Jenna Brown

Jenna Brown

Sensory overload : Misophonia

Heard of Misophonia before? Me either.

I’ve been noticing a lot lately (though it’s not new) that I’m feeling sensory overload to some noises. I almost had to leave a cafe last week with a screaming baby in it and felt a surge of relief when the Mum and baby finally left. It was a very physical and instant response of relief which made me wonder how many other people might experience this.

On one hand, I felt empathy for Mum and on the other hand, I wanted to pop my hand in my ear and peel my brain out. Can noise really drive you “crazy”? The answer is yes!

I had an overwhelming feeling of panic and nervousness, my heart rate increased, my focus was on absolutely nothing except the noise, I was on high alert and I just wanted to be anywhere else in the world. anywhere but there.

It got me thinking, I have very little interest in babies. I never have. I don’t know why I’m this way but they’ve just never captured me like, say, a puppy would.

I had very little to do with babies until I had my own and this what quite a traumatic time of my life so I guess the connections in my brain weren’t wired like most others to associate babies with a good experience.

I wondered, would I have had this response if a puppy was barking in the cafe? I think I would have got up to see if it was ok and given it a pat. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate babies, they’re fine for other people, I just choose to not really be around them.

When I first became a Mum I certainly felt love and extreme protective tendencies for my own baby. At 21 years old I was desperate for a night off most weekends and grandparents lovingly stepped in to help me.

It wasn’t as though I would throw the baby and run, I would write detailed lists and routines, pack the correct foods and felt very upset if anyone deviated from the plan. Especially when it came to food and safety.

I wanted my daughter to eat only healthy and natural foods, no processed foods or sugar and I wanted to be sure she wasn’t put in dangerous situations. She was my whole world and I love her more than anything but I also became depleted from the noise. I could not understand why.

This was an extremely hard time. Trying to balance my NEED for time out and feeling safe and secure that my baby was still being loved and cared for in the way I wanted.

What a conundrum.

You might think “well if you want everything your way, do it yourself” but I couldn’t. I was noised out and had sensory overload. I was in a deep post-natal depression and I needed to not feel like I was an extension of a baby for just 24 hours each week, thinking back now those breaks are probably what kept me alive.

When I was younger, pre-motherhood, I was a go with the flow, social, heavy metal kinda girl. I liked to dance at pubs, watch movies with cinema level sound and none of that stuff bothered me. I would go on road trips in my 1991 Toyota Starlet listening to Korn as loud as it would go, smoking cigarettes and drinking red bull without a care in the world. So what happened?

I started to feel very “touched out” when I became a Mum. I found it very difficult to have my space encroached constantly by this small person making this incredible noise.

I felt entirely defective because other Mum’s around me weren’t talking about this and didn’t appear to be reacting the same way I was, the more this happened the more I felt like a bad Mum, a failure.

Although I made a significant effort to work around this and offer touch for security and bond enabling even when I was feeling overwhelmed it was a really intense struggle.

I didn’t feel like this all the time. Usually only when long days of crying was involved. There were certainly many happy cuddles and naps and holding of hands but when the emotion shifted to volatility I just switched off and wanted to getaway. I would hold it together until the weekend came and I could have some time to myself to regroup.

I guess this is an example of a fight/flight response. I like to fly.

So what is it about that baby crying sound that sends me into a tailspin? Why can most mothers/women/people cope with it in a “normal” way but I can’t?

I did a little digging to find out what was going on and made an interesting discovery!

Misophonia: Here’s what I’ve found out

People who suffer from anxiety can be triggered into a panic by something called Misophonia.

Now this little word encompasses MANY different sounds (not just babies crying) but it can be anything from chewing, throat clearing, sniffing, swallowing, loud breathing, whistling to clicking a pen, tapping something on a surface or any other repetitive noise which can become a trigger for you.

Mine include many of the above but overwhelmingly evident is child crying!

Aha, moment! I wanted to understand more.

When triggered by a sound Misophonia can cause a person to experience emotional distress and trigger alarming responses such as anger or rage.

Out of character behaviour and avoidance responses can be common among people who have anxiety, OCD or Tourette’s.

Unfortunately, there’s no “cure” to this hypersensitivity to sounds but there are a few things you can do if you experience it, to lessen the feelings associated.

1: leave the room or place

2: use noise-cancelling headphones

3: politely make the people in your home aware of your misophonia so they can try to trigger you less

4: listen to calming music or white noise in the background to try and drown out the sounds, especially if your triggers are around chewing or eating and it’s dinner time

5: try distracting yourself with an affirmation you repeat over and over in your mind until it stops or you can remove yourself

It’s interesting to learn more about why our brains work the way they do and why some things (like sounds) can trigger repeating responses (like overwhelming anxiety).

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


Disclaimer: The J Word NZ and its media content are created based on my own experiences and opinions, as well as those individuals who share their stories with me. I do not have any formal medical or mental health qualifications. If you are experiencing any issues with mental health, please consult your doctor or a medical health professional for advice.

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4 Responses

  1. I’ve experienced misophonia for most of my adult life. It has become more intense as I have tried to face my past. It can be extremely debilitating – things that lots of people enjoy, a cafe, a busy shopping mall drive me to feel demented. I love the silence of the library. For me the triggers come from deep connections with abusive experiences and my abusers. One in particular sniffed all the time. I tried using noise cancelling headphones but can’t stand having anything on or around my head. Even loud music has me going to dark places in my head. This is something I am working on in therapy, with gradual and gentle exposure. I’d love to be able to sit, in a cafe, with the babble of everyone around me, and music in the background and at least manage it, if not enjoy it ❤️

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Bev. It’s so hard to focus, isn’t it? I look around at others who are just oblivious to the noise and it blows my mind! Come back and let me know if you find out any good tips for managing it.

  2. I relate so much to this! I too would as a teenager listen to heavy metal, go to concerts etc but too much noise now affects me, usually the kids making heaps of noise; cafes; town etc, I live very rural and isolated and I get way over stimulated on my weekly town trip and come home exhausted. My son is the same, and has been since he was a tiny baby, he never handled town days and would take a couple of days to come right after being in town. Also the touch thing, my first baby was a a dream, he wasn’t particularly phased on being close to me but my second who is now three is still a stage five always got to be touching me kind of a girl, all day and all night, it does my head in! Thankfully my partner takes over once he is home from work and our little girl is beginning to understand that Mum needs some space sometimes.

  3. Really relate to this. It’s something that has affected me my whole life. Clocks ticking, chewing gum, even the thought of these things winds me up. But my absolute pet peeve currently are adverts that include typing noises, mouse clicking etc. Trade me, I’m looking at you. Apparently this is a new marketing trick, but it grinds my gears soooooo much!!!

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