The Deafening Silence of My Anxiety: ADHD and Sound Sensitivity in Lockdown
“For me, anxiety plus too many mixed sounds equal brain malfunction. So, you’d think that an eerily quiet neighborhood would be bliss during this pandemic. But it’s not. With my anxiety level up, the quiet only highlights how loud it gets inside my head.”
I was walking my dog recently, and a small airplane flew overhead. I felt like Gilligan on his deserted island, wanting to run toward the beach with my arms waving, “I’m down here! I’m down here!”
It has been ghastly quiet in my suburban neighborhood during the pandemic shut-down. Even the usual morning dog walkers aren’t out, so any passer-by who peoples my mornings gets an overly enthusiastic (though socially distanced) hello.
I usually love the relative quiet, but I don’t love the quiet of lockdown.
Right now, all my usual worries have been replaced with big worries. My health. The economy. I have several family members and friends who have fragile immune systems. Even as things open, my father remains in a pretty firm quarantine in his Pennsylvania retirement community. And the noise in my head becomes harder and harder to manage — drawing a stark contrast to the National Park-like quietude around me.
When Anxiety Gets Loud
Before the pandemic, I was looking into how anxiety and ADHD may have something to do with my life-long sensitivity to sound — and how I often struggle to separate background and foreground sounds. Sometimes this struggle has given me migraines.
What I learned about myself is this: anxiety plus too many mixed sounds equal brain malfunction.
If I’m talking in a restaurant with a group of friends, and the room is loud, I sometimes have to practice my deep breathing to stay relaxed. Just ask my husband about what works (or doesn’t) as background music when we entertain guests. I feel bad about all this, but as I get older, I realize it’s less about me being annoying as a person — and more about my ADHD brain being annoying as a processing system.
So, you’d think that an eerily quiet neighborhood would be bliss during this pandemic. But it’s not. With my anxiety level up, the quiet only highlights how loud it gets inside my head.
Thankfully, there are tools for this.
How I Lowered the Volume on the Noise in My Head
For the past couple of decades, I’ve practiced and even taught meditation and guided visualization for relaxation. Over the past year or so, after becoming more aware of the relationship between focus and anxiety, I’ve used breathing techniques and guided visualization even more. It does help, though it takes practice and certainly isn’t a silver bullet.
I’ve also learned other coping skills — removing myself to another room, asking someone kindly to turn off a piece of music, or just trying to breathe through an aggravating situation, like a loud restaurant or noisy traffic.
With the internal noise of worry growing louder, I realized early in this pandemic lockdown that I’d have to devise new strategies to keep (relatively) calm. I started exerting some control over how I could “reduce the noise.” I turned off the television and stopped reading as many news updates. I limited my time on social media – though, admittedly, some days were complete failures, especially if there was a breaking news item. But still, my overall efforts helped cut off the steady stream of stress-inducing news and views.
At the same time, I worked on my breathing and visualization techniques: I joined a yoga teacher friend’s Skype class, and joined another friend’s weekly breathing and drumming meditation, also online. I used an app for daily guided visualizations. My overall “noise-reduction” strategy has made a huge difference.
The loudness of the crisis is still there. In New Jersey, where I live, approximately 13,000 people have died during the pandemic – more than the state’s WWII deaths. And while thankfully the rates of infection here are decreasing, national protests, rallies, and states re-opening bring up the question of how all this will impact infection rates across America.
Even as I write these things, I find myself going back to my breath to relax. My mind thankfully now has enough quiet space in it to dream of normal days ahead — even if that is months down the line. I’ve come to appreciate what I can hear more of — the many chirping birds and barking squirrels. I can imagine a day when I have room for my quieter worries. I really look forward to when a leaf blower bugs the heck out of me.
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Updated on March 24, 2021