Can anxiety make your speech slurred?
Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder, often caused by brain changes or damage, that occurs due to muscle weakness in the face, lips, tongue, throat, or around the lungs. When people develop slurred speech, such as after a stroke, it’s usually due to the development of dysarthria.
In some people, anxiety can lead to symptoms that mimic those found in motor speech disorders, such as slurred speech. However, slurred speech that’s caused by anxiety isn’t the same as slurred speech caused by dysarthria. In fact, it’s rare for anxiety to cause slurred speech at all.
“In speech therapy, I have seen short-term memory deficits and difficulty with concentration with anxiety, as well as accelerated rate of speech,” said Jennifer Daniels, MA, CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist in Columbus, Ohio. “But not slurred speech, per se.”
So, in what ways could anxiety potentially lead to slurred speech? As it turns out, anxiety can have a negative impact on both the cognitive element of producing speech, as well as the physical act of speaking.
When you become anxious, increased tension in the muscles of the jaw or face can have an impact on your speech.
“Muscle tension can cause speech to sound different, as you are not able to manipulate sounds in the same way as normal,” explained Daniels. “Your pharynx and oral cavity have to move in certain ways for sounds to resonate properly.”
An increase in muscle tension may make it more difficult for the mouth and tongue to produce words in a clear, concise manner. In some cases, there’s the potential that speech may begin to sound “slurred” because of this.
Anxiety is also a common cause of racing thoughts and faster speech, both of which can make communication more difficult. People who are anxious may feel like they can’t keep up with their thoughts and may speak much faster as a result, which can cause stuttering or slurring.
Communication difficulties due to anxiety may become even more apparent among people with other underlying speech impairments, as well.
“Sometimes, when there are other underlying conditions that have impacted speech, anxiety can increase the severity of those symptoms,” explained Daniels. “For example, in post-stroke patients who become more anxious, the speech impairments that are present may become more severe.”
In some cases, certain underlying anxiety conditions may impact speech more than others, such as somatic OCD or social anxiety. These conditions can both cause a hyperawareness of speech, which in turn may lead to speech impairments, such as slurring.
In addition, panic attacks can sometimes cause a variety of concerning symptoms, many of which can feel more extreme than “standard” anxiety symptoms. Since panic attacks tend to come on more suddenly, changes to the speech that occur with anxiety, such as slurring, may become more severe during a panic attack.
But while anxiety may be a potential cause of slurred speech, it isn’t necessarily one that Daniels has seen much in practice. “Generally, most motor speech impairments, such as slurred speech and trouble articulating words, are secondary to neurological impairments, such as nerve damage and brain damage,” she clarified.
Can anxiety affect your speech in other ways?
While slurred speech may not be an extremely common symptom of anxiety, anxiety can still impact speech in other ways:
In one study from 2011, researchers evaluated the impact of anxiety on communicative performance in study participants. Twenty-four participants were asked to speak about an anxious moment in their lives, and their speech patterns were analyzed. According to the researchers, participants with high anxiety demonstrated changes in both voice control and articulation.
Ultimately, the way anxiety affects speech depends on the person. Since everyone experiences anxiety differently, some people may experience no changes in speech, while others may experience changes in the way they talk, sound, or communicate overall.
Tips for getting your speech back to normalIf you’re someone whose speech is greatly impacted by your anxiety, there are some practices that can help restore your typical speech pattern. Try these tips the next time you’re anxious and notice your speech becoming more difficult:
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