Holidays are the Most Wonderful Time to Hear
Untreated Hearing Loss can bring the Holiday Blues
As fall turns to winter when temperatures dip below freezing, the sky turns as gray as steel, and the weather outside seems to grow fearsome at times, we move indoors. We create our own warmth, we splash our rooms with color in the form of decorations and lights, and we relax as snow whips about in the cold wind, outside.
We also hustle and bustle to buy gifts and wrapping paper, candles and lamp oil, all the trimmings for dinner, that neat inflatable snowman, and another string of lights for the doorway, not to mention candy canes, doughnuts, and chocolates!
The holidays are, indeed, a joyful, busy, peaceful, crazy, relaxing, and stressful time, sometimes all at once. We often feel like we’re racing to the finish line at light speed, with the goal of gathering with friends and family, giving gifts, and celebrating. Sometimes, the expectations of constant joy, combined with the effort it takes to get there, can be overwhelming. This can lead to a paradoxical feeling: the holiday blues. (1)
Once the decorations are up and the candles are lit, creating a soft glow that brightens the room, an old December evening from yesteryear might grace our minds. Perhaps the scent of dinner in the oven or the sweet sound of a caroller’s voice reminds us of a treasured evening. Such a fond memory is often filled with the wonder of asking, “What’s next?”
This year, the glowing lights may not seem quite as bright. That sheer wonder may not seem quite as fun, having been replaced by countless real-world obligations. The simplicity of yesteryear is gone, and that’s sad enough, but the mountain of obligations can make anyone feel like they’re being pulled in fifty different directions.
The holiday blues are often marked by sadness and nostalgia, but they can include a number of emotions. Among other things, people may become anxious, irritated, or outright angry. They may withdraw into a shell, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. In the end, the holidays may become less enjoyable, less peaceful, and less fun. And putting a happy face on these blues can be exhausting. (1)
But what happens if we add untreated hearing loss into the mix?
Signs of Hearing Loss Over the Holidays
The two maladies are quite different from one another. The holiday blues are a seasonal phenomenon, whereas hearing loss is often gradual and may take years to develop. (2) Plus, hearing loss is not at all seasonal; it affects people year-round and can have profound impacts on their personal and professional lives. (3) But the emotions are often the same.
If you or a loved one suffers from untreated hearing loss, this holiday season may seem less fun than last year or the year before, when you sit down to a family dinner or gather with friends. When the family gathers, that chaotic mix of voices sounds confusing. Uncle Ralph’s fishing story, which gets more fantastic every year, begins to sound less like gibberish and more like mumbling. And after asking everyone to repeat themselves so many times, you discover that nodding your head, shaking your head, and smiling when someone laughs is less frustrating.
When gathering with friends, it’s hard to catch the words that are being bandied about. Everyone talks too fast and the background noise interferes with their words. When you finally speak up, to join the conversation, everyone laughs, because someone else had just said the exact same thing. And you finally catch the punch line of every joke after the conversation has moved onward.
The inability to hear conversations can cause anxiety, due to the embarrassment of having to ask people to repeat themselves. And it may lead to irritation or outright anger at the need to constantly ask. This may cause that person to withdraw into a shell, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Spending time with other people may become less enjoyable, less peaceful, and less fun. On top of all that, continually focusing really hard to understand speech can be exhausting. (4, 5)
Combining the holiday blues with untreated hearing loss can actually exacerbate all of those feelings. While audiology and psychology are very different disciplines, the inability to hear, and its effects on someone’s mental well-being are closely linked. (3, 4) Most people who are already stressed, anxious, or even depressed feel that the holiday blues actually worsens those negative feelings. (1)
So, if a loved one suffers from both untreated hearing loss and the holiday blues, each malady may intensify the other.
How to Discuss Hearing Loss over the Holidays
The holidays are supposed to be an enjoyable time for everyone. With all the effort we put into getting everything ready, we certainly hope that everyone enjoys the fruits — plus the candy canes, doughnuts, and chocolates — of our labor. So, what can we do to help those loved ones who may not enjoy the holidays to the fullest, and who also may be suffering from hearing loss?
Hearing aids are a modern, high tech solution to hearing loss. Long gone are the days when huge hearing aids advertise their wearer’s hearing impairment to the world. Nowadays, hearing aids are discreet and, depending on the level of hearing loss, may even seem completely invisible. They mitigate most of the psychological issues related to hearing loss. (6)
But, discussing hearing loss and hearing aids with a loved one for the first time may be akin to telling them that one of their limbs is gone. Discovering that one of our five senses, which we’ve relied on since birth, is dwindling away is very difficult news. So, how can we discuss this in a kind, caring fashion, in order to find a solution?
The first thing is to avoid reacting to your frustrations. This is the easiest way to alienate someone you want to help. Instead, try to see things from their perspective. Try to understand how they feel, because they are probably just as frustrated, and they may well realize that their hearing is no longer what it once was. If you approach them from a place of love, understanding, and the honest desire to help them regain the ability to hear, they are more likely to respond in a positive fashion. (7)
Then, respect their privacy and choose the right place to talk. A large family gathering is precisely the wrong place for a discussion about hearing loss. Not only does it attract attention, which leads to embarrassment, there’s also too much background noise. Choose a quiet, private place where your words will be easy to hear and understand. The conversation will go much more smoothly. (7)
While you’re talking, gently bring up the subject of a hearing test. Perhaps suggest that the physical examination during the appointment could easily discover excessive ear wax, but be careful to avoid too much wishful thinking, which could lead to false hopes.
And, finally, offer to help. Simply admitting that one of our five senses doesn’t work so well anymore is difficult, at best. That may feel like admitting to a personal failure, even though it isn’t. Seeking treatment may be even more difficult. Your loved one may need emotional support when talking about hearing loss to an audiologist. Offer to go to the appointment, then do so. (7)
While audiologists are trained to speak to people with a wide range of hearing loss, your loved one most likely understands your voice and manner of speaking better than they do anyone else’s. So, your being there may help above and beyond your moral support. Depending on the severity of your loved one’s hearing loss, you may be able to bridge any communication gap that might exist between your loved one and the audiologist, which could help the appointment go more smoothly. Plus, you may be able to offer the audiologist your perspective, which can be invaluable.
The Gift of Better Hearing
If hearing aids are on the menu after your appointment, then you and your loved one will get to rediscover the wonder of the holidays and the pleasure of conversation, fun, and music. Old Uncle Ralph’s fish story will regain its glamor of gibberish, rather than being mumbling nonsense, and when you meet your friends, you can race to the punch line of any joke.
And, even though hearing loss and the holiday blues are completely separate things, you may be in luck. The newfound ability to hear may brighten those blues into holiday golds, reds, and greens.
This holiday season to ‘Hear What Matters’ book a free hearing care appointment at one of our convenient locations, visit, bit.ly/3iHGKDQ
1 – An Overview of the Holiday Blues (https://www.verywellmind.com/holiday-blues-4771716)
2 – Besser et al (2018); NIH (2004)
3 – Dalton et al., 2003
4 – Trychin, 1993
5 – Bernarding, Strauss, Hanneman, Seidler, & Corona-Strauss, 2013; Kramer, Kapteym, Festen, & Kuik, 1997; Tun, McCoy, & Wingfield, 2009
6 – Abrams & Kihm, 2015
7 – https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/51831-5-tips-for-talking-to-your-loved-one-about-hearing-loss