Group of coworkers at office holiday party despite hearing loss

You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded by noise. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.

It makes you miserable.

You can’t hear a thing in this noisy setting. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.

This probably sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dark, lonely event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unharmed (and maybe even have some fun while you’re at it).

Why holiday parties can be stressful

Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct mix of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). For those who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.

The noise itself is the most prominent. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a bit. This means they tend to be fairly noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a factor here? absolutely. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.

Some interference is created by this, particularly for people who have hearing loss. That’s because:

  • There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to select one voice among overlapping discussions.
  • Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain has a difficult time isolating voices from all of this information.
  • When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound tends to become amplified.

This means anyone with hearing loss will experience trouble hearing and following conversations. At first look, that may sound like a minor thing.

So… What is the big deal?

The big deal is in the professional and networking side of things. Even though office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. It’s normally highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:

  • You can network: Holiday parties are a great opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own section. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. This can be an excellent chance to forge connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overpowering noise.
  • You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Even if you ask your family and friends to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with colleagues. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anybody!

This can be even more problematic because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).

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

Causes of hearing loss

So what causes this? How does hearing loss happen? Usually, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will typically take repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The fragile hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.

These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually permanent.

Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more enjoyable in a few ways.

How to enjoy this year’s office party

Your office party offers some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable with these tips:

  • Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
  • Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets blurry. Simply put, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
  • Have conversations in quieter places: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
  • Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
  • Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.

Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.

Get your hearing assessed before the party

If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. Because of COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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