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Does Stress Affect Your Voice?

Written by: Katarina Hornakova, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

You are about to say something in front of a group of people. You know exactly what to say but your voice does not want to come out. Your mouth is dry. Your throat feels tight. Breathing seems hard. You choke on your own words. What’s happening?


What about this scenario? Recently you have been under a lot of pressure at work. You are asked to do things you don’t feel comfortable with. And they want you to do them fast without any help. At the same time, your kids get sick. Nothing serious but they require your attention. Your voice feels strained. At the end of the day, it feels tired and it even sounds hoarse. What is happening? Can stress affect your voice?

Blame It on the Vagus Nerve!


The Vagus Nerve, or so called wandering nerve, is the longest cranial nerve in our bodies. It goes from your brain through the neck, where your voice box is located, through the chest, where your lungs are, to your belly. The Vagus Nerve is the culprit when you feel the “frog in your throat” when stressed or worried.


Emotional stress, anxiety, or even simple everyday worrisome thoughts can affect our voice. Stress does not need to be a huge adverse event in your life, like losing a loved one, getting sick or divorced. Stress can be caused by happy life events like moving, having a baby or getting married. Stress can come in small doses of life and work pressures. Often, this unrecognized stress can start the ball rolling and can turn into physical symptoms, like troubles with voice. And I mean serious troubles with voice, like Muscle Tension Dysphonia, which is a voice disorder caused by excessive tension in the muscles in and around your voice box. If these muscles get tight, voice quality will change or it will be very hard to talk.


We all respond to stress differently. We tend to carry stress in different parts of the body. Some people get tummy aches, some people have headaches. Other people have more tension in their throat when dealing with stress and anxiety. We are all wired slightly differently.


Just Breathe

The good news is that there are many things we can do to overcome voice problems due to stress. They are not quick fixes. These types of vocal issues usually require a lot of inner work and mind work. The solutions are not tangible, like doing exercises or drinking more water. The solutions are more complicated.


Here are some examples of approaches to decrease the response of your body to stress and anxiety, whether it’s a tight throat or tight tummy:

  • Mindfulness practices

  • Breathing exercises

  • Hypnotherapy

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy

  • Self-compassion exercises

  • Meditation

  • Massage, stretching and physical exercises,

  • and many more.

Dealing with the effects of stress is a process. You cannot expect to get better after a few breathing exercises. But breathing exercises are a great way to start dealing with stress. Do daily breathing exercises for 5 minutes. For example, you can inhale for the count of 4, hold for the count of 7 and exhale for the count of 8. The exhalation is twice as long as inhalation which stimulates the parasympathetic system (part of the Vagus Nerve) and it calms the body down. Make this exercise part of your daily routine to give your body the experience of calmness without tension.


If you experience voice changes that last for more than 2 weeks without the presence of acute infection such as common cold or flu, speak to your doctor and ask for a referral to a laryngologist. Have your voice evaluated and start your vocal journey to a free and healthy voice.


Follow Katarina on her Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and visit her website for more info.


 

Katarina Hornakova, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Katarina Hornakova is a licensed speech-language pathologist, vocal health coach and educator with 20+ years of experience working with diverse groups of people from all corners of the world, including speakers, singers, musicians, teachers, presenters, voice over actors, entrepreneurs, yoga instructors, health educators, and others. She has published several books and articles on speech, language and voice disorders. Katarina is most passionate about helping people who experience vocal tension, strain or even pain when speaking, find more vocal ease and confidence to share their message with the people around them. Her mission is to give voice to those who have lost it. She continues to develop her deep fascination with the human voice through the Estill Voice System model, which formed her belief that “every voice is beautiful”. Katarina has helped hundreds of people discover their true vocal potential. She is a curious life-long learner herself who loves to meet new people, cook, and travel.

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