Murder on the dance/office floor
January 2, 2009 6:49 PM   Subscribe

I find repetitive noise maddening, to the point where I want to commit violence to make it stop. How can I stop this from happening?

Certain repetitive sounds make me crazy, I feel trapped and suffocated and am driven to distraction. It can get so bad that I want to curl into a ball, or sometimes cry or yell or lash out, I can't stand it. I become irrationally angry but it subsides the second the sound stops. I'm especially affected by a particular techno-style looping beat. If four-to-the-floor dance music comes on the radio I have to restrain myself from just chucking the thing out of the window in my haste to MAKE IT STOP. It sounds funny but it really isn't, especially at work. I have to listen to white noise at deafening levels on my headphones just to cancel the noise of other people touch-typing and it shatters my concentration.

Is this abnormal? I'm not sensitive to more freeform sounds and my musical tastes veer heavily towards asynchronous, dischordant stuff, and I do actually like some dance stuff when it's more funk or drum and bass style rhythms - but the aforementioned even beats actually turn my stomach. What is it about this sound (especially in music) that other people find so compelling? How do I make it stop affecting me so negatively? Would hypnosis or some such help? Any thoughts welcome (anonymous because, well, it's a bit weird).
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I have to restrain myself from just chucking the thing out of the window in my haste to MAKE IT STOP.
... I have to listen to white noise at deafening levels on my headphones just to cancel the noise of other people touch-typing and it shatters my concentration.

it's not normal. you might want to look what your options are re: finding a therapist before you do get actually violent, possibly harming others and/or yourself.
posted by matteo at 6:55 PM on January 2, 2009

I wish I had something to offer other than "you're not alone." Repetitive sounds -- especially percussive ones -- drive me crazy. I'm not violent, but I do get to a point very quickly where it feels like my head is going to explode. I once posted on AskMe about how to deal with a co-worker who drummed on his desk. I almost quit my job over it. I will follow this thread with interest. (As a data point, anon, are there any other "odd things" that bother you? I am also bothered by noises that are too loud or too quiet -- I spend forever adjusting the remote until the tv's volume is just so, and I keep readjusting it; little gratuitous things in my field of vision, like a crumb on the floor; rumpled sheets; flashing lights and anything crooked, like a picture hanging slightly askew on the wall.)
posted by grumblebee at 7:01 PM on January 2, 2009

I am this way about dogs barking. I mean the incessant bark of a chained up/caged canine, not a happy greeting bark, or a yelp or baying coon hounds. It can pretty easily make me cry with frustration. I think we are subjected to things, in this instance sounds, that we have not evolved to deal with. It's a distress sound that we are expected to calmly ignore... it's 'fight or flight', and while most do not seem to have these triggers, it's hell on those of us who do and have no outlet for a naturally violent and decisive response.
posted by dawson at 7:16 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you are definitely not alone, but a lot of us are better at coping and filtering this stuff out. You sound like you need help with the coping/filtering. You might consider meditation, possibly (note that some forms of meditation actually use repetitive sounds as part of the technique.) Unlike matteo, I don't think you are a danger to yourself or others, but you still might consider some therapy also to help you cope.
posted by gudrun at 7:17 PM on January 2, 2009

Noise-canceling headphones and earplugs can also help. Many people have sensory hypersensitivities of various types.
posted by Maias at 7:23 PM on January 2, 2009

You're not alone. I'm not like this with repetitive noise in general, but there are some noises that will quite rapidly drive me to distraction. I've shouted at people to stop before. My favorite is, of course, when people just grin and do it more after I politely ask them to stop--it's okay though, I grin when they discover the file they were working on is gone.

I don't think you're actually a threat to anyone (I think you overstate your tendency toward violence to make a point that this isn't you just getting annoyed). But, I do recommend that you see a cognitive-behavioral therapist or a hypnotist. This isn't really psychological, in the sense that talk therapy is going to help you deal with some emotional issue and thereby alleviate this symptom of a deeper neurosis... or whatever.

Rather, this is how you're wired, and you just need a coping mechanism. Make this clear to therapists you call up, and call around.
posted by Netzapper at 7:31 PM on January 2, 2009

It may not be typical, but I also don't think it's abnormal. My eleven-year old son is the same way and will beg his brothers to stop if they say the same word or make the same sound more than 3 or 4 times.

