Auditory Symptoms

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated February 20, 2022

feeling of impending doom anxiety symptom

Auditory symptoms, such as having sounds that are louder or softer than normal, distorted, fuzzy, shimmery, warbly, and other odd sounds, are common anxiety disorder symptoms.

These are common for anxiety and panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorderobsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, and others.

This article explains the relationship between auditory symptoms and anxiety.

Common Auditory Anxiety Symptom Descriptions:

  • You’ve noticed your hearing has changed, and it’s affecting the way you hear sound, such as odd changes in volume, pitch, stability, and clarity.
  • Suddenly sounds are softer or louder than normal.
  • Sound can also now be distorted, fuzzy, warbly, shimmery, higher or lower in pitch, and other auditory anomalies.
  • Even familiar sounds seem different and changed somehow.
  • Sounds can even sound different in your “head.”
  • This change in sound can be of any type, intensity, duration, and frequency.
  • It can cause sounds to fade in and out randomly.
  • You might also notice you have more difficulty hearing certain frequencies, where low, middle, or high frequencies are harder to hear.
  • It can also feel like you are underwater where sounds are muffled and “dulled.”

These are just a few of the many variations of this auditory anxiety symptom.

Auditory symptoms can occur occasionally, frequently, or persistently.

They can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety symptoms or occur by themselves.

They can precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.

Auditory symptoms can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe and come in waves where your hearing seems odd one moment and not the next.

This symptom can change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain as a constant background during your struggle with anxiety disorder.

All the above combinations and variations are common.

This symptom can seem more noticeable when undistracted, resting, trying to sleep, or you have more time to think and focus on it.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including feeling like impending doom symptoms.

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Causes

Medical Advisory

Since some medical conditions and medications cause anxiety-like symptoms, it's best to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

If you've done that and your doctor has attributed your symptoms to anxiety, you can be confident there isn't a medical or medication cause.

1. The Stress Response (acute stress)

Anxious behavior, such as worry, activates the stress response, causing many body-wide changes that prepare the body for emergency action – to either fight or flee.[1][2]

Visit our “Stress Response” article for all the changes caused by the stress response.

Some of the stress response changes include:

  • Quickly converts the body’s energy reserves into “fuel” (blood sugar) so that we have an instant boost of energy.
  • Increases nervous system activity so that we can more quickly detect and react to danger.
  • Heightens most of the body’s senses to be more keenly aware of and reactive to danger.

To name a few.

The higher the degree of the stress response, the more dramatic the changes.

Since these survival changes push the body beyond its balance point, stress responses stress the body. As such, anxiety stresses the body.

The stress response affects our hearing in a specific way. When we’re in a high-stress/high-danger situation, the brain gives us only the information it deems important for survival.

Consequently, priority is given to visual information over auditory information, called the McGurk Effect: what you see overrides what you hear.[3][4]

Since hearing is the least important when in danger, it’s somewhat suppressed called “auditory exclusion.” As stress increases, hearing can diminish.

As such, sounds can seem softer and muffled when a stress response is active.

2. Hyperstimulation (chronic stress)

Too frequent activation of the stress response, such as from chronic worry, can cause the body to remain in a state of semi-stress response readiness we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.[5][6]

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many ways hyperstimulation can affect the body and how we feel.

Just as an active stress response (acute stress) can affect hearing, hyperstimulation (chronic stress) can, as well, but in more dramatic ways.

For instance, chronic stimulation (hyperstimulation) can overly stimulate our senses, such as hearing. A hyperstimulated auditory system can make sounds seem softer, louder, distorted, fuzzy, warbly, shimmery, change in pitch, and the many variations of auditory anomalies.

Hyperstimulation also hyper-excites the nervous system, which can cause errors in sensory perception and interpretation.[7][8]

Any combination of these factors can create auditory symptoms, such as the ones mentioned.

Many anxious and chronically stressed people notice changes in their hearing due to how acute and chronic stress can affect auditory processing.

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2. Other Factors

Other factors can stress the body, causing and contributing to this symptom, such as:

Medication

Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can mimic, cause, and aggravate anxiety symptoms, including those affecting hearing.

Talk with your doctor and pharmacist about your medication if you aren't sure if its playing a role in your symptoms, including this one.

Visit our Medication article for more information.

Recreational Drugs

Many recreational drugs can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms. Especially those that affect the nervous system, which includes our senses such as hearing.

Visit our Recreational Drugs article for more information.

Stimulants

Stimulants bring about their stimulating effect by secreting stress hormones.

Increasing the body’s stimulation can cause and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Stimulants article for more information.

Sleep Deprivation

Going without adequate sleep can affect the body in many ways, such as:

  • Prevents the body from sufficiently refreshing itself
  • Stresses the nervous system
  • Impairs brain function
  • Increases blood pressure
  • Increases blood sugar
  • Increases moodiness
  • Increases cortisol to compensate for feeling tired (cortisol is a powerful stress hormone)

These effects can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Sleep Deprivation article for more information.

