Smack-smack-smack-crunch-slop. The person across the table from you is doing it again. It’s been like this for three straight days. The headphones you brought aren’t going to cut it.
Why is the sound of the person at the table chewing away on her lunch disturbing you to your core? According to research done in 2013, it’s because you might have misophonia.
What’s That Again?
Misophonia is defined as a hatred of sound. However, having misophonia is more nuanced than that. People with misophonia don’t hate all sounds. The sounds that provoke episodes of anxiety, social isolation, and depression are usually those that are repetitive and easily ignored by the majority of the population.
It is reportedly common among those suffering from tinnitus. Those afflicted with tinnitus account for roughly five to 10 percent of the adult population in the United States. There is debate whether misophonia is its own psychological disorder, or an aspect of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Regardless of its place in psychology, experts agree that misophonia, OCD, and anxiety disorders have close relationships.
Because of a decreased tolerance for sound, people who are likely sufferers of misophonia will avoid social situations that might involve even the possibility of repetitive noises like people chewing or pens clicking. Even the tapping of a hand can be enough to trigger misophonia. Social avoidance to this degree can lead to depression because of the isolation it causes.
One sufferer reported no longer being able to eat meals with her own husband. “The reaction is irrational,” she stated in a N. Y. Times article. Another sufferer reported fixating on the noises which sparked the aggression or irrationality, which led to near insomnia.
Research has shown that misophonia and the tolerance of noises such as sniffing, chewing, or pen clicking may exist along a spectrum, like the Autism Spectrum. Some people are simply annoyed by the sounds; others are so angered they are pushed to fits of rage or into states of anxiety.
Nowhere may this spectrum of misophonia be more prevalent than the workplace, for both triggers and those who are sensitive to them. There’s the foot tapping, the pen clicking, even the clacking of long fingernails on a keyboard. However, in a workplace, there are very few outlets for the therapies and behaviors associated with dealing with misophonia.
What To Do About It
Misophonia and its associated anxieties can be especially hindering when in the workplace. You can’t just raise your hand and ask your boss to move you away from that musical colleague with the twitchy fingers. Even if you do ask to be moved, your misophonia will likely lead you to be afraid of the change. You may worry that the person you sit next to this time will be just as twitchy. You can’t just yell, “stop it!” at your neighbor, though some people with misophonia have been known to deal with their triggers by doing so.
Unless you work for a place that actively supports mental well-being, you might have to suffer alone. It’s a relatively new disorder, and isn’t currently part of the DSM-5 or other diagnostic manuals. However, there are therapies available that help alleviate some of the anxiety of coping with misophonia. The most common are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Neurofeedback, and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy. Trying a combination of these or other therapies will be more effective than picking just one.
One CBT used mimics the noise prompting the misophonia. Another is to actively engage in something else during the situation that causes the anxiety. If mealtime is when your misophonia typically presents itself, make sure you are conversing with people at the table and not simply eating. Having or creating distractions of your own will help you focus on something other than what is compelling you to throw your dinner roll across the table at the “offender.”
There’s An Upside?
If you take Misophonia.com’s test and find you may indeed have the disorder (or you just can’t stand it when you hear the ticking of the clock in the next room), don’t despair. There are upsides. For example, you may be as intelligent as Charles Darwin and Marcel Proust.
Northwestern University conducted a study on sensory gating, and found that the leakier their sensory gate, they more creative they were. Those who were unable to filter out all the inconsequential noise were more likely to have higher creative intelligence.
Whether you’ve self-diagnosed or you’ve been to a mental health counselor to discuss the reasons for your depression and social isolation and have narrowed them down to a leaky sensory gate, having misophonia doesn’t have to be debilitating.
Just remember that Chekhov probably had misophonia, too.
Featured photo credit: 115H/Gratisography via gratisography.com