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Tinnitus (Ringing In The Ears) and Anxiety

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: April 3, 2019

Tinnitus (Ringing In The Ears) and Anxiety description:

Tinnitus can be experienced in a number of ways and can vary from person to person. Common descriptions include:

Tinnitus 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.

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

Tinnitus may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

Tinnitus 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.

Tinnitus 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.

Tinnitus can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

Many people notice their Tinnitus more so when resting, relaxing, and/or when trying to go to sleep. For some people, their Tinnitus is so loud it prevents them from getting good sleep. Many people also notice their Tinnitus gets louder as their quality of sleep deteriorates.

What causes Tinnitus?

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. 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. Because of the many causes, it’s wise to discuss Tinnitus with your doctor.

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

Although not mentioned on many medical websites, elevated stress is another common cause of Tinnitus. In fact, many anxious people experience Tinnitus as a result of the elevation in stress that being overly anxious can cause. Because many people experience Tinnitus as a result of elevated stress, treatments for Meniere’s Disease and Vertigo are often ineffective.

I (Jim Folk) experienced Tinnitus 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 also was misdiagnosed with Meniere’s Disease and Vertigo.

Since anxiety activates the stress response, and since stress responses stress the body, behaving in an overly apprehensive manner can stress the body to the point where it becomes symptomatic. Tinnitus is a common symptom associated with stress and anxiety. We see this a lot among anxious people.

Stress-caused Tinnitus is NOT a problem worth worrying about. In fact, worrying about it stresses the body, which can cause Tinnitus to persist.

How to get rid of anxiety associated Tinnitus?

Because stress, including the stress that being overly anxious can cause, is a common cause of Tinnitus, working to reduce and eliminate unhealthy anxiety and stress should be the number one priority. Many people have found that as their anxiety and stress are reduced, their ringing in the ears diminishes too. The more rested the body becomes, the less of an issue Tinnitus becomes.

Because it can take some time for the body to recover from elevated stress, you may need to work at stress reduction for a while before meaningful results can appear.

Can Tinnitus cause anxiety?

Anxiety occurs when we behave in an apprehensive manner. Therefore, anxiety isn’t a cause in itself, but a result of a certain style of behavior. In this regard, then, no, Tinnitus itself doesn’t cause anxiety. But worrying about it can cause anxiety, since worry is apprehensive behavior. As we mentioned earlier, worrying stresses the body, which can cause Tinnitus to persist…which is a common reason why people experience it persistently.

We explain this connection in more detail in the Recovery Support area of our website.

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.

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Additional Resources:

Return to our section that explains the hundreds of anxiety signs and symptoms, including trembling, numbness, tingling, shortness or breath, and racing heart, and so on.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including anxiety associated Tinnitus, ringing in the ears.