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Stress and Losing Your Voice

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 20 Nov 2017 | comments*Discuss
Losing Your Voice Stress Laryngitis

The most common cause of losing your voice is laryngitis, an infection that causes inflammation or swelling of the larynx. This part of the throat is commonly known as the voice box, as it allows us to make sounds by forcing air through it. This vibrates the vocal cords and we learn to make sounds that other people will understand.

When you touch the front of your throat you can feel the voice box vibrating when you speak. If the larynx becomes infected or inflamed the chords don’t vibrate at the same speed, causing the voice to become much lower. If the infection of the larynx is severe, the vocal cords may be unable to vibrate at all, causing a complete loss of voice.

Chronic Laryngitis and Stress

Usually, if you lose your voice it returns within a few days as the acute laryngitis resolves. In other cases, which occur rarely, chronic laryngitis develops and causes the voice to disappear for weeks. Prolonged bouts of chronic laryngitis can damage the larynx and affect the voice permanently. This is very distressing as it prevents good communication with others, it can be a problem at work and for parents with small children it can become very stressful.

How Can Stress Affect Your Voice?

General stress can strain your voice, as tension in the muscles of the neck and upper body can change the shape of the larynx slightly, and can cause the vocal cords to constrict. This can change the voice so that it becomes higher than usual. Other factors also come into play when we are stress – being very emotional, angry, upset and shouting or crying a lot can all make the vocal cords inflamed, causing the same sort of effects as laryngitis.

Occasionally, when people are under severe stress, one of the effects on the body can be a complete inability to make sound. This is not a problem that arises in the vocal cords; it is a psychological effect that makes the affected person completely unable to speak, even though the voice box shows no physical impairment. This is becoming more common in people with very stressful jobs, who are put under further stress because of the downturn in the economy. Having continual high levels of stress when one of the important functions that you perform is public speaking can trigger voice loss as a way of avoiding further stress.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

One of the extreme forms of stress that can result in not being able to speak at all, or only being able to communicate by whispering, is post traumatic stress disorder. This does not only happen to soldiers and other people involve in war, although it is common after being involved in some sort of conflict, particularly if it goes on for a long time. It can occur after being involved in a bad road traffic accident, being part of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or volcano or severe flood. It can affect people subjected to crime and violence, or to parents whose child or children die suddenly in an accident.

There are many other symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and individual cases need to be diagnosed by specialists with expert knowledge. Treatments include anti depressants and long-term counselling and help.

Treatment for Stress-related Voice Loss

This can be very difficult to treat as a single symptom as the underlying cause of the stress needs to be identified and treated first. Speech therapy can be very valuable in training the affected person to slowly recover their voice and their ability to communicate by speech. This often takes months of hard work and so needs a high level of willingness to participate and keep up the regular sessions.

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My office was robbed and 12 million was stolen my boss said I conaived with the thieves and he sent me in. Police locked me up in a dirty cold smelly room full of urine every were and insects.I cried through the whole night didn't have any were to sleep or sit but stood up until I was bailed out.My legs were all swollen and in the same process I lost my voice. For three weeks now am struggling to get my voice back.
Poki - 20-Nov-17 @ 10:08 PM
@Florenceb - I suffered myself with this as a child too and still do very occasionally - but I improved as I got older. It may be what is termed as 'selective mutism' and it can affect many people on varying degrees (so you are not alone). Ask your parent to take you and your sister to see your GP, as there are treatments such as behavioural therapies through counselling which are designed to help and do really help. They helped me :)
Olivia20 - 6-Oct-17 @ 2:28 PM
Ever since ayoung age I've lost my voice due to anxiety.l lose it even at school all the time more than 20 times a lesson, this stresses me out even more when teachers pick on me and I can't produce words. My sister has it too but it's not allergies or anything wrong with the voice box. It's severely affected our everyday tasks and speaking is so important and everyday I come home and cry about it as I can't have conversations with people for more than 5 minutes before losing my voice.
Florenceb - 3-Oct-17 @ 5:36 PM
2 days ago my grand daughter accidentally shut my finger in a door and my nail was ripped off and as you can imagine it was extremely painful and I screamed and cried. Had to have it looked at in the hospital etc. Since then I have lost my voice, its just a whisper so I have been shouting to get my self heard asd it is very frustrating. Is that due to the accident ? when will my voiuce get better etc ? Any help would be grateful .
Angelwolf - 27-Mar-17 @ 10:19 AM
I was in a car accidenr dec 8th and since then have been unable to speak properly my voice is choppy n i cannot finish a sentence!! Im afraid that it's permanent its now march and my voice is no better! I went to speech therapy and i practice what they taught me everyday. Im ashamed of my voice and often avoid speeking to ppl unless absolutely necessary. Can this sort of thing b permanent??
None - 7-Mar-17 @ 11:21 AM
I was a professional singer for 13 years, I lost my mother 3 years ago and I have been unable to sing since, I've been to ENT and they have checked my throat and found no damage - I don't know what to do to fix this, my speaking voice is ok but I cannot speak for same lengths as other people without it starting to break
Jen - 1-Jan-17 @ 8:35 AM
I was robbed and jumped not long ago stomped to the floor and have a broken eye socket and they chocked me out. But now since then every time I get upset. Either sad angry or happy. If I want to raise my voice my voice goes into a low tone as if I'm loosing my voice like lyringitis idk what's going on.
Viv - 22-Nov-16 @ 1:46 PM
Mya - Your Question:
When I was 12, I had to do a speech in front of the class and the teacher. The teacher called out my name to read my speech. I got to the front of the class room and started. I read the first line and by the end of the line, my voice had gone. I was so embarrassed that I just went and sat back in my seat and drunk water. I have never told anyone about this, even my mum. Since then, my voice hasn't gone but I feel the urge to swallow very often. I am scared that I won't be able to complete my GCSEs without embarrassing myself.

Our Response:
There is nothing to be ashamed of here as this kind of experience has at some point in our lives has happened to most of us and/or dogged us all. Likewise, if we are not accustomed to public speaking, both frequent swallowing and a shaky voice are the most common symptom of nerves. The Richard Branson article here might help you further. I'm sure you are as surprised as me to see that in the past he has suffered too. In a more practical sense you may wish to have a chat to your subject teacher and/or see if there are any public speaking classes you could take before your exam. Most of all, don't be afraid to tell your mum, she might just have had a similar experience and may be able to advise. Knowing you're not on your own is often a great help. Good luck - I'm sure you'll do great!
ThroatProblems - 19-Oct-16 @ 12:22 PM
When I was 12, I had to do a speech in front of the class and the teacher. The teacher called out my name to read my speech. I got to the front of the class room and started. I read the first line and by the end of the line, my voice had gone. I was so embarrassed that I just went and sat back in my seat and drunk water. I have never told anyone about this, even my mum. Since then, my voice hasn't gone but I feel the urge to swallow very often. I am scared that I won't be able to complete my GCSEs without embarrassing myself.
Mya - 18-Oct-16 @ 5:56 PM
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