Communication Access Communication Practices Emotions, Psychological Stress Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Self Advocacy

Hearing Loss & the Holidays: Listening Fatigue

Holiday fatigue is a real thing and there is listening fatigue with hearing loss. Put the two together and we have a double whammy. While at noisy holiday gatherings, people who have normal hearing have the ability to filter out background noise and zero in on speech. You may have heard of this as the “cocktail party effect”.  Those of us with hearing loss have a harder time filtering noise so we have the “cocktail party problem”, also called “cocktail party deafness”. Conversation in a noisy environment is exhausting!

Because auditory fatigue can drain those of us with hearing mentally and physically, we have 3 tips for your upcoming holiday gatherings: 

  1. Set a time limit for noisy situations.
  2. Take hearing breaks.
  3. Decide if you are in or out of the conversation.

As we keep saying, hearing aids and cochlear implant technology get better all the time. However, background noise can be a challenge for people with hearing loss, auditory processing disorder, hyperacusis and more. Some environments are so noisy, it’s challenging for hearing people and they too can experience listening fatigue. 

Several people sitting around a dinner table.
Background noise that overwhelms:
  • Is there music on the sound system? Is there a band playing?
  • How many conversations are happening at once?
  • How many people are talking at the same time and are they talking above the music and each other?
  • Are there babies crying and kids shrieking in delight?
Picture of Chelle, brown hair and brown eyes, with her chin on her fist, eyebrows together and a mean look on her face that isn't mean. It's her focus look for hearing.
The listening focus look. Chelle isn’t mad. She putting all the pieces together to understand the conversation with her hearing loss.

This and more can sap our energy. What happens when auditory fatigue strikes? It’s when we can hardly focus on people talking. We have a harder time matching what we hear to what we see. (All people with hearing loss use lipreading strategies to some degree, unconsciously.) We get slower at hearing and need more repeats. Our facial, neck and shoulder muscles get tense from our intense focus speech. We get crabby and short tempered, kind of like being hangry. We look unhappy and mad because of our ‘focus’ look. (Anyone else get the “why are you mad” question when you aren’t?) There’s only so much time we can stay in a noisy environment before we feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Here are our 3 tips to keep from getting too overwhelmed…

Time Limits: Plan Ahead

Some things to consider before going to the holiday gathering: 

  • How much time do you think you can remain in the anticipated environment? This depends on how big the holiday party is and who it’s with.
  • Will there be people you rarely see or a lot of strangers? Plan for a shorter time. Is it family and friends you more often? You might be able to stay longer. 
  • How noisy do you expect it to be? 
  • Are you going with a family member or friend who might want to stay longer? Discuss your time limit with them. Maybe take separate cars so you can both do as you like.

In advance of the holiday party, talk to the host and those that matter. Explain that the noise overwhelms you. Let them know you can only spend X amount of time there before you feel drained. 

Take Hearing Breaks

There’s many ways to take a hearing break. Five to ten minutes away from the noise can help reset your brain and ears. Repeat as needed. Take out your hearing aids for a breather. Is there a quiet place you can escape to as needed? Do the dishes without hearing aids. Step outside and breathe. 

Decide if you’re in or if you’re out.

We got this guideline from a local HoH friend. Be choosy with your conversations. We only have so much energy. Allow yourself to tune out of the conversations that don’t really matter. Ask yourself, am I in this conversation or am I out? Conserve your energy for the conversations that do matter.  

Don’t let hearing loss fatigue take you out of the game. Find your workarounds.

To go, or not to go?

With hearing loss, we tend to isolate. Instead of not going to that holiday party, try going for a short time using hearing break strategies. We bet people will be happy to see you.

Aim to educate people this year and get them involved in finding a solution that works for both of you. People like to help if we give them the chance.  As an example: Ask for a quiet corner to be made. Try talking to people one at a time there. 

Explore technology like remote mics and ASR (automatic speech recognition) apps to see if it helps lessen the burden. Remember to practice using the technology before you go. 

Most people don’t understand hearing loss, especially sensorineural hearing loss. Share this post with visuals for high frequency, reverse slope and cookie bite hearing losses. The more the background noise, the more sounds get taken out of speech and the worse the visuals look.

If it still feels like too much, maybe you host the party. You can pick the time, the people and manage the environment to your liking.

Good luck with your holiday gatherings! 

We wish our Hard of Hearing community members the best. 

Share your holiday successes with us. Share your holiday not-so-successful attempts with us. Failures aren’t dead ends, they are one more attempt at finding a better way to get around the hearing loss obstacles. Share because we all learn from each other.

If you’ve found this article helpful, Buy Us a Cup of Coffee. Hearing Loss LIVE! is a passion for Chelle & Julia. As we grow our business, we could use the extra support and we absolutely love hearing from you.

2 replies on “Hearing Loss & the Holidays: Listening Fatigue”

Thank you for pointing out the links do not stand out. I have put them in bold for this post. I’ll make more direct references to the links from now on. The green links are hard to see for low vision people.

The sensorineural visuals are separate from the holiday post but it’s a tough subject. I don’t think I could adequately explain it in a few short sentences. People can explore it further in its own post, if they want to.

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