Like grumblebee, I'll be watching this thread as well. I get extraordinarily agitated (as in, way beyond the norm) when I have to listen to the twangy notes of country music. If music in a public place is really loud when it shouldn't be (restaurant or store vs. club or concert), it will actually make me cry and I will flee.

In other words, when it comes to auditory agitation, you're not alone. At all.
posted by _Mona_ at 7:40 PM on January 2, 2009

Many of us are hypersensitive to noise. Presently, my only remedy for alleviating repetitive, pulsing, shrill, or otherwise cacophonous noise is hastily removing myself from the offensive site.

Hopefully soon, advancements in noise cancellation technology will allow us to have portable systems that will effectively cancel out environmental noise around us.

Until then, I can only quote the wise words uttered by King Arthur in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail": Run Away! Run Away!
posted by terranova at 7:45 PM on January 2, 2009

A consolation, perhaps. You are in good company:

"I have long held the opinion that the amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity and therefore be regarded as pretty fair measure of it." --Schopenhauer (See "On Noise")
posted by terranova at 8:00 PM on January 2, 2009 [5 favorites]

Hopefully soon, advancements in noise cancellation technology will...

Unless the sound has bass. If it does, you can feel it even if you stop yourself from hearing it. I used to wear earplugs AND noise-canceling headphones, but I could still feel the co-worker drumming. What finally worked was moving to the other side of the building.
posted by grumblebee at 8:09 PM on January 2, 2009

Perhaps you should look into getting some custom earplugs? My autistic brother used to get very agitated with repetitive noise, to the point of acting out violently, but he would calm down a little bit with some custom earplugs an auditory therapist made for him. It didn't get rid of all noise, but it might help you with some of the quiet repetitive noises like someone typing.

Alternatively, does the volume of the noise contribute to the agitation? I can generally stand normal or high volume repetitive noises, but very quiet noises (like someone breathing next to me) drive me absolutely batty. I get extremely irritated to the point of tears with quiet noises, so I don't think you're abnormal in that respect. But being driven to the breaking point by every type of repetitive noise in every circumstance is not normal.
posted by lilac girl at 8:14 PM on January 2, 2009

Do you think that maybe you could try to associate repetitive sounds with visual patterns? Most people (not me, unfortunately) have a lot of control over what they "see" in their minds. Maybe if you visualized an aesthetically pleasing pattern that changes with the music, you would hate it a little less.

I'm fascinated by this. A lot of people don't enjoy a lot of repetition in music, but you are obviously a pretty extreme case. Best of luck to you.

I myself find my insides twisted in pain when someone scrapes their plate with their knife or, worse, the ends of the tines of their fork. Try asking someone to stop doing that sometime. See what they do next.
posted by nosila at 8:22 PM on January 2, 2009

I've always had trouble concentrating in the presence of noise. In particular: hearing one side of a phone conversation, someone humming to themselves, the thump of a distant bass line. My only answers have been:

1. Make it stop. Find the person making the noise, and ask, bargain, or threaten, until they shut the fuck up.

2. Drown it out. Use preferred music or ambient sounds. I like (in as much as one can like such a thing) the recordings off iTunes by "Sleep Machines." Essentially, 40-odd minutes of a furnace, waterfall, fan, fire, etc.

3. Alter perception. If practical, taking an OTC pain reliever can sometimes put enough distance between me and the sense to make it bearable. This is probably a bad idea, though, and rough on liver and stomach.

4. Leave the area. If there's any possible excuse to take a break, or work while others are on break, that time can be used to build momentum on a project that can help one tune out once the distraction returns. Or find a way to work remotely.
posted by evil holiday magic at 8:48 PM on January 2, 2009

First of all, if you haven't actually committed any violent acts, well, good on ya. You should determine whether it's actually causative of violence in you or merely sickeningly and maddeningly annoying - a subtle, yet important, distinction. If it is the former, then you must certainly see a psychiatrist as soon as possible; if it's the latter, well, it could never hurt, but maybe you just need to think it out yourself.

And, honestly, I think you're overthinking this.

anon: Is this abnormal? I'm not sensitive to more freeform sounds and my musical tastes veer heavily towards asynchronous, dischordant stuff, and I do actually like some dance stuff when it's more funk or drum and bass style rhythms - but the aforementioned even beats actually turn my stomach. What is it about this sound (especially in music) that other people find so compelling? How do I make it stop affecting me so negatively? Would hypnosis or some such help? Any thoughts welcome (anonymous because, well, it's a bit weird).

