It starts with your brain.
Picture this: It’s lunchtime at work, and a coworker in the neighboring cube pulls out her meal. As she begins to munch on crunchy carrots, is your instinctual reaction to carry on with business as usual or sprint towards the exit? If your answer is the latter, then you might suffer from a condition called misophonia.
Yes, there’s a science-backed reason why the sound of chewing drives some of us mad. Misophonia is a sensitivity (or, in some cases, hatred) of basic human sounds like breathing, yawing, or chewing. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “People with misophonia are affected emotionally by common sounds—usually those made by others, and usually ones that other people don’t pay attention to.” These sounds “create a fight-or-flight response that triggers anger and a desire to escape.”
Harvard Health Publishing’s research has found that for those with misophonia, the parts of the brain responsible for long-term memory, fear, and strong emotions were triggered in situations when the aggravating sounds occurred. Which makes sense when considering the common responses: For those with misophonia, reactions to chewing can make you feel anxious and uncomfortable; in more severe cases, the sound can cause panic, emotional distress, and anger. Misophonia can have a negative impact on your social life, such as refraining from dining out at a restaurant and avoiding sitting in a room with other people.
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Though there is no cure for this condition, there are ways to cope with it. Be aware of what triggers your misophonia—sounds like chewing, breathing, or yawning—so you can be prepared if you unexpectedly find yourself in a tricky situation. Always have a pair of headphones handy, so you can plug up and quickly drown out the noise; request to be seated in a quiet area at work; and manage your stress levels by getting plenty of sleep and exercise.