Although there are many reasons for voice changes, it has been linked as a symptom of anxiety. This can manifest in many different forms, including experiencing voice problems, more shakiness, crackling, hoarseness or raspiness than usual, losing your voice, having an unsteady or broken voice, uneven pitch and/or volume and a weak or croaky voice.
Why Can Anxiety Cause Voice Changes?
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases the stress chemicals cortisol and adrenaline and activates the stress response called the fight, flight or freeze response.
The stress response can trigger changes in your body which impact your voice. For example, it causes muscles to tighten, including those in the chest, throat, vocal folds, neck and jaw, which can impact and change your voice quality and performance, resulting in symptoms such as a broken voice or uneven pitch.
The stress response can also impair the immune system, which makes your body more susceptible to bacteria and viruses, such as colds and flu, which can also affect your vocal cords and throat and therefore your voice.
If you experience stress and anxiety frequently, you can develop chronic stress, also known as hyperstimulation, which is when your stress response is on high alert for a prolonged period of time, long after the perceived threat has passed. Hyperstimulation can therefore cause anxiety-induced voice changes to occur frequently.
Chronic stress can also make your mind and body fatigued, resulting in coordination, thinking, concentration and energy problems, all of which can impact your speech. When tired, you can experience similar vocal impairments as when drunk, such as slurring speech or mispronouncing words.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing, adopting anxiety-reducing breathing techniques, such as controlled diaphragmatic breathing or box breathing. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our rational brain to kick back in and regain a semblance of control and feel the anxiety lift.
Though this will help short-term, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety and stress occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety and stress. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.
Voice changes and speech and voice symptoms can also be caused by other factors, so talk to your doctor to find the root cause and therefore the best course of action.