Fatigue

Fatigue can cause and aggravate many anxiety-like symptoms, such as:

To name a few.

Visit our Fatigue article for more information.

Hyper and Hypoventilation

Over and under breathing can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing symptoms.

Visit our Hyper And Hypoventilation article for more information.

Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar, even within the normal range, can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Low blood sugar can also aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Low Blood Sugar article for more information.

Nutritional Deficiency

Nutritional deficiencies, such as low vitamin B and D, can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Nutritional deficiencies can also aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Nutritional Deficiency article for more information.

Dehydration

Dehydration can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, such as:

To name a few.

Visit our Dehydration article for more information.

Hormone Changes

Hormones affect the body in many ways and can affect each other. Hormone changes can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Hormone Changes article for more information.

Pain

Pain stresses the body, especially chronic pain. If the pain is in the high degree range, it can cause and aggravate hyperstimulation.

If you are anxious, hyperstimulated, and symptomatic, pain can aggravate them all.

Visit our Pain article for more information.

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Treatment

When other factors cause or aggravate this symptom, addressing them can reduce and end this symptom.

When an active stress response causes this symptom, ending the active stress response will end this symptom.

Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and needn’t be a cause for concern.

When hyperstimulation (chronic stress) causes auditory symptoms, eliminating hyperstimulation will end them.

We can eliminate hyperstimulation by:

  • Reducing stress.
  • Containing anxious behavior (since anxiety creates stress).
  • Regular deep relaxation.
  • Avoiding stimulants.
  • Eating a healthy diet of whole and natural foods.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms in the meantime.
  • Being patient as the body recovers.

Visit our “60 Natural Ways To Reduce Stress” article for more ways to reduce stress.

Recovery Support members can view chapters 5, 6, 7, 14, and more for more detailed information about recovering from hyperstimulation and anxiety disorder.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops sending symptoms, including auditory symptoms.

But eliminating hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think, causing symptoms to linger as long as the body is even slightly hyperstimulated.

Even so, since this is a symptom of chronic stress (hyperstimulation), it's harmless and needn't cause concern.

Anxiety symptoms often linger because:

  • The body is still being stressed (from stressful circumstances or anxious behavior).
  • Your stress hasn't diminished enough or for long enough.
  • Your body hasn't completed its recovery work.

Addressing the reason for lingering symptoms will allow the body to recover. As the body recovers, symptoms subside.

Most often, lingering anxiety symptoms ONLY remain because of the above reasons. They AREN'T a sign of a more serious medical problem.

Since worrying and becoming upset about anxiety symptoms create stress, these behaviors can interfere with recovery.

If you persevere with your recovery work, you will succeed.

When you do the right work, the body has to recover!

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Auditory Anxiety Symptoms Frequent Questions

Are anxiety auditory symptoms dangerous?

No, anxiety-caused auditory symptoms aren’t dangerous. They are merely symptoms of stress and chronic stress. They will subside when the unhealthy stress has been eliminated. Therefore, there is no reason to worry about them.

Can anxiety auditory symptoms become permanent?

No, anxiety-caused auditory symptoms aren’t permanent. Since they are only symptoms of stress and chronic stress, they will subside when the unhealthy stress has been eliminated. Therefore, there is no reason to worry about them.

Can anxiety auditory symptoms damage your hearing?

No, anxiety-caused auditory symptoms aren’t permanent. Since they are only symptoms of stress and chronic stress, they will subside when the unhealthy stress has been eliminated. Therefore, there is no reason to worry about them.

Will all anxiety auditory symptoms subside?

Yes, ALL anxiety-caused auditory symptoms will subside when you address your anxiety issues and unhealthy stress. Therefore, there is no reason to worry about them.

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Prevalence

In an online poll we conducted, 67 percent of respondents said they experienced this symptom because of their struggle with anxiety.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including auditory anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Berczi, Istvan. “Walter Cannon's ‘Fight or Flight Response’ - ‘Acute Stress Response.’” Walter Cannon's "Fight or Flight Response"  - "Acute Stress Response", 2017.

2. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

3. Tippana, Kaisia. “What is the McGurk effect?” Frontiers in Psychology, 10 July 2014.

4. Gasaway, Rich. “Understanding Stress - Part 6: Auditory Exclusion.” Situational Awareness Matters!™, 22 Feb. 2019.

5. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018.

6. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

7. Nicolaides, Nicolas, et al. "Stress, the stress system and the role of glucocorticoids." Neuroimmunomodulation, 2015.

8. Justice, Nicholas J., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-Like Induction Elevates β-Amyloid Levels, Which Directly Activates Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Neurons to Exacerbate Stress Responses.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 11 Feb. 2015.