“I wasn’t being truthful about my marriage”
“I fumble over my words and get in my head about what to respond with”
“I didn’t feel that they heard me even though I knew what I was talking about”
“I felt dismissed at the dinner table with my family”
“I was told to be quiet and not speak unless i had something good to say all the time as a child”
“I wanted to speak up but others jumped in”
“I was made fun of for my speaking/singing voice”
“I feel fearful when sharing my thoughts to a group”
These are just a sampling of statements women (and some men) have made to me over the years when we are assessing what has changed about their voice that is hindering them and their communication. I often say “For some people, when under prolonged stress, conscious or unconscious, the result is a stomach ulcer, for others, it’s a voice change”
There are differences in the voice and laryngeal function when the Vagus is hopped up in Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) overdrive vs. when in Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) mode!
The key trigger: Stress
Stress (physiological, emotional, inter-personal etc) can trigger a voice change. Often it is from muscular tension, decreased breath support (more holding/shallow breathing when in fight-flight-fear-fawn-faint mode) or psychological factors that can make voicing and speaking more effortful, strained and fatigued.
It is difficult to predict who will experience stress-related changes to their voice. Thus awareness, vocal play, and proactive wellness is key!
"Why do only certain persons react to environmental stress and inter-personal conflict by developing an abnormal voice? Why is it that others who have emotional reactions to stress and conflict never have voice problems? Why is it that still others express their personal problems through some other organ systems other than the larynx?"
--Arnold Aronson, PhD, Speech Pathologist, Preeminent Speech and Voice Researcher, 1990
Stress is a chronic pervasive problem in the world, and is the underlying cause of many conditions. The voice is also susceptible to stress.
Feeling choked up when speaking to a crowd?
Tightness in your throat when nervous?
Sound stopping or crackling when you’re trying to have a hard conversation?
Shortness of breath when speaking on stage?
Stress and emotional dysregulation or repression that impacts the voice is one of the reasons I have approached my work holistically for so many years and continue to advocate that anyone desiring to enhance their voice first vett the folks you are considering hiring, as there is still a lot of misinformation, judgment, and harmful practices in the voice/speaking coaching world. Early on in my clinical career, I didn’t really recognize the specifics yet of what I was doing when crafting a session with someone, it just made sense to me to incorporate emotional awareness into the person’s care, when applicable.
In the voice science literature, the current term used to characterize voice changes that show no physical abnormalities (i.e. when assessed with a scope to ensure the structures of the larynx and vocal folds are intact; in this post, https://www.yourvocalvitality.com/blog I spoke about the physical toll a voice requires of Vocal Athletes), yet there is an obvious mechanical and function interruption is known as “laryngo-responder”: A person who is pre-disposed, either by physical make up or
personality to express emotional distress through either function or sensation of the larynx or voice (Aronson & Bless,2009).
For laryngoresponders: Muscle activation in the larynx and areas surrounding the larynx demonstrate much higher activation when exposed to stress as compared to non-
In other words: The muscles within and around your larynx and neck tighten & hold tension.
Areas of "least stability” in the body can be weakened and then
discomfort arises when stress becomes unbearable that the expression of that stress occurs in the vulnerable area.
In other words, in the voice, if there are changes that occur, without any structural abnormality or issue, it is often the result of a 'tipping point' -- Chronic stressors weakening the system and then something minor, like a cold, or increased anger, or nervousness, comes on and voice disruption occurs. This is often why people lament “Why now? I’ve been talking for X number of years and I should know what to do”
When this doesn’t resolve within a couple weeks on its own…it’s time to prioritize your well-being and voice health. Your voice is speaking to you. Your body’s signals matter.
There’s A LOT to say about stress, emotions, the vagus nerve and voice, yet this is the 101 lesson for today. Clients who hire me bring their open-mindedness and willingness to get uncomfortable with what they need to release from within,re-stabilize their voice and assertiveness, and re-ignite a deeper connection to their body wisdom. This brings about ease in communication, improved leadership and a more vibrant way of being. I’m honored to hold judgment-free space and witness their insights. Bringing all of you and the real you is what accelerates your speaking success!
High Performance Speakers: Vocal dose and physical limits of speaking expand with proactive voice conditioning
Kathleen Cameron and I were recently discussing the improvements she has made in her voice goals. She is not pushing or forcing her voice near as often, and is noticing it flows with more ease while still being herself!
Previously, she felt she had been trying to say/be what she thought people needed to hear from her, but that wasn’t sustainable. She stated “Now I just speak!”
