimmy). Take some deep breaths, sit down and splash your face with cold water – you’ll feel much better.
The other thing you can do is try to make the negative into a positive. Misophonia is a cruel condition and episodes are, let’s face it, unbearable at times – so suck out the poison from the situation and try to make something good out of the upset.
You’ll notice in a couple of the above have acts of kindness weaved in – for example the offer of getting someone a drink. You get to remove yourself from the situation, rest yourself AND make friends in the process. Bingo!
6. Request a quiet desk or days working from home
If you’re in full time employment the office can be a personal hell.
Colleagues eating at their desks… fidgeting and clicking, coughing and spluttering. It’s a daily torture.
Don’t suffer in silence – speak to your boss about it.
You’ll be the best judge about whether you to tell him or her about the misophonia (that’s up to you) but whatever you do, explain that you get your best work done where there are no distractions – no phones ringing or people chatting.
See if there’s a quiet desk or room in the office where you can work when you’re feeling stressed or you really need to concentrate.
Tip: Meeting rooms are a great place to get some quiet time when they’re not booked up.
Also see if you can work from home one day a week. I do this and it has changed my life – only having to cope with 4 instead of 5 days of work triggers each week is a huge, huge help and has greatly lowered my overall stress levels.
7. Avoid lashing out when you’re having a misophonia episode
If the people around you are on edge, you’ll be on edge too and the situation can escalate.
Again this is easier said than done. The rush of feelings can be overwhelming and it will may feel like you want to physically stop the source of the noise… or scream… or tell them to stop.
I’ve never met a violent misophone but it’s easy to verbally lash out and tell someone to stop what they’re doing or to say something cruel. Something that you wouldn’t normally say in a million years.
If you have a deep and connected relationship with the person making the noise (and they know and truly understand how misophonia can affect you) then you may be able to let them know, gently, that you need some space or that you are being affected by a certain noise. However, on the whole it’s best to try to avoid aggressive confrontation because it can often makes things worse.
Think of situations outside of misophonia. What normally happens if you yell at someone and tell them to stop doing something?
They are likely to get defensive and upset and may even do the opposite and make more noise.
There’s a strange ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ quirk embedded in most of us. I don’t know about you, but if someone tells me not to push a big red button I spend the entire time wanting to push the big red button. Add to that a negatively charged, emotional tone to the request (and during a misophonia episode it’s very hard to do anything calmly) and you’re even less likely to get the desired outcome.
At best the person you’re speaking to will get defensive and at worst they’ll carry on with renewed vigour. Even if they do stop, both of you are likely to feel defensive and self conscious. This is something that can fester and creep into day-to-day life especially if they then start feeling that they need to tread on eggshells in your presence.
8. Take deep breaths, focus on your breathing and remind yourself that it’s the misophonia and not the person making the noise
There are two paths we can take in dealing with misophonia triggers.
One is to roll with that instinctive feeling that the source of the trigger (the person making the sound) is to blame and to focus all our (negative) energy on that. The second is to do everything we can to resist that feeling, to try and rationalise what’s happening and focus on and understand our own body’s response.
This is not easy, in fact it’s incredibly hard – the hardest thing on this list – but it is one of the most important.
Try to focus on your breathing and allow yourself to notice the changes in your body, like the quickening heart rate. You may still feel some hurt, upset or anger towards the person making the sound and that’s ok, but if you can have a parallel narrative running in your head – one in which the ‘rational’ you is explaining to yourself that this is your body and that it’s reacting in this way because of a neurological event (as covered in the previous point) it will help in a number of ways.
Firstly, it will help to dehumanise the trigger. This means that you can recover faster once the noise stops because you’ve already started work on detaching blame from the situation.
Secondly, it can help improve your long term relationships because if you keep the narrative going when you’re not experiencing an episode (the narrative being that misophonia is a neurological disorder and not someone else ‘doing a mean thing to you’) you’ll start to see your friends and family in a different light. Misophonia can be a relationship wrecker so anything we can do here is worth trying.
That’s it for now. This is very much evolving article and will be added to over time.
Please bear in mind that our disorder is still relatively unknown and remains unregulated so please please please be extremely wary of any ‘proven’ treatments you might find online and read this article first before parting with any money. What we do have at our disposal is useful data and subjective reports about what may work well for some people. There are no proven treatments or cures as yet.
Finally, a big thank you to everyone who leaves comments on posts and in the forum and writes in – I do read everything and every tip shared benefits the community.
If you’ve had success with any of these techniques or you’ve developed your own, please share them in the comments section below.