Group of coworkers at office holiday party despite hearing loss

You arrive at your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted by noise. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.

You’re not enjoying it at all.

You can’t hear anything in this loud environment. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re totally disoriented. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.

This likely sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for somebody with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and perhaps you will even have a good time.

Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why

Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique blend of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with distinct stressors.

The noise itself is the most prominent. Think about it like this: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. As a result, they tend to be rather noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.

Some interference is generated by this, particularly for people with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:

  • There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to pick out one voice among overlapping conversations.
  • Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a difficult time isolating voices from all of this information.
  • Indoor gatherings tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you have hearing loss.

This means that picking up and following conversations will be challenging for individuals who have hearing loss. This may not sound like a big deal at first.

So… What is the big deal?

The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to think about:

  • You can network: It’s not unusual for individuals to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. You can use this event to make new connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
  • You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation frequently go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your family and friends to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be damaged. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.

This can be even more problematic because you may not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.

You may be caught by surprise when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you may be even more surprised.

Causes of hearing loss

So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The fragile hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.

These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. In most cases, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the injury occurs).

Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!

How to enjoy this year’s office party

You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy setting? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:

  • Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around individuals who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
  • Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
  • Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
  • Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly quieter.
  • Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.

Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.

Before the party, get your hearing checked

If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to sneak up and surprise you.

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