Chewing, lip smacking, even foot tapping…if the sound of these actions drive you crazy, then you know the pain and even deep rage that can come from simple everyday activities such as going to the movies or sitting in the break room at work.
In fact, the annoyance generated by chewing sounds has led people to walk out on dates and even verbally confront strangers who were simply minding their own business as they ate. Up until now, you may have thought it was just one of your little quirks. You may have also started using coping strategies to lessen the “fingernails on the chalkboard” feeling you get when someone is chewing.
Yet, strapping on a pair of headphones is not the solution. Instead, knowing that your hatred of chewing sounds has a scientific reason can help you learn how to cope.
Here’s Why You Can’t Stand the Sound of Chewing
Putting a Name to the Madness
In the early 2000s, researchers coined the term misophonia after noticing that certain sounds generated a strong negative emotional reaction in certain people. Although this word seems fancy, it simply means “the hatred of sound.”
For some reason, some people’s central nervous system is hardwired to react to auditory stimuli with negative emotions that can range from anger to disgust. Interestingly, animal sounds do not seem to bother people with misophonia, and those with this disorder are never irritated by the sounds they make themselves either.
Unfortunately, no one knows exactly why this occurs, but it could have its roots in the lifestyles of our ancestors. For example, the sound of chewing might have once sent a signal for early humans to be on guard against predators as they ate their meals. Now, some people are stuck with the response that serves no purpose in modern times but to make life infinitely harder.
What The Research Says
Scientists have found that misophonia typically begins sometime in early adolescence, with the majority of people noticing it starting around the age of seven. Over time, the condition tends to expand with more trigger sounds being added.
A study conducted in 2014 that was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that the majority of people with misophonia claimed their symptoms were worse at work and school than when they were at home. It has also been found that approximately 20% of people suffer from some degree of misophonia, so if you can’t stand chewing sounds, then you can at least rest assured that you are not alone.
It’s Not Just Chewing
The opinions of researchers regarding the classification of misophonia continue to be mixed. On one hand, researchers in Amsterdam began working on a set of diagnostic criteria in 2013 that could enable misophonia to be classified as a psychiatric disorder. However, other researchers believe that the hatred of certain sounds could be just a symptom of another psychiatric disorder such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Since many people with misophonia can also suffer from mental disorders such as depression, it can be hard to tell whether or not being annoyed by certain sounds is the cause or effect of other conditions.
Margaret and Pawel Jastreboffa, the researchers who first gave the hatred of certain sounds a name, have argued that it is possible that people experience sound intolerance on a spectrum. Basically, what one person finds intolerable may only produce mild annoyance in another. This could further increase the difficulty of creating specific diagnostic criteria for misophonia.
Here’s How to Cope
If you suffer from misophonia, you probably care more about how to fix it than why it happens. After all, it is almost impossible to focus when you hear an awful noise echoing in your ear. Currently, there are two recommended methods for learning to deal with certain sounds, and neither of these involves covering up the noise with headphones.
The first method involves you mimicking the sound. That’s right, grab a bag of popcorn and start crunching away the next time you are in a movie theater. The theory behind this method is that it generates a feeling of sympathy that makes it easier for you to cope with the trigger sound. Followers of this method swear that it helps, but it might not always be possible to mimic a noise.
In those instances, you may have to go with the second option, which is exposure and response prevention.
The exposure method is exactly what it sounds like. At first, you will be exposed to short sessions of your trigger noises on tape. As you learn to control your responses, the noises will become longer and louder. They may also begin to come from a stranger or member of your family rather than a recording.
The idea is that these sessions will help you control your responses by teaching you that you can tolerate your trigger noises for extended periods of time. For most people with misophonia, these techniques provide at least some amount of relief, and learning to live with certain sounds without flying into a rage will come more easily over time.