listening fatigue: image of a white appearing woman with glasses, rubbing her eyes under her glasses. she looks very tired

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This is a post with tips for those of us who experience hearing – or listening fatigue

I’m sure it’s happened to many of you – I know it’s happened with me. You need to understand something that someone is saying. You struggle to pull together all the cues: what you pick up through all the tools you have (your hearing aids, cochlear implants), the speaker’s facial expressions, the movements of their mouths, the context of the situation, the environment. Each piece that you pick up, you put together to assemble a full picture of meaning, which you then process. 

This is what “hearing” is like for most of us with hearing loss.

“Hearing” for those of us with hearing loss is a complicated creation of meaning through assemblage of parts, with each assemblage costing us energy. This leads to hearing fatigue – also called listening fatigue. You can use either/or; they are interchangeable terms.

What is “Listening Fatigue”?

Listening fatigue is the fatigue that comes from trying to understand what is being said. It’s the fatigue that results from the concentration that’s required to pull all the pieces together – the visual cues, lipreading, the sound, the context and even the emotion – of what is being communicated and making sense of it all (my post on it is linked here: Hearing Fatigue is Real (and What to Do About it)

Since hearing fatigue can be absolutely exhausting, it’s important to keep our mental wellness in mind as we deal with “hearing” and with our processing of information.

Here are some tips on handling hearing fatigue and making it easier:

  1. Recognize that this is A Thing. It’s real. Believe it.
  2. Pay attention to the toll it takes on you – what makes it worse or better.
  3. Honor your boundaries: be selective about who and what we spend our precious listening energy on. Focus on the joy and the necessities, and be firm with our “no”s when it’s not. Remember that each minute spent trying to hear and understand something that brings us no joy or is not necessary, we will have less energy for what we actually love or want to do.
  4. Schedule time to rest after intense listening. If you know you will be doing intensive hearing, make sure to carve out that extra half an hour or hour to just rest your brain after.
  5. Meet people in spaces that are easier for you to hear in, whatever that is. It’s understandable to not want to seem selfish by requesting the spaces that work for you when everyone else wants to meet spaces that don’t! Be guided by your remembrance of what participating in spaces that don’t work for you actually costs you, in terms of your fatigue levels. 
  6. Have your captioning apps on your phone, ready. Don’t hesitate to pull them out! Ask for captions on all video teleconferences. 
  7. Request an interpreter if that makes it easier – there are oral transliteration interpreters who will re-articulate words clearly to make it easier to lipread. There are also signed language interpreters.

Boundaries & Self Care Are Priceless for Our Wellbeing

One of the most important things for us to learn is to honor our boundaries and learn to be more comfortable with simply not participating in something that appears to be more energy from us to process and understand than the content than it’s worth.

On the heels of that is to recognize our need for particular spaces and accommodations that allow us to do this complex task of “hearing” in a way that lessens the exhaustion of listening fatigue. Remember: boundaries are a form of self care for us. Think about how long it takes you to recover from all the “hearing” and make your choices on what to participate in based on that.

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