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Misophonia: how ‘sound rage’ destroys relationships and forces people to move home

Misophonia can be a real issue for some of us. The noise of someone eating can on the outside, seem minor to some of us but to some people, this can cause extreme anxiety. If you are one of these people, you could be one of the many people affected by this potentially debilitating condition.

What is Misophonia?

According to research 18% of people in the UK experience some form of misophonia.

Otherwise known as “sound rage”, misophonia is a decreased tolerance to certain sounds. Sound triggers are usually repetitive and it’s not about the volume of the sound, but what it means to the observer. Eating sounds are the most common sounds that can trigger responses in someone experiencing misophonia.

What noises can cause the most distress?

Chewing, crunching, snorting, sniffing, throat clearing, and heavy breathing are all relatively ordinary everyday noises that occur in life, but in people with misophonia they can cause extreme reactions and anxiety.

This reaction can take the form of physical changes such as increased muscle tension or heart rate, or emotional responses such as irritability, shame and anxiety. It brings on a fight, flight response which could make someone feel like they are either in danger or you’re being threatened.

Only about 14% of the UK population are aware of misophonia which can mean it can be difficult for some people to really understand the disorder. Sufferers sometimes find it hard to talk about how noises can make them feel, fearing that others won’t understand.

How does it develop?

Theories about how misophonia develops are exactly that. It can typically present itself in late childhood or early teens and is often associated with family members but there isn’t a conclusive reason why it affects some and not others.

You might have clocked a sibling eating baked beans, say, then once you have noticed it your brain begins to look out for it. This could start to be aversive and then you pay more attention to it, and then the more attention you pay to it and so the cycle begins and continues.

The impact can be severe. Relationships can end over misophonia, some people move house to escape triggering neighbours. Others must pick careers based on where they can work without being bothered by sounds.

How can you cope with misophonia?

Strategies can help, however, such as introducing background noise when eating to take away the focus of the noise that is causing distress.

Sometimes the best option is to walk away or distract yourself with breathing or give your mind a little job to do, such as playing a game for a minute. By the time you re-enter the room, the sound might be gone, or you might feel better equipped because you feel more relaxed.

You could also try “opposite action – this idea that sometimes the more we avoid something or block it out, the more harmful it feels to us, and this can also create anxiety in some cases. For example, instead of glaring at someone who is annoying you with sounds, try to smile at them and diffuse the situation in some way to move towards a more relaxed state. It’s a way of tripping up your brain and saying: remember that you’re not actually in danger and this person isn’t trying to harm you and this in turn can help us to feel less under threat and less anxious.


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