In short, no, it's not abnormal. I have times when certain kinds of music make me sick to my stomach.

Just remember the old joke, which applies in spades here: "Doc, it hurts when I do this." Well, then, don't do that.

Take a break. Find a good hour or two of peace and quiet every day. Don't push yourself to understand what people find so compelling about the music - you have no obligation to find it compelling just because they do. Meditation, or even just quiet sitting or walking in a quiet neighborhood, is a good practice.

Music is nothing without silence, and usually, if it sounds like an obnoxious cacophony, it's because you're overexposed to it.
posted by koeselitz at 9:00 PM on January 2, 2009

It can get so bad that I want to curl into a ball, or sometimes cry or yell or lash out, I can't stand it. I become irrationally angry but it subsides the second the sound stops.

I feel this way - the best thing you can do is get up and walk away. I think it's the feeling of being trapped and overwhelmed - it really sets off my fight or flight reflex.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:28 PM on January 2, 2009

A close friend of mine has what sounds to be a very similar problem. One of her sisters has epilepsy, as did one of her aunts (along with pyromania), and probably one of her other aunts in the same family as well, but that aunt was never formally diagnosed.

My friend has exactly your reaction to scraped plates, too, nosila.
posted by jamjam at 9:36 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like you need to see a medical doctor or possibly a neurologist. Your reaction isn't typical, and it reminds me vaguely of something I read or god-help-me saw on TV where someone has a condition that causes them to respond a certain way. Whatever it is, from what you've described and from its consistency, it sounds like it's not an emotional problem but a physical one to me.

note: not a doctor. Never even played doctor.
posted by medea42 at 9:50 PM on January 2, 2009

Not abnormal. At work, try noise-canceling headphones/earbuds if appropriate, and/or consider asking to be moved - present it as a move that will improve your productivity, which should be of interest to your employer. Or you could try politely asking the offending individual to turn it down or use proper headphones of their own.

I personally can't stand being trapped on public transportation, where inevitably at least one individual is guaranteed to be playing a hand held game or using a cell phone that plays music sans headphones, or, better yet, using poor-quality headphones that allow everyone in the vicinity to hear some semblance of the music...argh. End rant.
posted by xiaolongbao at 9:54 PM on January 2, 2009

Is it possible you are taking the noise personally? Meaning, you've accidentally associated other people making noise for other people *trying* to annoy you?
posted by gjc at 9:56 PM on January 2, 2009

I'm guessing you're not a big fan of Philip Glass ... Sorry. Bad taste.

I'd second the recommendation to see a neurologist. This sounds like epilepsy, actually. Seizures can be set off by all sorts of things, particularly rhythmic things, and can have symptoms that aren't at all like falling on the ground and foaming at the mouth (that's only the most severe form).

I had a boyfriend in college whose seizures caused him to lose all emotion and facial expression and to make really poor decisions for a short period of time. (Yes, this sounds like an excuse he cooked up for bad behavior. The temporal lobectomy he got suggested to me that it might actually have been real.) (BTW, he didn't need the surgery until the seizures got debilitating, and his doctors said the severity was a really rare case, so don't worry that this is your destiny even if you turn out to have epilepsy; many people just take a low dose of a drug and go on with their lives.)
posted by Capri at 10:56 PM on January 2, 2009

Don't beat on people for's not their fault. I am also prone to deep unpleasant feelings towards repetitive noise and can only deal with it by getting the eff away from it.

But for the short term you might check out Lou Reed's Machine Metal Music and realize that your situation could be worse.
posted by telstar at 12:43 AM on January 3, 2009

Snoring. Crickets. Be glad I am not armed.
posted by Iteki at 12:52 AM on January 3, 2009

I used to be a fairly regular attendee at the Down To Earth Confest, a twice-yearly gathering of alternative-lifestyle types on the Murray River in Australia. It was a really good place to hang out for a week or two - clothing-optional, car-free, swimming, mudbaths, workshops, tipis, random acoustic music everywhere, a box trailer converted into a wood-fired after-dark hot tub - a really pleasant, happy, peaceful vibe.

Then one year the Down To Earth committee got infiltrated by 24-hour party people, and Confest started featuring rave parties at night. Personally I couldn't see much that was "alternative" about diesel generators and bright lights and eccies and doof, but whatever.

