Since COVID-19, I’ve been using my headphones more than ever. Online classes, Zoom calls, FaceTime, dancing around my room to Taylor Swift’s Midnights—there’s no love like the one I have for my AirPods. And it’s safe to assume that I’m not the only one currently in a committed relationship with their pair of headphones.
This is why, when I spotted a headline that over a billion young people are at risk of hearing loss because of loud music, I was shook. We’re talking about something that could affect everyone I know—and you, too. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has recently published a paper urging governments to prioritise “safe listening policies” in order to help people learn more about how to look after their hearing.
I’ll be honest, after my initial panic, my immediate thoughts were: a) I’m not going to stop going to loud concerts and b) ‘Anti-Hero’ was made to be played at full blast. Anything less just feels disrespectful.
How can I live in a world where I can’t hit the front row at gigs, and keep the volume to a level my mother would be happy with? Don’t break my heart, BMJ—that’s a job I reserve for Taylor, and Taylor only. There has to be some middle ground, I figured. So, I checked out the World Health Organization (WHO) website and did some digging.
The initial figures make for pretty scary reading. Among teenagers and young adults aged 12 to 35 years in middle and high-income countries, nearly 50 per cent are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from personal audio devices. Around 40 per cent of them are exposed to potentially damaging sound levels at clubs and bars. Ouch. What’s life like for those people?
I spoke to Holly Watkins—whose real name has been changed upon request—a 29-year-old recording artist who’s suffered from tinnitus for about three years. That’s when you experience constant ringing, buzzing, hissing or roaring noises in one or both of your ears—noises which come from inside your brain, rather than the outside world. In some cases, the noise never goes away. Watkins grew up going to loud concerts a few nights a week, then blaring music at home and in her headphones “constantly.”
“It drives me crazy, really. Some days are better than others. I have to listen to a white noise app or an audiobook when I go to sleep, otherwise I can be awake for hours. On bad days, it’s a whistling sound that can feel so loud, it still surprises me that I’m the only one that can hear it. The irony is that it makes me want to listen to music, or podcasts, all the time, to drown it out… which is bad for my hearing. It’s depressing, in all honesty. Especially because music is my job and the thing I love most. I worry it will get worse and worse,” she shared.
I asked Watkins if there was anything she’d have done differently if she could go back in time. “I do wish I’d worn earplugs at festivals and gigs. There were only bad quality foam ones around when I was younger, and you just couldn’t hear the music, so nobody wore them. And [I wish I had] turned down the volume when I was playing back my own music, all day, every day, in the studio. It might have made a difference,” she confided.
If you already feel like you can relate or you’re slowly starting to take fright over your own hearing, then listen up: there are a few simple hacks that can help keep it intact.
– Over 430 million people worldwide currently have disabling hearing loss. Young people are particularly vulnerable because we’re using our phones and earphones so much, as well as going to concerts and festivals more often than older generations.
– Noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible—meaning once the damage is done, you can’t get that level of hearing back. That’s why it’s vital to try everything possible to hold onto the hearing ability we currently have.
– The louder the noise and the longer the exposure, the longer it takes to recover.
– That muffled or ringing sound in your ears after Tay-Tay’s Reputation Stadium Tour? Yup, that was hearing damage—in some cases, temporary tinnitus. Our ears are full of hair cells (similar to blades of grass) which bend if sound is very loud. After a recovery period, they become straight again, but if too many cells are damaged, some will die. In the worst cases, it can take about a week for hearing to return to normal. Any longer than that and you should book an appointment with a hearing specialist right away.
– Listening to loud music and noises while you’re young affects your hearing ability when you’re old. Using bad (or zero) hearing protection in our youth can lead to significant communication difficulties much later in life. Eek.
In case you don’t believe me, I called up Lee Fletcher (RHAD), (BSHAA), Principal Audiologist at Regain Hearing and asked him what he makes of all this.
