Three Remedies for Losing Your Voice in a Stressful Situation
Two friends—both women—in the past two weeks have told me they become voiceless while in stressful situations. One shared it was when she has emotionally frustrating arguments with her teenage son. Just when she wants to really state her point, her voice disappears. Another friend shared it happens when she is about to present material she cares about in front of a group of people. She feels fine as she prepares, but once she has to stand in front of the group, her voice is gone. She is mortified.
It is not that their voices become screechy or hoarse. These women completely lose their voices.
Can you relate?
I have a theory as to why this happens. I also want to share a strategy that you can think of as preparation for the next stressful situation. Life happens so let’s get ready for it.
First, my theory. Breath and voice and intimately related. The easier and healthier your breath feels, the easier and more resonant your voice is.
Try this: imagine you are smelling something you truly enjoy—the first image that comes to mind is just fine. Breathe it in. Sigh it out with pleasure. Notice how your body and mind expand, yet soften with this optimal breath. Do it again—smell the thing you love so much and feel your back, side ribs, belly, and chest expand. Sigh it out and notice these areas, as well as your mind, softening as if finding a state of lightness and joy. This is an optimal breath.
Let’s extend this to how we feel our voices. Smell the thing you love so much and then hum while you breathe out. You won’t be sighing with an open mouth this time, but you can still feel the lightness in the back of the throat, the whole body, and the mind. As you hum, notice the vibrations on your lips—a nice buzzy feeling. Notice the quality of your voice. Now say your name within this energetic space. Your voice feels pretty good, doesn’t it?
Now, let’s explore the opposite. Just for a moment, think of something stressful. Hold it in your mind and feel what happens to your breath and your body. I imagine your belly constricts and your breath shortens. Perhaps you breathe more into your chest and shoulders. Perhaps your thoughts get shorter and quicker—not the lightness you felt from smelling the thing you enjoyed. Now, hum in this space. Your voice probably feels tight, there is little to no vibration on your lips and your breath feels constricted. Say your name. Does your voice feel thin and tight? Does your voice come at all?
Quick! Smell the thing you love so much and let the anxious thought go. Sigh it out. Continue in this way until you have fully regained the lightness and openness the optimal breath brought to your body and mind.
It is natural to tighten up when we are stressed because we enter the fight-flight-freeze zone of the sympathetic nervous system. Our breathing becomes shorter and we feel ready to pounce or dart. If your breath is short and constricted, your vocal quality will change. We can, though, navigate life’s challenges while sustaining a healthy relationship between voice and breath.
Here are three tips to develop this relationship while developing vocal health and personal power:
First, do the “pleasure smelling” and “pleasure sighing” breathing exploration three times a day until optimal breathing becomes more of a norm than an intention. This breath cycle opens the areas in your back, belly, sides, and chest. This openness keeps us flexible and free as we breathe, move, and speak. The more we expand as we breath in and out, the more grounded and connected we feel to ourselves and our surroundings, including other people. If you want a reminder for exploring pleasure smelling and pleasure sighing, do five breath cycles before each of your three meals. You can use this exploration as a moment to extend gratitude for what you are about to eat.
Second, explore humming with pleasure every day to create a connection between voice and optimal breath. You want to develop a natural, warm, and resonant voice to tap into a grounded, yet free, body, mind, and spirit. Humming daily on different pitches of your speaking range will strengthen your voice so long as you continue to feel vibration on your lips and you feel optimal breath without constriction.
Third, explore what is called the “Y buzz” for vocal potency that is subtle, yet powerful. Begin in the lower third of your natural speaking range. You can find this natural pitch range by saying, “Hi, my name is _____” and find a name that ends with a long EE vowel. If you cannot think of a name (or if your name does not already end with a long EE vowel), try “Hi, my name is Happy” or “Hi, my name is Mommy.” Hum on an M consonant and let it slowly evolve to an N consonant—you will feel the tip of the tongue on the upper gum ridge just behind the upper front teeth. Feel vibration there as you hum on N. Once you feel vibration, let the N slowly evolve to a Y consonant, which will feel like a long EE vowel. You can feel “NNNNNN----Yeeee-yeeee-yeeee.” You can test you are still in the optimal speaking range by repeating, “Hi, my name is Happyeeyeeeyeeeyeeeyeee.” The vibrations you feel here with the long EE vowel yoked by the Y consonant are the “Y buzz”.
Remember, you will feel the vibrations of the Y buzz resonate at the same location as where you felt the N consonant—the upper gum ridge behind the upper front teeth. You can go back and forth between the two consonants to be sure—NNNNN---YEEEEEEYEEEE-NNNNN-YEEEEYEEEE. If you have lost vibration of the N, return to the M. Work slowly, kindly, and with curiosity for your process. This is self-study for overall development of the body, mind, voice, and spirit.
Once you feel the ping of the Y buzz on the upper gum ridge, massage it on the same pitch—yeee yeee yeee yeee yeee. Work slowly and mindfully.
Next, slide the Y buzz up and down a couple of notes like a siren while keeping the vibration on the upper gum ridge. This is developing a range within the Y buzz so you can speak with natural inflection. You still feel your voice moving forward to where it can resonate through the skull for natural warmth and amplification.
Massaging the Y buzz is strengthening your voice to become more resonant without having to push or strain. This means you do not have to shout to be heard. You can speak every day within this Y buzz-range.
So how do these three explorations help you the next time you are in a stressful situation?
Opening your body and mind to an optimal breath will carry over to your daily life and you will feel more grounded as you connect with others. Once a situation begins to get heated or you are asked to do something stressful, you will still feel grounded so long as you feel the fullness and pleasure of your breath. Next, humming will develop a range to your voice. As your voice potentially goes up in pitch when you become emotional, you can keep a connection to it based on how you feel its vibrations. From here, you can yoke it back down to your Y buzz-like range through your focused awareness of how you feel your breath and voice in your body at once. If you find your voice beginning to retreat to the back of the throat or disappear, stop what you are doing and hum on the Y buzz. It will calm and center you while also bringing subtle power back to your voice. Once you feel the Y buzz-range, you can speak as you normally do while staying connected to yourself, your listener, and your need to communicate the whole time.
You do not have to feel powerless when you speak. You certainly do not have to lose your voice while in a stressful situation. Instead, you can explore the energetic currents your breath and voice provide and stay grounded, clear, and focused. Include these three tips to your daily regimen of self-care (or begin a self-care regimen with these practices) and notice how you feel in breath, body, voice, and spirit after only two weeks. Report back and let me know about your transformation!