Whether it’s watching a good film, a TV series, TV soaps, reading a good book, sequels of books, social media, playing games on Xbox; there’s even 24/7 news on the TV. Whatever the medium, we find ourselves in the midst of stories being told to us and being immersed in them.
Sometimes we use these various media intentionally to entertain ourselves, and sometimes we use them as a distraction or even as a means of escape from our own ‘story’ of our own lives.
Think about it. Do you find yourself caught up in those stories and experiencing emotions as you watch, read, and react?
Think “What is going on in my mind NOW?” .... this very moment. What “story” are you telling yourself? It may be:
“Nothing’s going on in my mind... what’s she on about?” That is YOU (your self-talk) telling yourself a “story”
It may be:
“I can’t even read this because my tinnitus is driving me mad.” That is YOU (your self-talk) telling yourself a story
It may even be:
“Oh yeah! I get it!” That too is YOU (your self-talk) telling yourself a story
And behind those stories we tell ourselves persistently through our self-talk is “MEANING”. Those emotions, those reactions, sometimes not even in words. There may be images come to mind.... or your mind might just wander off on to another story!
Sometimes we lose interest in “stories” going through our mind. Generally speaking, those stories don’t hold our interest so off we go on to another story. It doesn’t have enough meaning to us to hold our interest.
What about the stuff we don’t want to know about? Can we just ‘switch off’ that story? Or does it keep popping back into our mind? Sneaking its way back in through some metaphorical “back door”? This is a sure sign it’s something that has “meaning” to us. Sometimes the meaning is good - kind of "keeping us company"; but often it is a threat to us - or our perception is that it threatens us in some way; it's something we’d rather not be there or have; something that does not make us happy. Rather, it’s something that makes us feel unhappy, scared and/or worried about.
Yet when we consciously intend to think about something, it’s usually pretty difficult to maintain our intended attention on it! And when we try NOT to think about something - guess what? We’re thinking about it! You know the sort of thing..... "Don't think of a pink elephant!" What pops in to your mind? Yes - a pink elephant!
How seemingly fickle our minds are!
And yet, stuff we really DON’T want in our mind returns over and over. The more we don’t want it there, the larger it looms.
This is precisely how tinnitus becomes a problem. We don’t want to hear it. We want it to go away. And the more meaning that has to us, the more the “story” persists.
Those thoughts, meaning behind the thoughts, that “story” is our reaction to the problem. Not the noise per se. It’s the reaction we have towards the noise. We are reacting to what we perceive the meaning tinnitus has to us.
And this is why and how taking a cognitive approach to tinnitus distress works so well. Cognitive means “thinking”, how we “think”, what emotions lay behind our thinking; then changing the story we tell ourselves about it. Change the meaning, we change our perception, we change our thoughts and so we have changed the story.