“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Ringing In The Ears (Tinnitus) and Anxiety

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: November 10, 2019


ringing in the ears anxiety symptoms

Ringing in the ears (Tinnitus) description:

Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) is a common sign and symptom of anxiety, anxiety disorder, and chronic stress (hyperstimulation). Many people who experience anxiety disorder develop ringing in the ears, as do many of those who are chronically stressed.

This symptom can also be experienced as having other “phantom” sounds that persist other than just a “ringing sound.”

This common anxiety symptom can be experienced in a number of ways and can vary from person to person. For example, common descriptions of the ringing in the ears (tinnitus) anxiety symptoms include:

  • Hearing a high-pitched ringing, low rumbling, swooshing, sloshing, buzzing, roaring, whooshing, whistling, hissing, whizzing, chirping, beating, humming, pulsing, throbbing, and a pumping sound in an ear or ears.
  • Having a high pitched hissing sound ringing in the background.
  • Having a high frequency ringing sound in an ear or ears.
  • Having a 'stopped up' feeling and/or 'plugged' sound in one or both ears.
  • Having an inability to hear certain sounds because the ringing sound is too loud.
  • Having what seems like water in your ear that causes your hearing to have a hollow or low rumbling sound.
  • Feeling like your hearing is muted and/or subdued.
  • Feeling like there is a pressure in your ear that's causing the hissing sounds.
  • In quiet environments these sounds can seem louder and the feelings more intense.

The ringing in the ears (Tinnitus) symptom can persistently affect one ear only, can shift and affect the other ear, can affect both ears, or can switch back and forth between ears and over and over again.

The ringing in the ears (Tinnitus) symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you might get ringing in the ears once in a while and not that often, get it off and on, or have it all the time.

The ringing in the ears (Tinnitus) symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

The ringing in the ears (Tinnitus) symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.

The ringing in the ears (Tinnitus) symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

The ringing in the ears (Tinnitus) symptom can change from day to day and from moment to moment.

The sound can also seem like it is coming from inside the head or the top of the head rather than coming from the ears. However, it is the same symptom.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

Many people notice their ringing in the ears more so when undistracted, resting, relaxing, when trying to go to sleep, and when the environment is quiet.

Some people also notice the “ringing in the ears” sound is louder after deep relaxing, waking up from a cat nap, or when waking up in the morning.

What causes the ringing in the ears (Tinnitus) symptom?

Medical Advisory

The ear, an organ, is comprised of a complex system of nerves, muscles, bones, and pressure that is intricately organized to provide sound and balance information to the brain.[1] Because of its complexity, diagnosing ear-related problems can be difficult. For example, there can be many causes of this symptom, such as exposure to loud sounds, age, ear injury, ear wax build up, ear bone changes, an adverse reaction to medication, high blood pressure, TMJ, head or neck injuries, sinus or ear infection, and a variety of other medical causes.[2] Because of the many causes, it’s wise to discuss this symptom with your doctor.

Medical conditions commonly associated with this symptom include Meniere’s Disease, Vertigo, and Tinnitus. While some people may experience satisfactory results from the corresponding treatments, others may not.[3]

Although not mentioned on many medical websites yet, recent research has found that ringing in the ears might not be related to the ears but caused by increased electrical signaling in parts of the brain responsible for auditory processing, including the amygdala – thought to be the fear center of the brain.

This new research has found that many people report the onset of ringing in the ears (tinnitus) after experiencing chronic stress or anxiety. Therefore, chronic stress, such as anxiety-caused stress-response hyperstimulation is a common cause of ringing in the ears.

Moreover, research has found a high correlation between anxiety (and other mental disorders) and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).[4]

This makes sense since chronic stress, such as that caused by overly apprehensive behavior, increases neuronal activity in the amygdala,[5] which is involved with auditory processing.

Since many people experience ringing in the ears (tinnitus) due to chronic stress, this might be one of the reasons treatments for Meniere’s Disease, Vertigo, and Tinnitus are ineffective.

I (Jim Folk) experienced this symptom, too, and in a wide variety of ways when I was struggling with anxiety disorder. Sometimes one ear was affected and sometimes both ears were symptomatic. I was also misdiagnosed with Meniere’s Disease, Vertigo, and non-stress related Tinnitus.

Ringing in the ears is a common symptom of chronic stress and anxiety. Many of our Recovery Support members and therapy clients experience anxiety-related tinnitus.

Therefore, anxiety- and stress-caused ringing in the ears is NOT a cause for concern. In fact, worrying about this common anxiety symptom stresses the body, which can aggravate ringing in the ears.[2]

NOTE: Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) can also be caused and aggravated by medications, including certain antidepressant medications. Talk with your doctor and pharmacist to see if your medication could be a contributing factor.

How to get rid of anxiety associated ringing in the ears?

When ringing in the ears symptoms are caused by stress, including anxiety-caused stress, reducing your stress should be your number one priority. As your body’s overall level of stress diminishes, ringing in the ears should also diminish.

Many of our members and therapy clients have found that as their body’s level of stress decreases overall, their ringing in the ears symptoms diminish, as well.

Because it can take time for the body to recover from the effects of chronic stress, you might need to work at stress reduction for a while before results appear.

It’s also important to address your anxiety issues so that they don’t continue to stress the body. Unaddressed anxiety issues is one of the main reasons why anxiety symptoms, including ringing in the ears (tinnitus), persist.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder and its symptoms. All of our recommended therapists have personally experienced and have successfully overcome anxiety disorder in their own lives. They know the struggle of anxiety personally but also know the road to lasting success. Their personal, professional, and years of practical experience make them an excellent choice to help you overcome hardship of anxiety disorder.

Can ringing in the ears cause anxiety?

Apprehensive behavior creates anxiety. Worry is an example of apprehensive behavior.

If you are worried about your ringing in the ears, or if you distress about it, yes, those behaviors will create anxiety.

As we mentioned earlier, worrying about ringing in the ears stresses the body, which can aggravate and even prolong ringing in the ears. Worrying about anxiety symptoms is one of the main reasons why anxiety symptoms persist. Therefore, it’s important to contain your worry so your body’s stress can diminish, and sufficiently to eliminate symptoms.

Recovery Support members can learn more about the important skill of containment and how to apply it in Chapter 6 in the Recovery Support area.


The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


Additional Resources:


Return to our Anxiety Signs and Symptoms article.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its signs and symptoms, including the anxiety symptom ringing in the ears.


REFERENCES:

1. Bear, Connors, Paradiso (2016). Neuroscience: Exploring the brain - Fourth Edition. In The Auditory and Vestibular Systems (pp. 369 - 413). New York, NY: Wolters Kluwer

2. Harvard Health Publishing. “Tinnitus: Ringing in the Ears and What to Do about It.” Harvard Health, 23 Oct. 2018, .

Baguley, David, et al. "Tinnitus." The Lancet, 2 July 2013.

4. T, Pattyn, et al. "Tinnitus and anxiety disorders: A review." Hearing Research, Mar. 2016.

4. T, Pattyn, et al. "Tinnitus and anxiety disorders: A review." Hearing Research, Mar. 2016.

5. 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.