The first couple of raves were set up well away from the main camping areas and didn't really cause any trouble. But then one year they turned up and built their dance venue on top of a little knoll less than a hundred metres from my tent. They cranked it up at about eleven pm: doof tssdoof tssdoof tssdoof tssdoof tssdoof tssdoof tssdigga digga doof tssdoof tssdoof tssdoof tssdoof tssdoof tssdoof tssdigga digga doof tssdoof tssdoof tss endlessly at high volume. It was just relentless. There was no way anybody could have slept through it. Fucking audio fascists.

After half an hour with my fingers in my ears and my head stuffed under the pillow, I was so howlingly crazily angry that I left the tent and went scouring the site for an axe. My plan was to smash the injector pump on the diesel generator. Luckily for the ravers, it was incredibly dark everywhere except at their party, and there wasn't an axe lying around loose anywhere I could find it. So I headed back to the rave, intending to steal the main extension cord. That didn't work either, because the ravers had availed themselves of the services of men with black T shirts and no necks, and based on what I saw happening to several other furious hippies, I figured I had the choice of having no sleep or being severely beaten and then having no sleep.

For a few years after that, my standard reaction to hearing doof was pretty much the same as yours: sudden, insane, all-consuming helpless rage.

I got over it by accident.

It was late. I was driving on the freeway. I was alone in the car. And the news finished on the radio and the doof came on.

I had to pull over.

I turned it UP. WAY up. Speaker-damagingly way up. And for a good long while, the only thing in the car that was louder than the radio was me swearing.

The really liberating thing about screaming abuse over doof is that there is absolutely no pressure to be inventive, or original, or meaningful or even coherent. Doesn't matter what you're screaming, because compared to the moronic audio track you are Oscar fucking Wilde.

I didn't stop until my throat was raw and I was having trouble breathing. Then I turned the doof down. Then I turned it up again. And down again. And up again. And down again. And then I turned it off, and opened the window, and just sat in the car breathing the night air and listening to the freeway until I felt OK to drive home.

Doof hasn't really bothered me much since then. I think it was asserting control over it that did the trick.
posted by flabdablet at 3:19 AM on January 3, 2009 [12 favorites]

You Are Not Alone

There are certain sounds that I have to actually get up and leave the room or I know I will simply snap.
  • Chewing food—particularly mealy, pasty food—with one's mouth open. That smack!-chew-chew-smack! sound as the tongue tries to dislodge the food stuck to the roof of the mouth. The only way this can be made worse is if the chewer is 90 years old, and has bad dentures.
  • The mouth-closed, I-just-ate-something-good... Mmm. I fucking hate the fucking Mmm. When I hear the Mmm I want to bury my fists into the back of the skull of the person making the Mmm. Made worse by stringing along a whole bunch of Mmm-mmm-mmm's, or when done sing-songy, like Mmm-mmm-MMM-Mmm-mmmmmmmmm. Rachel Ray does this a lot. Fists. Pounding skull into fragments.
  • The scraping sound of a plastic spoon on the bottom of a single serving of Yoplait yogurt. Because Yoplait scrapers as I call them—they scrape-scrape-scrape that fucking spoon against the sides, and the bottom, and the sides again, just to get that last little teensy tiny bit of fucking yogurt from that terribly designed packaging. They sound like mice in your walls. They will spend ten fucking minutes scraping away at what is essentially a shot of food. Look, we're on to you scrapers. You think you're dieting. So you have your fucking Yoplait in the morning, and then another precisely an hour and seventeen minutes later, and you keep doing this in intervals like shots of sustenance because what you really want is a big fucking hamburger or a giant burrito, but you can't let yourself have that, no... instead you have to scrape-scrape-scrape like a starving rat trying to keep itself alive after a nuclear holocaust. Just lick the goddamned thing already!
I find I also get angry just thinking about the sounds these things make.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:37 AM on January 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

IANAD but I watch them on TV and this sounds like a weird neurological problem like the type that might show up on House MD. Have you have this problem your whole life or did it develop over time or just recently? If it's new, I'd get checked out ASAP.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:09 AM on January 3, 2009

In our family, we call sounds that drive us crazy like that "sinister infrasonic vibrations." We each have our own unique assortment of them. I used to have a downstairs neighbor who played music at a level where I couldn't hear it but could still just barely feel the bass and it drove me insane--weeping on the living room rug, banging the floor. And it was hard to address it by asking them to change their habits because I thought they were playing music at a reasonable volume level for people in their own home.

