Stress & Anxiety Leave Me Speechless

A Surprising Physical Side Effect

Alicia Rust
3 min readMay 7, 2018


Photo by Ethan Haddox on Unsplash

In 2001, I thought I was handling my recent stress and anxiety well. I was a 6th grade teacher in a low-economic, drug and gang-ridden community. The job equated stress. However, I loved my students, even the ones who challenged me to do so.

Over a couple of days that fall, I lost my ability to speak. I had recently been under the weather, so I wasn’t surprised that my doctor treated me for laryngitis. However, my voice never returned. Nearly a month had passed when my doctor finally recommended I see an otolaryngologist.

Off I go to a specialist.

He scoped and examined me. Without skipping a beat, he said that there wasn’t any medical reason for my lack of voice, and he referred me to a speech pathologist. Really? Skepticism filled me.

Sitting in the waiting room for speech therapy, I saw only young patients with their moms, probably there due to stutters, inability to say their r’s, and such. When the therapist called me back, she asked me to repeat words and phrases. It only took her a couple minutes at most to tell me that I had forgotten how to breathe properly. No, that doesn’t sound right; ridiculous! I was in denial. However, I soon realized her veraciousness.

Turns out, I was so tense and stressed that I was holding my breath without realizing it…even while attempting to speak. No breath was passing through my larynx to vibrate my vocal chords (how voice is made). I had only a whisper, and I was told to definitely not do that. Apparently, whispering actually causes more trauma to the larynx than normal speech, as does shouting or other modes of misusing the voice.

As a teacher…

I must be able to communicate with my students. During the interim, I attempted to convey information to my young scholars via writing. It was a struggle…for them and for me. Several already had a lack of reading skills; my heart went out to them. Surprisingly, they were quite patient with me.

Cyrus-Tyler Mashup

Now what?

Through guided speaking, breathing and relaxation exercises, I rediscovered my voice. I gradually relearned how to breathe and how to breathe while speaking. I practiced breathing…and practiced breathing while speaking…until it became natural again. During my recovery, I began to sound like a cross between Steven Tyler and Miley Cyrus…a voice still hoarse, but a voice returning.

Relaxation became a much-needed goal for me.

I slowly became mindful of my body tension and breathing. Every now and then, I still catch myself holding my breath, but I now have the mindfulness and skills to maintain my voice and seek inner calmness.

→How has stress affected you?

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Copyright © 2018 Alicia Rust. All rights reserved.



Alicia Rust

Writer. Lover of dark chocolate, coffee, tea, & being me. I’m an anxiety-ridden, chronic depression survivor...