Anxiety disorders affect approximately 19 percent of people living in the United States, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (also referred to as NAMI.) These disorders can result in a wide array of persistent symptoms ranging from headaches, fatigue, and GI problems to the inability to interact with the world and those around them due to the crippling nature of these disorders. In some cases, anxiety can affect one’s ability to speak clearly and concisely when interacting with others, causing speech to be slower or faster than normal, and in some cases, speech can become jumbled or slurred. If you or someone you love is struggling with speech or language due to anxiety, get help now by scheduling your free introductory call today!
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a common and normal reaction to the presence of stress in the body, and in some situations, this response can be beneficial. Anxiety can help us to become aware of situations that may be dangerous, and alert us to be prepared and attentive to our surroundings. Anxiety disorders differ from normal experiences of anxiety, nervousness, or fear in the sense that these feelings are excessive and debilitating. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable and there is a wide range of treatment options that can help most people with anxiety disorders lead normal and productive lives.
How Can Anxiety Affect Speech?
Chronic or persistent anxiety can negatively impact the cognitive part of speech production, as well as the physical process of speaking. When one becomes anxious, the muscles in the face and jaw can experience increased tension, which can impact speech production.
This type of muscle tension can result in variations in the way speech sounds, as it is difficult to properly manipulate speech sounds as one does normally. The pharynx and mouth must make specific movements for the proper resonation of sounds.
An increase in muscle tension may make it more difficult for the mouth and tongue to produce words in a clear, concise manner. In some cases, there’s the potential that speech may begin to sound “slurred” because of this.
Racing thoughts and increased speed of speech are also common symptoms of anxiety, which can also affect one’s ability to communicate effectively. Those who experience anxiety often feel that they are struggling to keep up with their own thoughts and may attempt to match the speed of their speech with the speed of their thoughts. This can cause a stutter or slurred speech. Difficulties with communication as a result of anxiety can be more pronounced among those who experience other speech and language challenges.
It is important to remember, however, that anxiety affects people in a wide variety of ways, and how anxiety may affect speech varies between people. Because everyone experiences and reacts to anxiety in different ways, many people with anxiety may experience no changes in their speech at all while others may have significant impacts on their ability to speak.
While anxiety is a common and natural response to stress, for some people anxiety becomes chronic, excessive, and disruptive to their daily lives. If you’re struggling with anxiety that’s negatively impacting your speech, get help now by scheduling your free introductory call today!
Can Anxiety Cause Jumbled or Slurred Speech?
Sometimes, significant anxiety can result in symptoms that closely resemble those seen in someone with a motor speech disorder, such as a stutter or slurred speech. Slurred speech as a result of anxiety is not the same as slurred speech due to a motor speech disorder such as dysarthria. Generally speaking, slurred speech due to anxiety is relatively rare.
What are the Signs of Speech Anxiety?
When anxiety affects one’s ability to interact with others in public and social situations, this can be referred to as a social anxiety disorder. Someone with a social anxiety disorder may experience extreme anxiety related to feeling uncomfortable, humiliated or embarrassed, rejected, or looked down upon by others. This can manifest into an extreme fear of public speaking, meeting new people or experiencing new social situations, or even eating and drinking in public. These fears and anxieties can cause problems with daily function and can persist for long periods.
Anxiety can cause both physical and cognitive problems that can affect speech. These can include:
Shaky Voice: A shaky speaking voice is perhaps one of the most widely recognized effects that anxiety can have on speech. When an anxious person speaks, they may feel like their voice box is shaking (along with the rest of the body.) This can make the voice sound crackly or vibratory which can be a strong sign of nervousness and anxiety.
Quiet Voice: People who experience anxiety, especially related to social situations, can often struggle to speak at an appropriate volume. While a quiet speaking voice is not specifically a speech pattern, it can alter the way your speaking voice is heard and understood by others. While volume can be affected, the ability to project the voice or face the audience can also be difficult for someone with anxiety.
Dry Throat/Loss of Voice: For many people with anxiety, a dry mouth or throat, or the feeling that they are losing their voice, can be a common symptom. While the exact cause of this symptom is widely understood, some experts believe it can be a result of increased acid reflux symptoms. Anxiety can also increase the activity within the nervous system, activating the fight or flight response. This response can result in the mouth naturally producing less saliva.
Trouble Putting Thoughts to Words: One of the mental effects of anxiety is that it can cause difficulty thinking and planning the words you want to say before you begin speaking, or as you are in the process of speaking. This can result in forgetting words, the incorrect use of words, and long pauses between words. When speaking, generally the process should be clear and natural. When we overthink, the opposite effect can occur with speech.
Stuttering: In some cases, anxiety can result in the development of a stutter. Stuttering itself is a distinct speech disorder, which can be worsened by anxiety. When overthinking occurs, sentences and word choices may become unclear and a significant stutter can be present. This in turn can result in increased feelings of embarrassment or shame.
How Can Speech Therapy Help with Speech Anxiety?
Our experienced speech and language pathologists work with people experiencing speech problems related to anxiety to establish improved communication skills that can help to reduce feelings of anxiety in public or social situations. Speech therapists will use a variety of methods and approaches to identify and treat speech problems related to anxiety while establishing appropriate goals. Because anxiety can affect speech in so many different ways, the specific treatment plan will vary between individuals. Contact us today for your free introductory call and get connected with a registered speech pathologist to start on your path to better communication.