However, her speaking requirements while running an 8-figure company are still intense! She has media appearances, a team to lead, client calls to teach, events to host and 2 beautiful girls to care for…all increasing her voice dose (amount of voice use in a given day/week).
She is a Vocal Athlete.
A vocal athlete, who, just a few months ago, had a very unexpected hit to her voice’s power source: Emergency surgery to her lungs.
Kathleen is one of the most successful personal development & manifestation mentors in the world, and she knows a thing or two about creating who she is becoming, her desired life and is in an incredible new season of health & vitality.
While we have made some strategic adjustments to her schedule in addition to exercises she practices for longer term stamina and conditioning, she is still in process, and there are times where her voice can sound tired or raspy. It’s often for multi-factorial reasons.
Yet…People have, unsolicited, been saying to her:
“You’re not speaking your truth” or “it’s clear you have emotional blocks” when they hear the occasional tired or raspy sound. Naturally this is aggravating to her and completely presumptuous on their part.
I adore learning about and believe in quantum energetics, moving stuck emotions, as well as our innate healing abilities AND this is not always what impacts a voice. When you are a vocal athlete and REQUIRE your voice at such an intensive level of talking, there is a physical COST to that!
In a high performance voice like Kathleen’s, and many of my clients, this is where the physical, figurative, and intuitive all are explored.
Kathleen is a master of self-development and has been taking steps to condition her physical instrument. I applaud her proactive approach to caring for her voice, something that the majority ignore, take for granted, or judge themselves or others harshly for how they sound.
There is no place for shaming, gaslighting or pre-supposing what a person needs or is going through.
Consider this: No one would shame a basketball player and say “oh you injured your ankle, it must be because you aren’t walking in integrity/you are probably repressing something."
That injury is the physical toll of a high performance body.
Let’s break it down another way: If I say “My name is Brienne. My pronouns are she/her/hers. I have a daughter. We take care of a puppy. The women I serve are incredible humans who are on their self-growth path and ready to learn about their voices in a new way to enhance their wellness, communication and way of Being” Those are facts. That is my truth. I am in full alignment with those statements. No emotional wobble exists.
If I repeat that for 60 minutes, my voice would feel tired. Now, multiply that by 5 more hours (often how much my clients are speaking on intensive days) and I would be more fatigued, potentially even raspy. Now, compound that by having no knowledge of how the voice worked, no warm-ups, and no awareness of how to shift to a healthier production? That is a recipe for long-term injury.
This is why preventative voice wellness matters!
That raspy quality has nothing to do with what I said or my belief about it. It has to do with the physical load my voice sustained. Voice conditioning, just like an athlete physically conditions and optimizes the efficiency of their body to be at their best performance, takes practice, consistency, and is crucial for those whose livelihood depends on speaking day in and day out.
As I guide my clients, emotions are addressed. The voice is a barometer to possible underlying, unearthed issues.
AND, sometimes, it’s as simple as inefficient overuse. Period.
Another analogy, because why not: A woodworker who is sanding her carvings by hand, has the repetitive stress/strain of moving the sandpaper along the wood grain, which results in an ache in her wrist. She doesn't regularly stretch or strengthen her wrist or arm, yet notices the intensity of the ache vary depending on the duration of the sanding motion. Will you say that the ache is due to repressed emotional issues or blockage? No, that would be ridiculous. The voice is a repetitive use instrument. It can withstand phenomenal stress-strain friction on a daily basis AND repetitive motion injuries ARE a risk-factor for vocal athletes!
Before you assume what may be going on with someone and their voice changes, perhaps there needs to be closer, internal examination first. Pause, breathe, ASK if they need anything, and LISTEN. Don’t spill your assumptions out onto them without consent.
As our conversation continued, I witnessed her ‘edgy voice’, as she called it, still emanate clearly and resonant EVEN while showing her strong emotion, which is an improvement from months ago when her voice previously pushed from her throat.
Vocal athletes benefit from vocal conditioning, so their full range of emotion and essence is expressed in a healthy, sustainable way!
P.S. Vibrant Voice VIP Days are the perfect opportunity to jumpstart your voice journey for more reliability, expressiveness, stamina and truthful presence. Connect here or Email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested and I’ll send a helpful PDF with the details.
You and your voice are worthy.
Voice Activator. Lover of the Larynx and Lake Life. On a mission to elevate women's self-worth & wellness via their voice. Delightful daughter, 1 MiniSchnauzer, and occasionally dabbles in professional voice-over (Me, not the dog). Always reminding you that You and Your Voice Are Worthy!