Learning that I wasn’t the only noise sensitive person in the world inspired me to be a lot more proactive about avoiding stressful noise. I decided it was time for ear muffs.
If you’re in a place with cold winters, that may conjure up fluffy images, but it turns out there is another kind. Sound reducing ear muffs are made for people who work with loud equipment, or shoot guns for fun, which explains why I never heard of them until I started reading survival tips from introverts and HSPs.
My new “Thunder T3” ear muffs arrived a couple of months ago. No one could call them fashionable – I feel like an astronaut in a 50s sci-fi film. They are light in weight, though, despite their bulk.
The best thing about the ear muffs is that I can instantly reduce problematic sound. As I have mentioned before, the bothersomeness of noise can escalate sharply, like in a matter of seconds. With my neighbor’s barking dog, for example, it’s as if someone is standing next to me with a large rubber mallet, and bouncing it repeatedly off my head, banging a little harder and a little faster with each stroke. My sense of urgency skyrockets, and dickering with foam ear plugs, which can be frustrating to apply at any time, becomes unbearable, especially since they don’t help that much even when I get them in.
The ear muffs have drastically reduced the frequency of such experiences. I used to have to choose between trying to ignore the unwanted sound clawing at my brain, or dropping whatever I was doing to try and deal with it at the (often unsympathetic) source. Either way, the interruption factor was as much of a stressor as the noise itself, and lingered long after the noise stopped. Multiple noise events could keep me stressed all day. Between the barker, the remodelers, the yard services, and the extrovert next door, they often did. Preventing all that is a major improvement!
There are some drawbacks to the particular ear muffs I selected, however. Although my head is narrow, and my ears small, they are still pretty snug. Restrictive clothing is another of my sensitivities, and after awhile I find I want to take them off, which has led to the interesting discovery that a lot of those highly stressful sound events are of short duration.
The ear muffs are also a little on the warm side, since the edge of the padded cup that surrounds each ear is vinyl. Surprisingly, it does not get sweaty or sticky where it contacts my head (the presence of my hair may partially account for this). However, being hot is another of my most rapidly escalating sensitivities, so on hot days, I have had to choose my poison. Luckily, that time of year is about over, and the warming factor may actually be welcome in the cooler seasons.
Since the ear muffs completely surround your outer ear, you can wear ear buds or ear plugs with them. I don’t do this very often, but there are certain noises they are not very good at screening out – airplanes, bass, electrical hums. In fact, they can actually make these sounds more annoying by screening out all the ambient sound that was distracting by overlaying them. Also, the closer the sound is in proximity, the more you can hear it, which is intentional, since people in factories need to talk to each other.
However, for most suburban neighborhood noise the ear muffs are great. They are also helpful if you have animal companions who feel strongly that dinnertime should be an hour earlier each day than it was the day before, and spend that whole hour arguing their case while you are trying to work.
Unless you sleep on your back and never move, I can’t imagine ear muffs would be comfortable for sleeping. That brings me to Mack’s silicone putty ear plugs. These are slightly oily, slightly sticky wax-like blobs. You knead to soften, and smash them over (but not into) your ear canal. I cut one in half for my small ears. The stickiness helps hold them in. They are not as quick to apply as ear muffs, but easier than foam ear plugs.
They are reusable (some user reviews even mentioned running them through the washer in a lingerie bag when they started to discolor), and very portable. I carry mine in a tin breath mints box. Although they are not as effective as the ear muffs at completely blocking sounds, they make things sound farther away. They are actually better than ear muffs at reducing thumping bass, but equally ineffective for electrical hums, alas. I have found them helpful in an office environment, and also in combination with the ear muffs for loud and near noise (like hammering on the other side of the wall I am sitting next to).
One last thing I want to mention is ear buds. Maybe every other noise-sensitive person on the globe has already discovered this, but turtleneck ear buds (as I call them) are both more comfortable and more noise-blocking than the flat disk kind. They usually come with a set of cowls in 3 different sizes – don’t be afraid to use two different sizes if one of your ears is larger than the other. I won’t tell.
I have been really happy with the Panasonic RPHJE120K ear buds that I purchased from Amazon. I am hard on ear buds – I not only use them heavily, I snag them on things constantly. They have held up well so far (3 months). I find that I sometimes forget to remove them when I am no longer listening to anything, as it is just fine to have the ambient noise level muted a little. My only complaint is that there is no little doohicky that slides up the ear buds when you aren’t using them to keep them from tangling. Since they are nice and long, this is a real problem, and a rather strange oversight.
UPDATE: I bought these in July 2014, and they worked perfectly until one side went out in February 2018. This is seriously amazing considering how heavily I use them, and how often they get yanked because they got caught on something, especially given the cost. They got a little break about 2 years in, when I mislaid them for two months and bought another pair. There are some things an HSP just can’t go without. So now I have a second set (for which I paid even less) all ready to go. I did switch out the rubber tips because they made my ear canals itch and peel. I replaced them with silicone tips. My ear canals still peel (maybe that is unavoidable when you have something rubbing on your skin for hours a day), but at least they they don’t itch anymore.
I bought all of the above on Amazon. The ear muffs were under $24 including shipping. I also looked at 3M Peltor X-Series, which might be a better choice for people with larger heads (I later had a chance to use these, and found them very similar to the Thunder T#s in terms of comfort, fit, and what sounds they blocked. Maybe they are a little less snug, but I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend them to person’s with large heads). The Panasonic ear buds were $8.50 ($7.08 including shipping the second time around), and the Mack’s ear plugs were $4 for a 6-pack. I found the user reviews very helpful – definitely check these out before making a buying decision. They steered me away from some choices that would not have worked for me. I also looked at products and user reviews at http://www.earplugstore.com.