What is listening fatigue?

Ever feel exhausted after listening to someone speak for a long time? While it might be tempting to blame the speaker for being boring, in reality you might have what’s known as listening fatigue.

What is listening fatigue?

Put simply, listening fatigue can be referred to as the fatigue or burnout that is usually caused by prolonged periods of listening, or the effort that is put in to listening. Many with hearing loss experience this throughout their everyday lives because hearing loss forces them to pay even more attention, and expend more energy into processing and listening; compared to a hearing person.

Believe it or not, simply hearing and listening takes a lot more energy and brainpower than you might expect. For many, it’s just part of everyday life and we may not think twice about it. However, with hearing loss, it’s not always so natural. When someone has hearing loss, it forces the brain to work double to receive, process, and interpret what is being said or heard and as a result, can take an emotional and even sometimes physical toll.

The effects of listening fatigue

As mentioned, listening fatigue can take a significant toll on the mind and body. How it will do so will vary from person to person as everyone is unique.

However, here are just some of the signs to look out for:

  • Anxiety
  • General fatigue/tiredness
  • Frustration
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Social isolation/withdrawal
  • Changes in mental or physical health
  • Burnout

Why hearing loss can make you tired

The brain plays an important role in our ability to hear, understand and speak. The sensory hair cells of the inner ear are responsible for translating the noise the outer ear gathers into electrical signals, which they send along the auditory nerve to the brain.

When hearing loss is present, the brain must work harder to make sense of the information it receives from the inner ear, which can be mentally exhausting.

Here’s why: Each hair cell is responsible for translating a specific pitch or frequency. When these cells die or are damaged, the auditory system loses the ability to translate that frequency, causing the brain to work harder to process incoming information.

Tips for Coping with Listening Fatigue

Listening fatigue can be immensely frustrating. While it’s not 100% preventable, there are some things that I’ve found through personal experience can help.

  • Go to a quiet place, especially after long periods of listening to give your ears and mind a break.
  • Deep breathing: Whether it’s in the moment or afterwards. Taking a minute (or a few) to take a breather can help reset, refocus, and maintain the frustration and anxiety.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up. Whether you have hearing loss or are don’t; if you’re struggling to hear someone or keep up, don’t be afraid to let the other person/people know.
  • Opt for written communication if it’s possible. Try communicating with pen and paper, phone (texting/notes), or if the situation/context allows: email/text.
  • Use hearing assistive technology if it’s available. It may not work for every situation; especially in many mask situations. However, everyone and every environment is different. Technology such as FM systems may be able to help.
  • Talk to your audiologist about a setting for your hearing aids that you can switch on before going into an environment with masks that will increase the decibels of your hearing aids that may help increase the volume just a bit. Even if there is an everyday environment such as a place with a lot of background noise etc., your audiologist may be able to help create a setting for your hearing aids, for that specific environment.

Published by Danielle Guth @HearingLikeMe