“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!
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!