Stop eating near me!

Dear Alice,

I can't handle it when people chew or drink near me, unless they are completely silent. It makes me so angry, sometimes to the point of wanting to lash out, and I don't know why! Is there a reason or am I just weird?

Dear Reader, 

Everyone is wired a little differently. That’s just to say annoyances for one person may seem completely normal to another. But it sounds like what you’re describing may be veering beyond just a little annoyance. There are some conditions, such as misophonia (also called selective sound sensitivity syndrome), where certain sounds or words trigger intense negative emotions, such as irritability or the anger you describe. Some researchers believe that conditions such as misophonia are caused by biological factors, such as problems with the interaction of the limbic system (emotional regulation), autonomic nervous system (involuntary organ functions), and the auditory system. Others believe that these intense negative emotions triggered by sounds are due to conditioning — for example, associating chewing noises with family fights at the dinner table. If these intense responses to the sound of people chewing or drinking near you are causing you distress, you may want to consider speaking with a mental health professional or health care provider about your experiences. In the meantime, keep reading for more on these conditions.

Misophonia can be distinguished from other auditory disorders in that people with this condition experience intense emotions in response to specific sounds. Some people may feel common symptoms of anxiety, such as heart palpitations or the triggering of their “fight-or-flight" response. In fact, some may go out of their way to avoid the sounds that provoke these emotions, such as staying away from eating in restaurants to avoid hearing chewing noises. Misophonia is typically developed in childhood or adolescence, and it may be a symptom of anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Because of its frequent co-occurrence with other disorders, misophonia is difficult to diagnose on its own. In fact, it isn’t recognized as its own disorder. You may want to consider the following questions if you’re having difficulty dealing with chewing noises around you: 

  • Do you worry about hearing sounds or noises that irritate you (e.g., chewing, lip smacking, pen clicking) on a frequent basis, and do you worry about your response to those noises? 
  • Do you avoid areas where you might hear the noises that make you angry? 
  • Does the anger you experience when you hear those noises cause you problems or distress in your daily life? 
  • Do you have difficulty with anxiety, or have you recently been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder? 

If any of these questions resonated with you, you may want to consider speaking with a health care provider or mental health professional. Although there is limited research available about treating misophonia specifically, there are some treatments that work well at addressing the emotional response triggered by irritating noises. For example, tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) is recommended for some people with auditory conditions to retrain the body’s emotional reflexes to certain sounds. Additionally, therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be helpful in dissociating negative emotions with triggering noises. Some providers may prescribe medications in addition to psychotherapy to address the physical symptoms. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or yoga, may be helpful as well to address negative emotions brought up in the moment.

Rest assured, Reader, many people are unnerved or bothered by the habits or actions of others. If your level of annoyance is interfering with your ability to interact with those around you or take care of yourself in your daily life, connecting with a health care provider may be of interest and benefit to you.  

Hope this helps! 

Last updated Apr 16, 2021
Originally published Jan 31, 2014