Stress management is key to avoiding increased symptoms when living with a voice condition
Stress affects us all and can have many adverse side effects. For a person with a voice condition, stress can adversely affect the voice’s sound, but it is important to know that stress does not cause the voice problem but can worsen.
The sound of a person’s own voice can also be a source of stress. Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
To begin the process of learning to identify valid sources and manage stress, start with a stress journal. A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and how you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. Write down:
Everyone experiences stress. Sometimes it can help you focus and get the task at hand done. But stress can strain your body and make it impossible to function. For someone that already has a voice condition, stressful situations can have an increasingly negative impact on voice quality.
The chief of speech-language pathology at the UT Southwestern Medical Center describes the larynx as “the emotional valve that sits between your heart and your head and is ruled by both.” That’s why emotional or stressful situations can disrupt voice patterns. Here’s a real-life example:
In 2014, a few years after launching her business, Jaime Schmidt was approached about an interview feature on Fox News. Her first instinct was to decline the interview because of her spasmodic dysphonia, but she knew this was important for her business. It was an opportunity to spread the word about her young company. “So I flew cross country to NY, with a bag full of “treatments” in tow—throat lozenges, oils, magnesium for relaxation. I thought I could somehow pull this off and that I would magically sound perfect on TV (with SD and no experience with media). I was convinced I could outsmart this with my own personalized plan. But unfortunately, my voice sounded like its usual unstable self, and the added nerves of being on TV did not help. The episode aired a few months later, and when I saw it, I cried.”
Deal or Adapt
You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the Four A’s: Avoid, Alter, Adapt, or Accept. The first two deal with changing the situation. The last two deal with changing your reaction. Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so it may be helpful to experiment with different techniques and strategies, and focus on the ones that help you to feel calm and in control. The four techniques can be explained this way:
Techniques to Manage Stress
Not everyone responds to the same treatments for their voice disorder, which is why it is important to look at stress and various management methods as a part of your total self-care plan.
What situations make you feel physically and mentally agitated? Once you know this, you can avoid them when it’s reasonable to use coping strategies when you can’t.
It is also important to consider scheduling events that you know will be stressful during times when you have fewer responsibilities.
Prioritize your activities to help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines. Try not to overwhelm yourself by trying to tackle too many projects simultaneously and if you have an event that you know will cause you stress, keep other priorities to a minimum. This way you can focus on the major stressor, which in turn will help to make it less stressful.
Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment. Take a meditation class or use an meditation app whenever you need a little de-stressing.
Yoga is also a great class to take to relax. These classes focus on deep breathing exercises. When you focus on deep breathing, all other outside noise is reduced and you feel calmer. These same deep breathing strategies can be used whenever you feel stress coming on, like in a traffic jam or when you have to speak in front of your peers.
Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, it can relax you, and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress. Schedule time to walk outside, bike or join a dance class. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health.
Schedule exercise like you would a meeting so that you are consistent. As an aside, being with other people in a group exercise class can have the added benefit of connecting with others.
Set Aside ‘ME’ Time
Schedule something that makes you feel good. It might be reading a book, going to the movies, getting a massage or taking your dog for a walk. Expand your horizons and try something you have always wanted to do like a knitting class or crossfit.
Eating well can also help stabilize your mood. You want to focus on a diet that consistently provides whole grains, fish, tea, dark chocolate, probiotics, vegetables and fruit.
Fighting stress with food is a tactic available to everyone says Alice Figueroa, RDN, MPH, a nutritionist in NYC. Eating foods like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind.
Stressful situations can be exacerbated if you are tired. What’s worse, stress can impact the number of hours of sleep, leaving behind a vicious cycle. According to the American Psychological Association, stress levels increase dramatically in those who sleep less then eight hours per night.
Meditation and breathing exercises are excellent methods to help reduce stress to sleep well.
Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
You might think that you feel calmer after a glass of wine, but alcohol may actually worsen stress-related symptoms. Alcohol use has a psychological and physiological toll on the body and may compound the effects of stress.
A caveat is that some people with SD or vocal tremors reported reduced symptoms after consuming alcohol. This side effect of alcohol is temporary and is different for every person.
Talk to Someone
Friends, family, a counselor or a support group, can help reduce stress. There is no-one who knows what you’re going through better than another person with a voice disorder. Support groups should be a part of your self-care plan. Find a support group.