Coping with Communication Anxiety in Persons with Stuttering
Coping with Communication Anxiety in Persons with Stuttering
Communication Anxiety is the fear associated with real or anticipated communication with people. Such individuals often feel that they are constantly under scrutiny or evaluation by others. People with Communication Anxiety have various feared situations such as:
- Speaking in public or to a group of people,
- Meeting new people or talking to a random stranger,
- Talking with authority figures such as your boss, a college senior, etc.
When a person is anxious about communication, the following occur:
- Speech blocks etc.
People with communication anxiety fear these symptoms being observable to others. As a result, exposure to feared situations is typically accompanied by anxious anticipation, distress, and avoidance.
What is the relationship between Communication & Anxiety?
People with stuttering may show high levels of anxiety about speaking. This is known as communication anxiety & can be present in as high as 50% of persons with stuttering.
How does Communication Anxiety affect stuttering?
According to research, anxiety is not the cause of stuttering. It can, however, make the stuttering worse. The person then fears stuttering & this causes them to stutter more.
We communicate verbally. And this is important because it connects us with each other. But for people with stuttering, stuttering makes it difficult to communicate. Because of the stuttering, people with stuttering get anxious about talking to new people. They may even be afraid to talk to familiar people because they may stutter.
In addition, people with stuttering find it difficult to communicate in high-pressure situations. These are speaking publicly at a conference or to a group of people, speaking to the boss or a senior at college, etc. Negative experiences with others can fuel a person’s anxiety about stuttering, and this anxiety may make stuttering worse.
Persons with stuttering usually have false beliefs about stuttering. For example, they may think that the listener won’t listen to them. Or they may feel that they are bad communicators. These kinds of thoughts or fears can affect their lifestyle. It often affects the many life decisions such as which profession to pursue or which job should I take.
So how do I cope with Communication Anxiety & Stuttering at the same time?
People with stuttering who have communication anxiety may find relief using the following strategies.
Deep breathing exercises can help in reducing anxiety. Just relax everything. Focus on your breathing alone. When you take a deep breath, feel your tummy moving outwards. While breathing out, you will feel your tummy moving inwards. Do this for 4-5 times and you will feel relaxed immediately.
This can be done as & when you are speaking. Try to imagine every word that you say & visualize it in your mind. For example, “I am going to the market”. When you make this statement try picturing this sentence as a scene in your mind. Say each word mindfully while visualizing the scene. In this manner, your mind focuses on the words & lesser on the stuttering. So here you have shifted your attention from the stuttering to the content of the message.
Positive talk is when you speak to yourself using positivity. You need to surround yourself with positive vibes. Examples like, “I am an awesome speaker!!!”, “I speak easily”, “I love speaking & connecting” etc. Pick out 5 such phrases & read these by yourself every morning. Practice this every day for 3-4 weeks & notice how you feel.
Practicing communication skills.
Many people who stutter, avoid communicating because of their anxiety. This can affect their social life & make them feel more anxious in social situations. It is often found helpful when we practice on a specific topic. For example, if I have a job interview in 2 weeks, I can start off by practicing on familiar topics which are commonly asked in interviews like ‘Giving a brief description about myself’ or ‘Explaining why I am the best candidate for the job’.
Education about stuttering
Many people feel less anxious once they get to know their stuttering in a better way. Stuttering varies from person to person. And it also varies with situations & severity. To know about your stuttering, you will require the guidance of a speech-language pathologist who will help you with your concerns.
Fluency therapy sessions will help you reduce your negative emotions towards stuttering & also enhance your fluency by using various strategies. Once you learn these strategies, you learn to control your stuttering. So your communication anxiety reduces. Consult a speech-language pathologist right away to control that stuttering!
For some easy tips on stuttering
Maintain confident eye contact
By maintaining eye contact, you not only desensitize yourself towards stuttering moments but also build your confidence. It will also make your listener comfortable that you are not afraid to speak & you are in control of the situation. Maintain your eye contact even when you stutter. Start off by saying simple sentences. If you look away, try again & practice till you get it.
When initiating communication with a new person there are many thoughts that run in our mind. Persons with stuttering often think “Oh no!! What is he going to think of me if I stutter?”, “Will he find out that I stutter?”, “Is he going to make fun of me?”, “Will he even listen to me?” and this list can go on. These thoughts are enough to increase your stuttering.
What you can do in this case i.e. when you meet new people, is that you can tell them that you stutter. Believe me, it works!! By doing this, it will take away your communication anxiety & help you focus more on your speech (Attention shift Yay!!)
This is by far, one of the most difficult things that you will have to do. Accepting& disclosing that you stutter. A simple sentence like “I stutter” or pointing out when you stutter can help you ease out.
Join a stuttering community /support group
Spend time with other persons with stuttering by joining a support group. You will learn that you are not alone & it is ok to stutter. Such support groups can motivate you, help you feel less isolated & help you reduce your communication anxiety.
For more information on Stuttering Communities in India
Take Speech therapy to learn exercises and techniques to overcome your stutter.