It’s easy once you’ve realised that not only do you have tinnitus but that there are limited solutions, to feel helpless. Journaling has been instrumental in regaining a level of control and confidence over my health. Recording my feelings and other aspects of my life helps me to understand my tinnitus’ presence. Recognising the impact of lifestyle, stress, and even old trauma has given me the intel to know how best to take care of myself. There is always a pattern of something.
Use a journal to get a sense of how the content of your days impacts your tinnitus symptoms and overall quality of life. This practice only takes a few minutes, so don’t panic if you’re not used to journaling!
Rate the level of tinnitus you experienced from 0-10 (0 being none, 10 being severe).
This enables you to gradually get a sense of when it’s elevated or decreased. Your rating is personal to you so try to avoid playing down your experience. Just because tinnitus isn’t visible doesn’t mean you aren’t struggling with it. A ’10’ for me is when it’s disrupting my sleep, I’m experiencing it during the day, it feels almost physical, and I can feel myself sliding mentally and emotionally. How you rate your levels of tinnitus might shift as your awareness and experience of it increases.
Summarise your overall mood.
One or two sentences are plenty. e.g. “Productive day overall and feel like I got to have some time to myself.” “So frustrated with myself!“
Gather some intel on your sleep patterns.
You can keep it basic and just note how many hours sleep, whether it was restless or quality sleep, and what time you went to bed and woke up. Beyond this, you could, for instance, note whether it took you a long time to fall asleep, whether you watched TV, read, meditated, etc., in order to settle. It may be useful to note what time you got to bed (you might notice that early nights or going to bed late impacts on the volume and intensity reducing or increasing). If you use something like a Fitbit, Apple Watch or similar that tracks your sleep, you might find their data useful.
Keep notes on food and drink consumption
In 2009, I struggled with vertigo and tinnitus on and off for almost a year, including going through a battery of tests and being told that I’d lost 70% of the balance in my left ear. In October 2009, I had a debilitating episode that left me unable to get out of bed for a few days. I visited my kinesiologist who tested me for wheat intolerance after I told her what I’d eaten that week. I stopped eating wheat that day, and one week later, vertigo was gone and my tinnitus was way down.
Noting your food and drink consumption is handy data for when you visit your GP, a specialist or alternative practitioner. If you’re taking medication or vitamins and mineral supplements, note what you’re taking (and amounts if it varies day to day). Ensure that you record it when you haven’t taken regular medication just in case there’s a direct correlation between this and your tinnitus symptoms. You may find it useful to track your units of alcohol consumption, whether you drank any or enough water and whether you skipped meals.
How’s your body?
Note whether you had an upset tummy, headache or any other physical ailment. For instance, pay attention to whether your back, neck or shoulders are sore or very painful.
Note whether you had niggling worries, felt anxious, or had a word or phrase that kept popping into your head.
Jot down any stressors.
Stress is one of life’s inevitables. That said, there are stresses in the form of habits of thinking and behaviour, as well as repeat situations with certain folk, that flag up up where a shift is needed. Note the people and specific situations that impacted your thoughts, feelings, actions and the overall quality of your day. If in doubt, pay attention to anyone or anything that leaves you feeling flat, worn out, heavy, helpless, powerless, down, or as if you’ve been sucked, bled or drained of your mojo. These are signs that you’re over your bandwidth.
Anything that effectively drains instead of energising you is a code red alert to be mindful of how and where you’re using your time, energy, efforts and emotions so that you can practise self-care.
Feel as if you had a strong emotional response or behaved uncharacteristically in response to something or someone? It’s critical to note this, especially if as you continue to journal, it becomes clear that this trigger marked the beginning of an increased elevation in your tinnitus symptoms over an extended period.
Prone to perfectionism, procrastination or people pleasing? It’s handy to note whether these were a part of your day. If there are specific things, people or situations that you do these with, again, it’s worth noting.
Also, include any specific tinnitus triggers you noticed. For example, if it was low-level tinnitus but next thing, you experienced a sudden surge when you went to do a favour that you didn’t really want to do, that’s data worth noting. This is especially so if this is a recurring theme.
Note self-care practices.
If you’re doing things for self-care or just pure pleasure, note these. So, for example, when I’m going through a period of elevated tinnitus, I track whether I…
- Did yoga for a few minutes or went for a run or walk
- Listened to podcasts or an audiobook
- Said affirmations or prayers
- Had quiet time
- Enjoyed quality time with the family
- Did something else fun
Keeping a journal increases self-awareness and self-knowledge while allowing you to pick up on the patterns and rhythms of your life that you might quite simply be too busy or too caught up in everyone else to notice. Even a couple of weeks of journaling will teach you a lot about you.
Lessons from my personal wellness formula
As a result of journaling and just generally paying attention to my tinnitus and overall wellbeing, here’s just a sample of some of the lessons from the data I’ve gathered:
- Neck, back and shoulder pain directly impacts my tinnitus. I try to have a hardcore massage (eek!) every 4-6 weeks. I also have 1-2 osteopathy sessions a month depending on how my body is doing plus I have yoga exercises to help alleviate these. I’m also striving to be more mindful with laptop and iPad use.
- Coca Cola flares up my tinnitus but not tea and other low-caffeine drinks. I’ve also confirmed that cutting out caffeine makes little difference.
- Seemingly low-level anxiety about, for example, ‘all the things’ that need doing, exacerbates my tinnitus if I don’t get grounded. Doing things that have been niggling at me for a while also seems to alleviate symptoms.
- Too much red meat sends my tinnitus through the roof. I generally don’t eat much, but when I go on holiday, I seem to go a bit overboard. And then I suffer. But eating no meat for thirty-five days didn’t make my tinnitus ‘go away’, either.
- If I’m going to have an upset stomach, my tinnitus gives me a heads-up by intensifying between 4-6 am.
- On occasions when I drink alcohol, my tinnitus is silent during the night. But then it flares up in intensity later.
- The less people-pleasing, perfectionism and trying to control ‘all the things’, is the less tinnitus I have. Delaying on handling annoying situations or not speaking my mind, intensifies my tinnitus the longer I leave it.
- Being triggered has a knock-on effect on my overall physical health and the intensity of my tinnitus. For example: when I respond to someone’s attempts to gaslight me or cross my boundaries. Even though I handle it, my body feels the ripple effect for a few days. I’ll feel shaky, veering between anxious and angry. My head will feel as if it’s got a buzzy sensation, and my stomach might play up. This incident last year triggered a distressing bout of tinnitus.
- My tinnitus doesn’t like me using my phone ‘too much’. Everyone’s usage is individual, but for me, my phone going on to ‘do not disturb’ at 9pm every evening plus going easy on my social media usage has definitely paid off.
- Consistent self-care pays off. The more run of days I have is the less tinnitus I have.
Remember, these are just some of a lot of discoveries I’ve made. You can make yours too!
Check out my tips for managing tinnitus