Some sounds can be more irritating than others : the sound of a person chewing gum, the constant sniffling of someone with a cold, the loud breathing of someone nursing a hot drink or the clatter of a computer keyboard… While these noises may not be pleasant to listen to, for most people these are run-of-the-mill sounds that don’t disturb their workday.
For some people, however, the combination of these sounds can create an intolerable cacophony, causing them to feel disgusted, anxious, or even hateful towards the people making the noises. For those who experience this extreme reaction, a name was finally given to the condition in the year 2000: misophonia.
Misophonia is best described as a neuropsychiatric-like condition that is fairly common but poorly understood. No data yet exists to determine how many people are afflicted with misophonia, nor to evaluate the intensity with which people with the condition are affected. A 2014 study of nearly 500 students indicated that twenty percent of participants showed symptoms of misophonia. Sufferers of misophonia feel extreme rage when they hear a sound they do not like, and experience physical symptoms including cold sweats and an increased heart rate. Typically, leaving the area where the sound is happening is the only way for a misophonia sufferer to cure the symptoms, but feelings of rage and disgust can persist for hours after exposure to unwanted sounds.
Advices and tips
Unfortunately for those who suffer from misophonia, there are currently no proven treatments to alleviate the symptoms or to cure the condition. Therefore, a preventative approach that involves avoiding exposure to annoying sounds is the most effective way to manage misophonia in the workplace. Here are some tips on how to manage your misophonia.
Try to change locations
The further away you are from the person whose noises are triggering your misophonia, the less susceptible you’ll be to their negative effects. It can be helpful to not have the noisy person in your field of vision, as this could keep you in a hyper-vigilant state, waiting for a bad sound to emanate from the person at any moment.
If you suffer from misophonia, it’s important to explain the situation to your superiors so that they understand the severity of the condition and the effect it has on your well-being, your level of motivation and your performance at work. Consider supplying them with supporting documentation about misophonia to inform them about the real and established condition. If it’s possible, your superiors should find a new location for your desk which minimizes your experience of sound in the workplace.
Wear noise-cancelling headphones
This is probably the tactic used most often by misophonia sufferers to cope with their condition. If your work will allow it, wearing headphones – preferably the noise-cancelling kind – will allow you to remain in your bubble, insulated from unsettling noises. This can contribute to better work performance, improved well-being, and can also reduce your general level of stress and vigilance associated with noise in the workplace.
Subscribing to a music streaming service such as Spotify and creating special playlists for work can also help protect you from sounds that trigger misophonia. For example, you could have a “heavy” playlist of rock or metal music at the ready for when you expect to be disturbed by sounds, and a lighter soundtrack that will allow you to concentrate while still blocking out ambient noise, you should be well-equipped to avoid upsetting sounds.
Talk to the person making the sounds
Like the old saying goes, this one is easier said than done! If you feel that initiating a conversation with the person making the noises that trigger your misophonia will be productive, then by all means go for it. But remember to be diplomatic: you don’t want to make an enemy, you just want them to understand your situation and how some of their actions are affecting you negatively. Here are the steps to follow to explain your misophonia to a colleague:
- Invite them to speak in private. It’s better to talk about the issue in person, rather than by email.
- Only talk about the issue with the colleague in question; there’s no need to spread the word.
- Remain polite and don’t get carried away with your explanation.
- Start by explaining the issue to your colleague, and be specific about the noises they make that bother you.
- Most importantly, make it clear that your complaint isn’t a whim – explain that you have a real illness that has a serious effect on your well-being. Some people may think that the idea of misophonia is laughable or absurd; it’s your job to make them understand that the condition is real.
- With a little luck, your colleague may be able to stop making the noises that bother you.
In recent years, public awareness about misophonia has grown, and several online support groups have been created for sufferers. These groups and forums encourage people suffering from misophonia to share their experiences and coping methods with other members. People with misophonia can learn a lot from these groups, not only about how to manage their conditions in the workplace, but also in other areas of life.
Consult the french version of our misophonia article : Comment gérer les troubles de la misophonie au travail
http://misophonie.fr/: Articles, resources and forums for people with misophonia (French)
http://www.misophonia.com/Forum/: English language forum and support network
http://misophonia-association.org/: The Misophonia Association
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misophonia: Wikipedia page