Why Is It Hard to Speak When You’re Nervous?

It’s common to have difficulty finding words and formulating your thoughts when you’re nervous. It happens to all of us, including celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Billie Eilish, and Chance the Rapper–people who are used to being in the spotlight.

But why does anxiety affect the ability to talk? Let's explore what's going on in our brains and bodies when we're feeling those nerves, along with tips for speaking more smoothly when you’re stressed.

How stress and anxiety can affect your speech

Picture your brain like a pinball machine, without any bumpers. Thoughts and ideas zip around smoothly, and you can pluck out the right words to use without effort.

But when nerves kick in, it's like those pinball bumpers suddenly appear. They make your thoughts bounce around chaotically, moving in all sorts of unintended directions. 

It's as if our body is gearing up for a physical battle, even though the 'battle' is a situation like speaking in front of a group.

When we feel stressed or nervous, our brain activates the "fight or flight" response, which sets off a series of physiological reactions in our body. Our heart rate increases, our breathing quickens, and blood rushes to our arms and legs as we prepare to face the perceived threat. It's as if our body is gearing up for a physical battle, even though the “battle” is a situation like speaking in front of a group or meeting someone important.

Here's the kicker: All that blood rushing away from our brain means we have fewer resources for mental focus and clarity. So, when we're trying to find the right words or formulate coherent thoughts, our brain isn't operating at its top level. It's like trying to solve a puzzle with missing pieces—it's frustrating and challenging. You might find yourself mixing up words, searching for the word you want to say, or simply feeling blocked in expressing yourself.

Tips for speaking confidently when you’re nervous

It’s important to know that this is a completely normal reaction to a stressful situation. Our brains are trying to juggle a lot at once, and finding the right words takes a bit of extra time.

Keep in mind that once you start to mentally punish yourself for feeling nervous, you actually use valuable mental resources that could be used to form what you want to say. In this state, the brain hyper-focuses on your inability to think of words, formulate ideas, or just say anything!

Instead of being hard on yourself, think about your breath. Access your breathing all the way down to your stomach. This will help override that nervous sensation. Pause. Give your brain a moment to settle those pinball bumpers, and trust that the words will come back to you.

Speech therapy can help you speak with confidence and ease

If you often find yourself struggling with speech difficulties due to nerves, speech therapy can be helpful. A speech pathologist can teach you strategies to manage your breathing, pace your speech, formulate your words, and regulate your stress responses. These techniques will ultimately boost your confidence and improve your communication skills in all kinds of situations.

So, remember, you're not alone. There are ways to navigate through those nerve-wracking moments with grace and confidence!

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