Stress management is key to avoiding increased symptoms when living with a voice condition

Stress affects us all and can have many negative side effects. For a person with SD, stress can adversely affect the sound of the voice, but it important to know that stress does not cause SD but it can make worse.

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 the true sources and to manage stress, start with a stress journal. A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way 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:

  • What caused your stress (make a guess if you’re unsure).
  • How you felt, both physically and emotionally.
  • How you acted in response.
  • What you did to make yourself feel better.

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 lead to a disruption in voice patterns, even the broken ones you’re so used to when you have SD. 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 SD, 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:

  • Avoid unnecessary stress. Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
  • Alter the situation. If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.
  • Adapt to the stressor. If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
  • Accept the things that you can’t change. Some sources of stress are unavoidable. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change. Yes, life can be unfair, but you are only on this planet once.

Techniques to Manage Stress

Not everyone responds to the same treatments for SD or related voice disorders, that is why it is important to look at stress and various management methods as a part of your total, self-care plan.