It ebbs and flows given the month, but anywhere from 25 to 37 percent of U.S. adults have reported symptoms of anxiety in the last two years—and I'm one of them. Specifically, I deal with social anxiety. After a little over two years of working from home while living through a global pandemic, my already shaky social skills took a major hit. At get-togethers, I find myself severely lacking in the conversation department, slowly driving myself into a panic as I get overwhelmed by all of the noise and other goings on in the room. Even a quick run to the grocery store—with its loud crowds, micro-interactions, and cart traffic—sends me in a downward spiral.
- Peggy Loo, PhD, PhD in counseling psychology
- Sarah O'Brien LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
This problematic cocktail of social anxiety and noise sensitivity had me more than a little concerned about how I’d fare during the rapidly approaching holiday party season. Which is why I decided to give Loop Engage Earplugs ($30) a shot. Read on for my full review.
What are the Engage Earplugs?
In order to get the most out of Loop's Engage ear plugs, you kind of need to forget everything you thought you knew about ear plugs. Let me explain: Unlike the foam plugs you’d usually use on a plane to mute the screaming child seated behind you, the Engage ear plugs are intended for everyday wear, and are designed to help reduce sound by up to 16 dB—not cancel it completely—while maintaining sound clarity. In other words, they allow you to lower the volume of life’s chaotic background noise, taking the edge off of social gatherings so you can feel more present.
The benefits of ear plugs
The secret to Loop’s partial sound reduction is their patented acoustic channel (the circular end also allows for easy insertion and removal) and high-tech mesh filter—they work together to buffer the sound without affecting the clarity of your voice so you don’t get the under-water, echoey feeling you typically get with noise-canceling headphones or conventional foam earplugs. Every pair comes with small, medium, and large rubber ear buds to ensure a snug fit, and a nifty compact carrying case.
“People can become overwhelmed with loud noises and other stimulation in certain environments, like grocery stores,” explained Sarah O’Brien, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in anxiety. “Or they become distracted with the loud environment, making it difficult to focus on one thing at a time.” She went on to explain that having a buffering element like ear plugs can be an effective way to help you feel more calm in loud or stressful environments, saying “Ear plugs can help drown out all the other loud noises, therefore reducing overstimulation.”
But it's important to remember: Earplugs and any of the wellness enhancing finds we share are never a replacement for treatment from a healthcare professional. “It's actually not a given that the best course of action is to wear ear plugs, which is why accurate diagnosis for the reasons behind your sound sensitivity is so key, and working with someone professionally,” cautions Peggy Lou PhD, a licensed psychologist and the director of Manhattan Therapy Collective. The lesson: Earplugs (and other similar devices) can be useful, but to really get to the bottom of your anxiety and sensitivity, you're going to want to work with a therapist, too.
My first experience with the Engage ear plugs was at a Halloween party. The sounds of surrounding conversations, bumping music, and spooky sound effects were all working against me, but the Engage ear plugs helped tone them down just enough so that I was able to keep my focus on the conversation at hand without losing my cool. My husband even went on to say he was pleasantly surprised with my social skills that night (it’s routine for me to ask for a report after every social engagement we attend together—something worth unpacking with my therapist later I’m sure).
On a more superficial note, the ear plug’s minimal, transparent design totally blended in with my costume and didn’t incite a single question all night long. I can’t say that would’ve been the case had I worn AirPods or the neon foam plugs you’d find at the drugstore.
The same was true when I wore them on a weekend trip to Target. While listening to music or a podcast would’ve only added to the distraction as I aimed to run through my shopping list, the Engage ear plugs help subtly reduce the surrounding Target noise—which in my city Target includes kids running up and down aisles, a confrontation between dogs, and the static sounds of store associates’ radios—so I could get in and get out without getting flustered.
The verdict? Loop’s Engage Earplugs come in handy for light sound reduction that doesn’t limit your awareness or ability to participate in conversation—so you can’t really go wrong with making them a part of your holiday game plan, especially if you’re prone to anxiety or are a highly sensitive person.
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