Wondering what on earth misophonia is? Funnily enough, you probably know a lot of people who suffer from this mysterious disorder, even if you didn’t realise it had an official name. Perhaps it’s something you actually struggle with…do you experience extreme discomfort in the presence of certain noises? For example, does the sound of someone eating an apple cause you to grind your teeth down to stumps, claw at your face until it looks like the mask from Scream, unleash a torrent of f-bombs like a Tourettes patient, or bottle up your bubbling fury until it manifests as a nervous tick? If so, the odds are you have some degree of misophonia, which literally translates to, “hatred of sounds” (you can take a self-assessment test here).
The term describes those who are overcome by an intense wave of negative emotions when confronted by specific sounds (anxiety, disgust, hatred and white-hot rage…just to name a few). People with misophonia can also go into “fight or flight mode”, feeling a sudden urge to run for the hills or get up a noise offender’s grill to teach them a not-so-friendly lesson in silence. All the while, their heartbeat starts to race, their palms become clammy and their muscles tense up like a wild beast trapped in the grips of fear and frustration…ok, ok, I might be getting a little melodramatic, but you get my drift.
Some of the most common triggers for “noise haters” include:
>> throat-clearing / coughing
>> swallowing / gulping
>> drinking / slurping
>> brushing (teeth)
>> heavy breathing / snoring
>> sniffing / sneezing
>> typing / tapping
>> singing / humming / whistling
>> certain consonants
>> repetitive sounds
People with misophonia can also react to visual stimuli, such as repetitive body movements or movements they observe in their peripheral vision (foot tapping, nail biting, fidgeting etc.). The list of potential threats is endless really. Got any you’d like to add?
Video source: The Face Report.
While these occurrences are merely white noise to some, they ignite an intense physical and mental reaction in others…like me. Yep, my name is Sophee Southall and I have misophonia. And, I’m not alone. The more I open about my “noise challenges” with family, friends, and strangers, the more I realise there are lots of people struggling with the same problem – often in silence (how apt). Ultimately, there’s no official word on the cause of misophonia or its prevalence, and this lack of knowledge causes many sufferers to feel ashamed, helpless and isolated – like a complete oddball really!
But, enough chit-chat about general misophonia madness from me. Having been on the road for 10 months, I really want to cover the topic of misophonia as it relates to travel – how it can impact people’s adventures abroad and how these challenges can be minimised. Why? While this disorder was merely a background nuisance in my normal life back home, it’s taken a front seat while I’ve been on the road. Long-term travel has not only heightened my symptoms, it’s also increased the number of noise triggers on my “must avoid at all costs” list. Exposure to new sounds and cultural norms, from soup slurping in China to phlegm spitting in India, have been a mild form of torture. Not being able to predict and control my environment has also presented its challenges – I haven’t been able to actively avoid my sound triggers like I could back home.
If I’m going to be honest, these “mind pickles” (as my mum likes to call them) have changed the way I experience and think about travel. First and foremost, they’ve affected my relationships with people while I’ve been abroad. The extroverted part of my personality has crawled into a little ball and I’ve become more insular in an attempt to protect myself and those around me. I’d rather avoid certain social situations (mainly mealtimes), than create an uncomfortable experience for those involved. I hate the idea of putting my own issues onto others who are only doing what’s natural. So, when a noisy occasion presents itself, I disappear (literally or mentally) without a proper explanation.
Let’s just say this strategy hasn’t exactly worked out for me. Instead, it’s made people feel more uneasy because they sense something’s wrong but can’t put their finger on the tension point. Some assume they’ve accidentally caused offense, while others think I’m an overgrown emo who should probably be avoided. The drama is completely counteractive to the benefits of travel – it’s harmed my dreams of making international friends, forming closer bonds with travel buddies, feeling free ‘n’ fabulous, learning from strangers and really getting under the skin of certain cultures.
Photo source: Liberty Antonia Sadler for Metro.co.uk
Earlier this year, I decided to change tack and adopt new strategies for travelling with misophonia. These healthier responses have not only improved my relationships with others while on the road, they’ve also soothed my mind and helped me get more joy out of travel. I hope they do the same for any misophonia sufferers who happen to be reading this blog.
#1. I’ve decided to be honest and upfront about my noise demons. Originally, I thought being open about misophonia would make people more uncomfortable around me. But, I’ve found the opposite to be true. When I’ve taken the time to explain what the disorder is and how it affects me, people have been incredibly understanding and supportive – even curious. It’s put their mind at ease because they finally realise my antisocial behaviour has nothing to do with them personally, it’s a response to specific sounds no matter where or who they come from.
#2. I listen to music rather than leave the room. Ambient music has been one of the best forms of distraction for me. Whether I’m listening to soothing background tunes during dinner or blaring rock tracks in an open plan office (I use to work at a radio station), music helps me shift my OCD-like focus from an irritating sound to a place of peace and positivity. Ultimately, there are many types of white noise which can provide escapism or create a masking effect, from television shows to ceiling fans. My friend Doug likes to mimic the sounds that cause him discomfort. If he’s next to someone who’s eating an apple, he’ll start crunching away on one too; ironically, it helps calm him down. This technique also works for me.
#3. I tap, tap, tap the negative emotions away! My friend Josie was the first person to put “Tapping” on my radar. She swears by this self-administered Emotional Freedom Technique, which helps people eliminate negative beliefs and thoughts such as those experienced by people with misophonia. While I’m usually pretty cynical about alternative therapies, I was willing to try anything that might help me feel more at ease in the presence of annoying sounds. After watching this video and taking the technique for a spin, I can honestly say it helped me hush the demons in my head. The experience felt like a mild form of meditation and acupressure; it also reminded me of the brain gym classes I enjoyed in high school. It was quite relaxing. So, I guess I’ll keep on tapping until the sound of tapping doesn’t make my blood boil!
#4. I joined an online misophonia support group. Connecting with others who struggle with misophonia has helped me feel less isolated by this disorder, especially while travelling abroad. When I’m back home, it’s easy to visit a psychologist or chat to close friends and family about things, but it feels silly sending them random panic messages while I’m halfway around the world. So, I chose to join the Misophonia Support Group on Facebook and delve into the world of online forums. While I always take web advice and information with a grain of salt, reading other people’s stories about their experiences has made me realise I’m not alone. Many of my loved ones have also found comfort and an improved understanding of misophonia through online communities.
#5. I put up a fight. I don’t want misophonia to be a dark cloud that’s constantly threatening to unleash a storm of fear, guilt and frustration on my life. It’s already tainted way too many travel (and life) experiences which should have been nothing but epic. Moving forward, I won’t question participating in wonderful social experiences simply because they involve a few of my noise triggers. I’ll fight for my right to enjoy these moments as much as everyone else, and use the techniques mentioned above to shift my focus away from stress points. While there are certain sounds I’ll never love, I refuse to let them (and the negative feelings they cause) rule my mental state. Quite frankly, they can leave the front seat of my brain and sod off.
#6. I laugh at myself. If all else fails, searching for misophonia memes in Google Images doesn’t hurt. They never fail to put a smile on my face and it feels good to laugh about my “mind pickle” sometimes.
I hope this blog has resonated with a few readers and travellers out there, and made them feel less isolated by their sound struggles. While misophonia can be a debilitating and invasive disorder, there are many ways to subdue its impact on your life, relationships and travels. If you have any tips beyond the ones I’ve listed above, please share them with the Sophee Smiles community by commenting on this blog. Better dash now, I’m off to join a Moroccan tea ceremony (undoubtedly, there will be lots of slurping involved). Wish me luck!