“I’ve been promoting the use of ear protection since I started working as an audiologist, and have seen first-hand how hearing can be permanently damaged due to regular exposure to loud noise levels. The use of headphones and earbuds to listen to music at noise levels of 80 decibels and over and exposure to noise levels of 100 decibels at nightclubs and music venues is common for young people,” Fletcher first explained.
“To explain why this is harmful, let’s look at how noise levels work in real life. A conversation will emit a safe noise level of around 60 decibels. Regular exposure to noise levels over 70 decibels for long periods is likely to cause permanent hearing damage,” he continued.
Pretty worrying, right? So, I continued my research, in hopes of finding some preventative measures. How can we protect ourselves from these day-to-day risks?
There’s a simple way to think about this. Each day, we can give ourselves a daily dose of safe listening. This depends on the intensity (loudness), duration (length of time) and frequency (how often) of the exposure.
Fletcher recommended to “limit the use of earphones and earbuds to an hour at a time.” Wishful thinking, but we ought to at least try.
Step outside for short listening breaks at clubs, bars and events—this will bring down the overall extended duration of your noise exposure. Move! away! from! loud! sounds! and! sources!
The WHO states that 85 decibels is considered the highest safe exposure level—up to a maximum of eight hours. Fletcher’s expert advice? “Never turn the volume to more than halfway up.”
If you buy the right brand and wear them properly, earplugs can reduce sound exposure by 5 to 45 decibels which could make a massive difference. If you work in a noisy environment, the specialist advised that it’s even more important to invest in custom-made earplugs. They’ll be more comfortable for longer-term wear and could even make for a bizarre yet thoughtful Christmas present.
Try Vibes High Fidelity, Loop or Decibullz. They’re expertly designed to protect your ears while still letting you hear miss Swift do her thing.
You can actually view your headphone exposure levels over a time period. You might not like what you see, but the good news is, it’s never too late to start listening safely.
Have a professional check how your hearing is doing, as often as they recommend.
Long story short, turn the volume way down, reduce the time you spend listening to loud music each day, and dance far away from the loudspeaker.
Want to know more? Read the WHO’s guide to safe listening.
The daily doomscroll. On the toilet, in bed—wherever you’re doing it, just five minutes of flipping through your TikTok FYP represents an infinite number of ways in which you could come across a piece of information with the potential to ruin your day—and more often than not, your relationship too.
People are flocking to share intimate details of their love lives with complete strangers online. From #storytime and #messytiktok to #revengetok and #staytoxic, on TikTok, our deepest traumas can be triggered at any time with just a flick of our thumbs. This, in turn, begs the question: can watching these videos on a daily basis influence our own relationships? My personal opinion? Definitely. All too often.
Caught your boyfriend cheating? You can expose him, then douse everything he owns in glitter. Feeling lonely? A scroll through #breakuptok connects the ghosted, the breadcrumbed, and the unceremoniously dumped. A big trend is videoing oneself mid-breakdown. The dumpee might sob uncontrollably or stare into space, a single tear rolling down a puffy cheek. Most videos are overlaid with text narrating their story, ramped up with a sad song.
As an attempt at capturing and communicating the subject’s raw feelings, these videos can be upsetting, and even disturbing to watch (particularly if you’re going through, or have been through, something similar). While most users actively seek comfort and connection at a vulnerable moment in their lives, others want control and empowerment—and this is where things can get complicated.
Just check the comments under any viral video that details cheating, lying, or betrayal. Here, hundreds of users will lend support, detailing their own traumatic experiences, while others share tricks to prevent heartbreak and betrayal. Spoiler alert: you can’t really achieve the latter—but reading them will make you think you can.
Suspicious lovers swap notes on how to check a partner’s internet history to see if they’re cheating. Tinder users remind each other that you can check when your hook-up last used the app, because their geographical location updates each time they open it. Some even admit to looking at their ex’s Spotify playlists, searching for hidden meaning. Meanwhile, unrequited lovers screenshot their crush’s Snapscore to check if it’s just them they’re ignoring and some people even scrutinise their partner’s Venmo purchases looking for clues.
