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Stress and the Breath

On a scale of 1-10, what is your level of stress today?

On average people will rate themselves somewhere in the middle without actually considering how they feel. This is because many of us live in a state of chronic stress. Which means that the small shifts in our stress on a daily basis go mostly un-noted.

Why does it matter for voice and verbal communication?

For several reasons, most important of which is that stress impacts your ability to efficiently manage your breathing. Here are some symptoms of this:

  1. Running out of breath while speaking.
  2. Being quick to an emotional response while speaking — anger and disappointment head this list.
  3. A voice that fatigues quickly and/or breaks while speaking.
  4. Overly fast breathing (panting or hyperventilating are a couple of extreme versions of this).

The impact of stress on breathing is also a circular problem. As our stress impacts our breathing we may feel more stress, and possibly other physiological responses causing us to feel ill. This is because the Vagus Nerve (yeah, that again), governs many of the responses at play.

Luckily, the solution to both the stress and any breathing/speaking difficulty it causes is the same. You have to disengage the panic button in the vagus nerve. How?

Try one or more of these:

  1. Box breathing (inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds). Repeat 4 times, then breathe normally and check in. If you need to, do it again.
  2. Cascading forward bend. Gently roll yourself into a forward bend standing with bent knees (if that is not possible, try this seated). Let the back of your neck relax and let your head and arms hang free. Slowly (epically slowly — think slouth), let your knees straighten while remaining in the forward bend. Look for any slight trembling in the legs and observe. Keep breathing but don’t try to make anything specific happen. Slowly (again super slow), let yourself come back to standing and take a few steps around.
  3. Lie prone on a blanket and roll yourself into a burrito (a spotter or roll assistant is great for this one). Spend 1-5 minutes in the burrito, perhaps also with box breathing. Another options is to use a scarf around your torso tightly in the same way.

Give one or more of these a try to better manage the symptoms of stress and get your breathing back under your control. As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions or comments via email, click here.

Gina Razón is the Founder and CEO at GROW Voice LLC, a full-service verbal communication studio in Boston’s Back Bay.  She has over two decades of experience as a teacher of voice and speech, is a communication and change facilitator, and is a voraciously curious voice user.  Gina has worked professionally as a classical singer for over a decade and more recently as a professional public speaker.  For more information on the studio or to book Gina visit

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