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Misophonia is a new-age mental disorder and here’s what you need to know about it

Updated on:11 January 2021, 15:22pm IST
Did you know sounds trigger our emotions? In fact, there are certain sounds that can make you very uncomfortable. This mental disorder is known as misophonia.
Nikita Bhardwaj
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Misophonia is a newly-identified emotional disorder. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Think of your school days and try to remember if the sound of chalk on that blackboard drove you crazy? Or do you get all worked up when you hear someone making sounds, while chewing gum or food? Well, if the answer to both these questions is a big YES, then you might have misophonia. 

It might not make sense in your head, but it’s a reality for those who live with it. In fact, at times we don’t take our emotional health into consideration, and think all this is normal. That’s why we want you to know everything about this new-age emotional disorder.

What is misophonia?

When your emotions get triggered due to certain sounds, that situation is called misophonia. According to Dr Rahul Khemani from Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai people with misophonia are affected emotionally by common sounds — usually those made by others, or the ones that other people don’t pay attention to. 

Those who have misophonia might describe it as a sound that “drives you crazy.” Their reactions can range from anger and annoyance to panic and the need to flee.  The disorder is sometimes called selective sound sensitivity syndrome.

The examples include breathing, yawning, or chewing. Other adverse sounds include keyboard or finger tapping or the sound of windshield wipers. This creates a fight-or-flight response that triggers anger and a desire to escape.

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“It affects some much worse than others, and can lead to isolation, as people suffering from this condition try to avoid these trigger sounds. People who have misophonia often feel embarrassed, and it goes unnoticed,” states Dr Khemani.

He adds, “It compromises functioning, socializing, and ultimately mental health. Misophonia usually appears around age 12.” 

The disorder appears to range from mild to severe. Individuals report a range of physiological and emotional responses, with accompanying cognitions. Mild reactions can manifest in the form of anxiety, feeling uncomfortable, urge to flee, and disgust. More severe response is noted if the sound in question leads to rage, anger, hatred, panic or fear and emotional distress.

What causes misophonia?

A breakthrough study recently found that misophonia is a brain-based disorder. Researchers point to a disruption in the connectivity in parts of the brain that process both sound stimulation and the fight/flight response. It also involves parts of the brain that code the importance of sounds.

“The anterior insular cortex (AIC) plays an important role in both anger and in integrating sounds from the heart and lungs. fMRI scans show that AIC is more active in those with misophonia than the control group. There was specific activation in parts of the brain responsible for long-term memories, fear and other emotions. This ties up with the fact that people with misophonia have strong emotional reactions to common sounds, demonstrating that these parts of brain play a role in the condition,” explains Dr Khemani 

Is misophonia treatable?

Treatment often involves a multidisciplinary approach combining sound therapy by audiologists and supportive counseling that emphasises on coping strategies.

misophonia
Hear something that will calm you down. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

You can try a device like a hearing aid that creates a sound in your ear similar to a waterfall. The noise distracts you from triggers and reduces reactions. You can also wear ear plugs and headsets to tune out sounds.

Three lifestyle changes are recommended to deal with misophonia more effectively:

1. Get regular exercise. It can be any form of exercise. The point is that you have to stay active.

2. Adequate sleep. Seven to eight hours of sleep is a must, and it should be a sound sleep. Use techniques like drinking chamomile tea, listening to soothing music, or anything else that can help in inducing sleep.

3. Managing stress is critical. If you are stressed, then neither will you feel like working out nor will you be able to sleep. That’s why it is very important to keep yourself calm.

Nikita Bhardwaj Nikita Bhardwaj

Six-pack abs are all that Nikita needs, along with her daily dose of green tea. At Health Shots, she produces videos, podcasts, stories, and other kick-ass content.