I have a friend who has short patience for the sound of chewing. If I sit next to him for a meal, it doesn’t take long for him to stop eating. He stares at me until I notice, or he makes a snippy comment about the crunchiness of my salad. And before you tell me, “you must be a loud chewer,” you should know: He does this with everyone, and it’s not just a minor annoyance to him. He has something called misophonia.
“I’ve let go of friendships after hearing how people eat breakfast,” he once told me.
As hilarious as it may seem (and as much as I want to chew even more loudly so he knows what a really obnoxious chewer sounds like), I recognize that it negatively affects his life. I wanted to learn more about the phenomenon, so I reached out to Meghan Marcum, Chief Psychologist at AMFM Healthcare.
What is misophonia?
“Misophonia is a neurophysiological disorder that induces a strong reaction to specific sounds,” Dr. Marcum tells First for Women. “For example, sounds like water dripping, chewing food, cracking knuckles, or a pen clicking trigger responses that for most people, seems excessive.”
We all find these noises annoying from time to time, but only when they’re excessive or particularly loud. “The sound doesn’t need to be loud in order to evoke a negative and seemingly automatic response from the individual who has misophonia,” Marcum says.
What are the symptoms of it?
Marcum mentions that the symptoms of misophonia will vary for each person. Also, they may include irritability, anger, frustration, anxiety, depressed mood, or emotional distress. This would explain why misophonia is a true disorder, and more than just a nuisance.
“People may become verbally or even physically aggressive when they are triggered by these specific sounds,” she continues. “Generally, it causes the person to experience a significant amount of distress that may at times, be difficult to control.”
Where does misophonia come from?
“Researchers are still learning about misophonia,” Marcum says. “However, we do know it is likely an auditory processing issue. Individuals with misophonia tend to have more myelin — a fatty coating — around neurons in the brain.
“It typically develops during childhood or adolescence and can last for years or throughout the life span. It can be difficult to diagnose because there are not yet well-developed and standardized assessments that are agreed upon by the scientific community.”
In addition, the disorder tends to show up at the same rates in both women and men.
How can you ease symptoms?
If you have misophonia, you don’t necessarily have to deal with the symptoms on your own. “Learning to cope with the symptoms can be taught through psychotherapy interventions,” says Marcum.
Marcum suggests several solutions to help ease the symptoms of misophonia:
- Dialectical behavioral therapy, which includes mindfulness-based practices and distress tolerance skills. Marcum says they have been shown to help people diagnosed with misophonia.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, like task-concentration exercises and changing certain sounds in your day-to-day life (such as the notification sounds on a laptop).
- Relaxation techniques, like meditation, yoga, or simply closing your eyes and breathing slowly.
- Using devices like noise-canceling headphones or white noise machines. These can help reduce the sounds in the immediate environment that trigger symptoms.
“Researchers are exploring whether treatment for tinnitus may also be useful for individuals diagnosed with misophonia,” she concludes.
If you believe you have this disorder, speak with your doctor! She may not be a specialist, but she will certainly be able to refer you to someone who is. She may also offer you potential treatment options.
As for my friend, I’m going to introduce him to a white noise machine and a video on “distress tolerance skills,” featured below. By learning about the disorder and finding mindfulness techniques for him to try, hopefully I can save our friendship!