Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Infuriating Sounds

with 12 comments

I’m just discovering this now. The irrational over-reaction I occasionally experience –say, to the mouth sounds of my wife chewing beside me– has a label: Misophonia. I’m well aware of plenty of people who voice irritation over a variety of particular sounds, but reading about the fight-or-flight reaction being triggered in the brain really caught my attention.

When I feel this surprisingly intense anxiety pop up, as the ambient quiet of an evening gets disrupted by the munching of almonds, I have been curious about a sudden desire to crawl out of my skin in hope of escape.

It’s as if I’m being attacked.

Since it is obvious that I’m not, the idea that my brain is firing as if the command to run away has been triggered, seems like a very plausible explanation.

Almost everyone is irritated by the sound of fingernails across a chalkboard, but a misophonic reaction goes well beyond irritation.

Misophonia is characterized by intense emotion like rage or fear in response to highly specific sounds, particularly ordinary sounds that other people make…

“It’s as if the survival part of the brain thinks somehow it’s being attacked or it’s in danger…”


Choosing to just ignore the sound is not an option when your brain has fired and the whole body is revving up for a fight.

“Must. Stop. That. Sound. Before it kills me!”

My siblings may recall our family dinnertime ritual of being chastised by our beloved sister, Linda, for letting our teeth make contact with our fork.

I now have a better understanding of why that probably made her so angry.



Written by johnwhays

March 22, 2019 at 6:00 am

12 Responses

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  1. Yes yes yes! I have had this for years. It’s usually any human generated noise. Tapping, clicking, nail biting, nail picking, chewing, snoring, even heavy breathing. I have a very hard time when at work but have found comfort in putting headphones on and listening to podcasts. We also often eat while watching Netflix so it really helps not listening to the chewing sounds.

    My heart races, by blood vessels restrict. I sometimes need to escape the room to regain my composure. My reaction can be quite intense and I wish I had more control over it.

    Mentally I know people aren’t doing anything out of the normal and they are simply existing. Physiologically I get intensely stressed.

    Animals can stop and chew and I find it endearing though.

    I’m not sure if it’s related but I can also get very overwhelmed if I’m in a room with too many conversations going on at once. Similar reaction, though.


    March 31, 2019 at 7:11 pm

  2. Certain water-related sounds trigger the reaction for me, such as the bubbling of a water cooler normalizing pressure… or the audio captured alongside a camera that is in water/surf and transitioning rapidly between above the water and below. Oddly specific…


    March 22, 2019 at 10:58 am

    • Fascinating. And, yes, oddly specific. Relic of some primal threat that required heightened attention? If so, why would such a thing manifest so differently/randomly in the human race so many generations of evolution later?
      Run away!!


      March 22, 2019 at 11:11 am

      • When I first noticed the water cooler one several workplace-offices ago, I wondered if the water thing was some primal concern over limited drinkable water as a precious resource. I don’t really think that’s the case, but the thought occurred.


        March 22, 2019 at 11:36 am

  3. Reading along but I confess that I didn’t come out with a better understanding. I remember a friend being driven mad by the sound of his wife’s knitting needles, too, but why it becomes so irritating is beyond me. There are certain sounds that I react to like dripping water, and other phenomena that aren’t sound related, like open doors, twisted ropes or wires. Somehow these things are related to possible distaster – maybe learning from past lives, which is the only way I can try to understand them. All to say, I don’t know how to explain the excessive irritation that one feels for no obvious reason. As Marebare suggested the best course of action is simply to remove yourself from the situation and maybe keep the dog happy at least:-)

    Ian Rowcliffe

    March 22, 2019 at 8:47 am

    • Since I’ve lived with this my whole life, I have developed myriad coping methods. I’m just intrigued to read that researchers are seeing a brain activity that reveals the incongruent level of irritation is related to a base instinct of conflict that seems to get tripped.


      March 22, 2019 at 9:30 am

      • Lots of fancy words that describe but don’t explain… you’d expect some sort of situation or experience that is associated with the reaction. That said, having coping methods at the ready to defuse the situation is a great help. Funny to think of you escalating the crunching, perfect therapy for horses: they’d love it and you.

        Ian Rowcliffe

        March 22, 2019 at 11:12 am

  4. My gut reaction is “let it go”, but I know you can’t…..Maybe take the dog for another walk….😂


    March 22, 2019 at 6:55 am

    • Thanks. I think the person chewing should go for a walk… 🙂


      March 22, 2019 at 8:37 am

      • Which goes to show just how irrational our reaction is…. I wonder if this also has to do with the need for personal space. Under extreme duress, or a long day, you feel you want to ‘get away from it all’. It may be the ‘last straw’ phenomenon. Just about anything might trigger a mini breakdown. Hence, walking the dog does make perfect sense.

        Ian Rowcliffe

        March 22, 2019 at 8:57 am

      • Countering with my own crunching also works wonders…


        March 22, 2019 at 9:31 am

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