- Trouble speaking is, itself, a form of anxiety, but as a phobia and as a symptom of social anxiety
- Finding difficulty speaking when you have other types of anxiety is also common, since the mechanisms required for speaking are disrupted by anxiety symptoms
- Any form of relaxation has the potential to free up your thoughts to make it easier and more comfortable to speak in public
- Exposure can help limit the anxiety someone feels while speaking
- Addressing anxiety overall is the best way to prevent it from affecting speech
by Daniel Sher, MA, Clin Psychology and Micah Abraham, BSc
Micah Abraham, BSc
Last updated September 6, 2022
Anxiety is a type of disorder that prevents you from living your life the way you would like to. One of the symptoms of anxiety is a difficulty with speaking normally. Due to the physical and psychological impact of anxiety, this disorder can make it incredibly difficult for you to get your words out in a manner which is both comfortable and coherent. Read on to learn more.
This difficulty with speaking normally can also create its own problems - problems that may increase your anxiety in the future. We'll explore why these speaking difficulties occur and how you can effectively overcome them.
What it's Like to Have Trouble Speaking
Difficulty speaking is both a psychological problem, where you’re fearful about speaking in social situations; and a physical problem, where it feels like your mouth can't move correctly or like your tongue is too big. These symptoms occur with various types of anxiety.
The best way to understand this phenomenon is by going over possible reasons that you may have trouble speaking. These include:
- Fear of Being Judged The fear of being judged is an example of a mental and emotional difficulty that can make it hard to speak naturally in front of others. This is extremely common in social anxiety disorder, but it can affect anyone with anxiety to some extent. Many people experience this fear, where they feel that if they talk they'll have people look down on them.
- Overthinking Some people have difficulty speaking because they're thinking too much about way to say, what they're feeling, etc. The more they think about it, the more they have a hard time putting the words into sentences and sharing them out loud. Often they eventually lose track of the conversation and suddenly the moment has passed and they feel as though they simply can't speak anymore.
- Rushing Thoughts Like overthinking, a person may also have rushing thoughts - thoughts that are rapid and difficult to decipher, jumping from one to the next and often (although not always) relating to stressful topics. Rushing thoughts make it difficult to speak because you’re anxious, overwhelmed, and finding it difficult to coherently plan-out what you want to say and how you want to say it.
- Mouth Movements Anxiety can affect your physical functioning as well. For example, it can affect your coordination and make it harder for you to move the muscles of your mouth. When you’re anxious, physical tasks that would normally come naturally may be challenging - speaking is one of these.
These are just a few of many possible examples to explain how anxiety can make it that much more difficult to speak naturally.
Reinforcing the Anxiety
Unfortunately, difficulty speaking can reinforce the anxiety that stops you from speaking in the first place. For example, if you have social anxiety disorder, you may find that your anxiety stops you from taking up the challenge of speaking in public.
By avoiding challenging your anxiety, you make your fear of it stronger. This is known as “negative reinforcement”. If you had got up there and spoken, you could have proved to yourself that you were able to do it. This may have reduced your anxiety the next time around. But because you avoided speaking up at all, this reinforced the anxiety that you initially had, also making it more likely that you will turn down the challenge the next time.
Similarly, if you feel like your muscles are not cooperating with you or you can't physically get the words out, it can feel really disturbing as though something is wrong with your muscles or your brain. Nothing is wrong of course - that anxiety is simply contributing to this feeling - but it can feel as though something must be terribly wrong for you to suffer through these problems.
How to Stop Difficulty Speaking From Anxiety
Your ability to feel comfortable speaking is an important part of living a normal life. You don't want to live inside your head, and you certainly don't want to be suffering from so much anxiety that you can't interact with others.
Physical anxiety symptoms are difficult to cure. The only successful way to prevent them is to reduce your anxiety so that it no longer feels overwhelming. The key is to distract your mind so that you don't focus too heavily on the way your body feels so that your automatic processes (like talking) can remain automatic. The more you think about the way they feel, the more you will continue to experience trouble with your mouth movements.
When your own anxiety is stopping you from speaking in front of others, there are several strategies that you can try:
- Embarrass Yourself on Purpose If possible, you need to reduce the issues that are causing you fear. One thing to consider is mildly embarrassing yourself intentionally. This is fairly easy to do in social situations. Consider wearing an outfit that seems a bit unusual. Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. Tell a joke that you know won’t be funny. These sorts of exercises can be extremely challenging for someone with full-blown social anxiety. However, if you’re able to build yourself up to trying these out, you’re likely to find yourself becoming increasingly comfortable about speaking in social situations.
- Get Closer to Your Friends Work with your closest friends on getting comfortable talking and start to figure out ways to get closer to them in the process. Close friendships help a great deal with confidence, and the more you can adjust to make closer friends with people and practice talking with them, the easier a time you'll have talking with others.
- Exercise Exercise may not seem like it relates to speaking, but it can actually have some fairly significant effects. When you exercise, your body releases neurotransmitters that improve mood and make it easier to feel comfortable talking. Exercise also seems to improve self-confidence, which can also have a fairly powerful effect on your ability to meet and bond with others. Start exercising today, and you may find that speaking becomes much easier.
These are just a few tips and techniques that can help you overcome difficulties with speaking. Of course, when your trouble talking in public is caused by your anxiety, the solution is going to be curing your anxiety, otherwise, you'll continue to run the risk of it happening again.
Social anxiety and fear of public speaking are two types of anxiety that make it difficult to speak in public. But those with all forms of anxiety may also find that they have difficulty finding words as a result of racing thoughts, distractions, fear of being judged, and more. Learning to cope with those anxieties, as well as addressing anxiety overall is the only way to take back control.(Video) How to deal with Anxiety & Speech Problems? #speech #anxiety -Dr. Harihara Murthy | Doctors' Circle
Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!
Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?
Ask Doctor a Question
You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.
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