But you asked what helped...hmmmm. Moving out of that particular apartment was a big one! Doing what I can to make my environment more comfortable and to avoid the noises that set me off.

For a long time, I had an undiagnosed and unresolved anxiety disorder, and when I was able to improve that, i did become more tolerant of the occasional invasive noise problem. Keeping my general stress level down makes me more able to cope. So i wouldn't fret that you have some kind of neurological disorder, but if there are health or mental health issues that you haven't addressed, that could be helpful.
posted by not that girl at 10:22 AM on January 3, 2009

I cannot for the life of me no one has mentioned autism as a potential cause. We LOVE to diagnose people with autism!!!
posted by tristeza at 11:07 AM on January 3, 2009

The sound of other people kissing drives me into a blind rage.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:58 AM on January 3, 2009

mmmmm.... Yoplait!
posted by flabdablet at 4:42 PM on January 3, 2009

One thing that nobody's mentioned here but that is a salient point as far as I'm concerned, is that I react with disproportionate anger to these types of repetitive sounds (not music - more like chewing, toe-tapping, leg-jiggling, and pounding) if and only if I'm sleep deprived. Chewing grosses me out no matter what, but I won't walk up to the chewer and say "If you don't shut your fucking mouth I'll shut it for you" (true story!) unless I'm pretty deep in the sleep deficit hole. You may want to try getting more sleep as an experiment. I know, easier said than done.
posted by crinklebat at 10:48 PM on January 3, 2009

Some people are saying to see a neurologist. For what it's worth, sounds like that drive me crazy too (though not to a homicidal extent.) When I saw a neurologist for unrelated reasons several years ago, I asked her about it, almost hoping there *was* some wacky (yet treatable) thing wrong with me so I that could be cured. She didn't seem concerned or have any ideas beyond pushing me to get treatment for the anxiety I'd mentioned.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:30 AM on January 5, 2009

Civil_Disobedient, I ditto every word you say including the part about all of those Mmmm... bastards. It is like they are having sex with their food. Did no one ever tell them how disgusting this is? Yeah, it's good just eat it already.

Also, I want to fucking kill all god-damn gum snappers. I don't know why this makes me so hostile but it does. I have visions of throwing things at them, or grabbing them by the throat with one hand while I reach into their mouth with the other to pull out that fucking gum and shove it up their fucking nose. I used to fear I was crazy but I have learned there are others out there who find this just as irritating.

Anonymous, you aren't alone and I don't have any real advice. I just pray that in my next lifetime, I'm one of the lucky people who have no idea what the big deal is. It would be so nice.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 3:45 PM on January 7, 2009

I'm hesitant to bring this up because it seems so...over-diagnosed, or such a common overreaction, but I'm also really surprised that no one else has. Have you considered getting tested for ADD? A big part of ADD isn't just distraction - it also includes hypersensitivity to light, touch...and noise.

Your post sounds like a page out of my own life. My entire family suffers from what you described - when it came to certain types of noise we can be instantly enraged, irritated, almost violent. I once stupidly told a group of motorcycle riders outside a hotel room to turn their fucking shit off because I was so enraged and tearful due to the sound of their motors that I lost my head completely. My family members and I would have to leave situations because of some types of music; we'd explode in anger out of nowhere because the next door neighbor had a washing machine with a particular rhythm. It wasn't loud, but it was in our heads and we couldn't shut it off.

Then in a freak turn of events we were all diagnosed with adult ADD. Although it *certainly* could be a side effect due to the nature of the beast, my ability to cope with certain noises has improved immensely ever since. A good doctor gives you therapy and medication. When on the meds, noises don't bother me - I just don't notice them - and therapy has helped for when I'm not (for control). To me, that was the biggest relief in my diagnosis (that and I could call people on the phone). I didn't realize what hell I had been living until on my first day on medication I was on a bus - and didn't want to lunge out the window or cut my throat because I couldn't *stand* the beat from someone's headphones.

There's some good suggestions in this thread - it could be worth visiting a doctor and mentioning your concerns. It might also be worth checking out a few ADD resources. Good luck!
posted by barchan at 8:47 PM on January 7, 2009

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