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Stress Management

Friday, May 15th, 2020 | Free Classified

Stuttering is to a large extent * stress-related. It therefore follows that the person who stutters will have to manage his tension levels in order to increase his control over his speech.

In the previous four chapters we looked at a speech technique which reduces speech tension. In this chapter, the focus will be on ways to reduce base-level tension.

What is tension?

We all know what being tense feels like – those clammy palms as you await your turn to do an oral examination, the accelerated pulse rate, the lump in the throat … We have several names for these responses: ‘nerves’, pressure, excitement, panic, stress, tension. But what exactly IS tension?

Canadian biologist Hans Selye, the world-renowned authority on tension, has described tension as the rate at which we live at a given moment. All living beings are subject to a measure of tension, and any intense experience – whether pleasant or not – temporarily increases that tension. This means that in terms of tension, a painful blow and a passionate kiss can have the same effect.

Fight or flight

Tension is often the result of the body’s response to a real or perceived THREAT. This ‘fight or flight’ response, as it is also known, is a mechanism which is activated to release the additional energy required to counter the threat.

Prehistoric man could survive a threat by either fighting or fleeing. Both options require a lot of energy. The ‘fight or flight’ response serves to activate a complicated biochemical process in which chemicals such as adrenaline are released. This causes blood sugar levels to rise and metabolic processes to speed up – a chain reaction leading to an increase in pulse rate, blood pressure and muscular activity. This last feature is of special significance for people who stutter (PWS). An increase in muscular activity may also affect the vocal cord muscles.

The fact is that we no longer live in prehistoric times. Every day people encounter problems that can’t be solved by fighting or running away the way our predecessors used to. Nowadays threats come in many different guises: a rush-hour traffic jam when you are late for an appointment; unemployment; a difficult love affair; or the death of a loved one. However our bodies respond to these threats in the same primitive manner, accelerating the pulse rate and releasing energy. At the same time our bodies cannot use that energy in the way it was meant to be used – we don’t ram into the car in front of us when we are caught in a traffic jam, and most of us don’t resort to violent crime when we lose our jobs.

Chronic stress

If these fight-or-flight responses occur frequently, the ensuing tension may become chronic and cumulative. Too much tension causes stress, which in turn can cause physiological as well as psychological problems. We know that an excess amount of tension can influence the PWS’s speech; but stress is also implicated in many other ailments and psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Threat and change

Threat, real or imagined, is an important factor in stress. CHANGE can also be perceived as a threat. Change involves unfamiliarity and uncertainty, the underlying question being: ‘Will I be able to cope with the new situation?” This explains why tension may arise not only from new circumstances such as marriage, moving to a new city or accepting a new job, but also from less defined transitions such as social, political or demographic change.

To understand stuttering one has to understand the nature of stress. Only then does it become clear why an authority figure can induce tension in many PWS as well as fluent speakers: an authority figure represents a potential or actual threat. The authority figure wields power which can be used to your disadvantage.

Uncontrolled tension can devastate the PWS’s speaking ability, and even the best fluency technique in the world may not be of much help if one’s base-level tension (see the chapter ‘A Possible Cause of Stuttering’ for an explanation of this term) is excessive.

This also applies to people who, in addition to stuttering, also have severe social, psychological or other problems that keep their base-level tension so high that speech treatment is of no use. They should first attend to their underlying, stress-inducing problems. According to Dr Martin Schwartz, base-level tension contributes up to 70% of vocal cord tension, whereas speech tension contributes 30%. This shows the importance of stress management for people who stutter.

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