Ask An Expert·3 min read

Why Does Noise Make Me Feel Anxious? An Expert Explains

woman covering eyes in a crowd of people dizzy
August 22, 2023

Let’s face it: Noise is everywhere, and it’s hard to avoid. If you find that crowded rooms, busy streets, or loud music overstimulates you, there could be a couple of reasons why.

One is sensory overload. It’s a term that describes the response that happens when you get overstimulated by one or more of your senses. When sound is the trigger, being in a noisy environment can make you anxious and irritable. Sensory overload can happen to anyone, but it’s most common for those with autism, ADHD, or PTSD.  

Another cause may be misophonia, a term for experiencing extreme sensitivity and even repulsion to certain sounds, such as chewing, lip-smacking, throat-clearing, or tapping. Someone who experiences misophonia may respond to their trigger sound with anxiety, anger (aka “sound rage”), or an elevated heart rate.

If you are experiencing sensory overload or simply feel irritable or anxious when surrounded by certain noises, there are some coping tools that can help. First, try breathing exercises. It may help reduce your anxiety when you feel overwhelmed. If you struggle with misophonia, experts suggest playing background noise (such as music or TV) to mask the triggering sound. For more tips for dealing with a noisy environment, we tapped Aaron N. Pearlman, MD, an otolaryngologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. 

Featured Expert:

Aaron N. Pearlman, MD

Aaron N. Pearlman, MD - An ear, nose, and throat specialist at Weill Cornell Medicine

theSkimm: Why does a lot of noise overstimulate me?

Pearlman: “Noise is just another stimulus like light or touch, and there is truth to too much of a good thing. Noise is integrally related to our emotional state and [it] can be calming or unsettling. Too much noise can be distracting and keep a person from focusing. Some people find some noises so unpleasant that they can affect their mood. 

“If noise overstimulates you, consider trying to create a quieter environment where you can relax or take breaks. Noise-canceling headsets might be helpful, or wearing earplugs in loud environments to reduce your emotional and physical response to sound.  

“Though your home is filled with a lot of noise — a barking dog, the dishwasher, the vacuum cleaner — it’s unlikely the sound is loud enough to cause any real damage. However, the recommendations are the same when it comes to the volume of music. If the sound seems loud to you or [is] hurting your ears, then you should take precautions. If it’s too loud for too long, it can damage your hearing. So, turn it down a bit to be safe.”

Ask an Expert is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a question, you are agreeing to let theSkimm use it—in part or in full—and we may edit its answer for length and/or clarity.

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