Although lockdown is easing, many people will be working from home for some time to come. Audiologist Paul Harrison discusses some of the challenges - and the benefits - of working from home for the person with tinnitus.

The challenges of adapting

The pandemic we are still facing is challenging for all of us and some people suffering from tinnitus – although we are used to varying levels of anxiety – are finding this situation extremely difficult.

This may lead to a spike in our symptoms, opening the doors to a lower anxiety threshold and a sense of panic. It may also leave tinnitus sufferers worrying over how the pandemic might set back their ability to cope with their symptoms in the future.

Setting up a home office and adapting to a new way of working can feel overwhelming. Relying on your colleagues' understanding and your confidence to suggest communication adjustments requires trust. Communicating virtually with colleagues and learning how to use new technology has introduced new demands and strains. Over time these changes may have a negative impact on sleep patterns, concentration, and ultimately the way in which those of us with tinnitus deal with anxiety.

The office atmosphere is a huge social environment for most of us, playing a big role in our feelings of a sense of worth and achievement. For people with tinnitus, it can also be a welcome distraction to our symptoms – providing a natural way of coping. The shift from in-house to home can change the focus of symptoms from manageable to intense. Whilst there are some sufferers who prefer working at home, generally working remotely provides a quieter soundscape than the office and can cause us to acknowledge the tinnitus sounds we hear more often.

What we are left with is an increased sensitivity to sound, a lower ability to focus on work, and experiencing ‘concentration fatigue’. This is the brain’s reaction to constantly managing tinnitus sounds and trying to push them into the background. This can result in an over-worked brain and a body that is both mentally and physically exhausted.

Focusing on the positives

This unique situation will pass, and you will phase back into your normal working life. Learn to see the new way you are working differently and with an open mind. Like most challenges in life, it is bringing you the opportunity to be more resilient, adaptive, and proactive.

Put this time to good use, improve and find new and more effective ways of managing your tinnitus. Practice them more freely, experimenting with management techniques. Try to develop a stronger relationship with your colleagues - one that is more understanding, more communicative and more inclusive. This can then be mirrored when you are back in your office environment to promote a more effective team.

Being proactive

If you wear hearing aids, you may need to adjust your settings to accommodate your new working environment or to explore new tinnitus management features. Ask your audiologist for support and whether your devices can connect directly with Bluetooth® for better virtual meeting experiences. Recording all your meetings can be a useful way to refresh your memory and to clarify decisions made, what was discussed and what your role is for various work projects. Be confident and forthcoming with suggesting communication and work schedule adjustments that benefit both you and the company.

Use your break times to partake in relaxation techniques, mindfulness, yoga, and other forms of exercise. It may even be just a stroll. Never underestimate the effect of fresh air or ‘time out’ to refocus and maintain your daily schedule. Use sound therapy regularly within your new remote office space, so you can focus on what is important rather than the tinnitus sounds you are experiencing.

This article was written by Paul Harrison - Audiologist, founder of Hearing Aid UK and a council member of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists (BSHAA).

Image by Gordon Raggett on Pixabay

Updated 3 July 2020