Seasoned sleuthers can go so far as to hack into or create fake Instagram accounts, specifically with the intent to monitor what their person of interest is doing. Some send text messages hoping to catch them red-handed by pretending to be someone else entirely, while others employ ‘honey trappers’ to test their partner’s loyalty. Many of these practices could be classed as cyberstalking—a criminal offence under American anti-stalking, slander, and harassment laws—plus, they’re detrimental to overall health and happiness.
Relationship expert Jessica Alderson told SCREENSHOT: “Many of the viewers of videos and comments like this would have never thought to conduct research like that. In addition, seeing other people social media sleuthing and telling their stories can make people insecure about their own relationships which, in turn, can cause them to do things that they wouldn’t have otherwise done. This is more likely to cause problems than provide solutions.”
Alderson went on to add: “It’s now easier than ever to look someone up online, and with that has come a greater potential for misuse. This can result in serious psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.”
Whether you’ve just been broken up with—drink your water, eat your vegetables, you’ve got this—you’re navigating a situationship, or you’ve been with your person for years, copying this TikTok activity puts you at risk of unnecessary issues and disputes.
Few of us could truly say that we’ve never engaged in a little light stalking. You know the drill—you meet someone new, give them a follow, and carry out a routine vibe check. It’s all too easy to find yourself lurking five years deep into their grid, doing everything not to accidentally tap the heart button as you note that their ex-partner is annoyingly beautiful, a great dancer, and speaks seven languages.
Suddenly, your mind works overtime to piece together the ‘evidence’ it has now gathered, weaving a (completely made up) narrative that clouds your thoughts. Out of nowhere, you might feel insecure, unsettled, and even a bit sad—a feeling that can linger.
You’ve given your brain the chance to ruminate on a person’s past—a past they are completely entitled to have. At best, you’ve robbed yourself of an opportunity to start fresh with this person, hearing their stories the way they wanted to tell them. At worst, you come out feeling less cool, fun, or attractive than previous people they’ve been close to. This can do nothing but hurt your relationship or hook-up, and it might stop it from happening altogether.
It’s a lose-lose situation. So, what do we do about it? For a lot of us, the process involves the hardest task of all: taking a break from social media altogether.
“Focus on making your life the best it can be. This might involve spending time with your friends, pursuing your passions, or taking on an extra project at work,” Alderson advised.
“Essentially, you want to divert your time and attention elsewhere, to activities that make a positive difference in your life,” she continued.
– Practise mindful social media use. Take regular breaks from your devices and spend that time engaging in activities that don’t involve technology, such as physical exercise, reading, or creative hobbies.
– If you catch yourself feeling tempted to start looking up information about people online, pause and ask yourself what you’ll gain from doing it. Consider whether the risks outweigh the benefits. One point to be particularly mindful of is that what you see online may not be accurate, and it can often be misleading.
– Setting clear boundaries when it comes to looking people up online can help if you are prone to social media sleuthing. For some, this might involve not Googling someone until they hit a certain milestone, such as the fifth date or the ‘exclusive’ status in a relationship. For others, this could mean no social media sleuthing at all, or only looking up certain information once if you feel like it will improve your sense of safety on a date.
– Ask yourself whether your interest is coming from a healthy place. Wanting to discover more about someone you like is completely natural, but before looking them up online, reflect on whether your desire is coming from a healthy place or a place of insecurity. This is one of the best litmus tests to help figure out whether you should take a certain course of action.
– Take steps to protect yourself online. This could include changing your privacy settings and being mindful of the information you share publicly. A social media audit is always a good idea, which involves going through all of your accounts and deleting or adjusting any information that you don’t want people to see.
– Give yourself time to grieve. This might take a while, and that’s okay. When someone has invaded your privacy in this way, it can be a traumatic experience. You want to ensure that you process your emotions as best as possible in order to reduce the risk of experiencing trust issues going forward.
– If you’ve been a victim of social media sleuthing, you should seek help from people close to you or professionals. It can be hard to heal and move on.