Effective tools to achieve normal conversations

Michael’s anxiety controlled him. A vicious circle. He avoided people. When he did talk to people he got anxious. He stuttered. Then he got depressed about his stuttering. That in turn caused more anxiety around other people. His stuttering escalated. His belief-system and focus held him back. Only grit and reframing would take him to the other side.

My friend Michael told me, that anxiety hits a lot of people. Most of them get over it. And they are happy. For Michael, it became a daily encounter. Sweat on the forehead, stomachache and nausea were common issues for him. He didn’t always feel like this. And that was the weird part. His anxiety for talking had developed like children mature. One day he woke up frustrated about his stuttering. A couple of weeks later he discovered that he now was sad about being sad! That didn’t help his anxiety issues.

Michael and I go back 10 years. We met at a speech therapy clinic in Denmark. Yesterday over a cup of coffee the topic landed on stuttering. He wanted me to tell him more about Stuttering Habits and the oncoming community site. I did. Then he said, he wanted to contribute on the topic with his anxiety. This first blog post on Stuttering Habits is the result of our chat about stuttering and anxiety.

Michael and I both overcame our stuttering habits. We often talk about how we did it. According to him contractions in the throat wasn’t the only issue. His belief system played a big part too. His beliefs held him back. Often it’s not only the anxiety itself, but the fear of anxiety. And it was not only the stuttering, but also the fear of stuttering. To overcome his anxiety, which of course is a psychological issue, he learned a lot from the Stoics. Michael’s favorite philosopher is Epictetus. Epictetus writes:

Remember that foul words or blows in themselves are no outrage, but your judgement that they are so. So when any one makes you angry, know that it is your own thought that has angered you. Wherefore make it your endeavour not to let your impressions carry you away. For if once you gain time and delay, you will find it easier to control yourself. (Handbook 20, trans. Matheson)

You can control your mind and actions, not your body. When stuttering is a psychological thing; a habit, then it becomes attainable. To Michael “your own thoughts has angered you” was essential.

“It dawned on me, that I could chose how I felt. That I could chose to accept my situation and tell myself that it would go away. That was something.”, Michael tells me.

Anxiety affects your stuttering habits; becoming fearless

Anxiety manifests itself in two ways. Psychological and physical. Worry, fear, and nervousness are the main parts. It affects your mind and your body and your behavior. It feeds on your doubt. Change your beliefs and you will succeed. There’s hope for you.

Anxiety feeds on your doubt.

Science validates Michael’s experience

I thought it would be exciting to look at, what science says about stuttering and anxiety. It’s very common to experience anxiety to some degree. Research show that people who stutter are generally socially anxious. They also have higher levels of anxiety (Craig, 2000). This increased anxiety is a normal reaction to the difficulties people like Michael has.

[…] the majority of people who stutter (and attend clinics to see a speech pathologist) believe their anxiety plays an important part in their stuttering[…] (Craig, 2003)

Anxiety affects people, when their speech block or when they repeat sounds. It leads to awkwardness, disappointment, and avoiding. With avoiding, we are back in the vicious circle. Next time you meet people, your anxiety will be higher. You will stutter and you disappoint yourself etc.

[…] research suggests that as one grows older the continued negative influence of a chronic speech disorder such as stuttering can be debilitating socially and psychologically. We argue that this potentially negative influence throughout childhood and adolescence and into adulthood can result in
 raised trait anxiety levels.
(Craig, 2003)

Anxiety is part of stuttering habits, but there are also other factors affecting your stutter.

[…] one should not be surprised that people
 become concerned and distressed about a disability that
 can be socially and psychologically limiting. Although
 severity of stuttering most likely plays a major role in
 determining higher levels of trait anxiety, it is also more
 than likely that a complex interplay of factors predisposes
 a person to develop high levels of anxiety.
(Craig, 2003)

Getting through the day; step by step

In the following, we will focus on 1 tool to help you trough your day. With only one tool for now, you have enough focus to master it.

Michael was right turning to the Stoics. Stoicism was a great inspiration for the founder’s (Albert Ellis & Aaron Beck) of cognitive behavioral therapy. Especially Epictetus’ sayings contributed.

“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” — Epictetus, philosopher
“People don’t just get upset. They contribute to their upsetness.” — Albert Ellis, psychologist

While one tool may not be enough, it’s a step in the right direction.

Stuttering Habit Tool: Problem-solving

People who stutter experience low mood and anxiety. They may worry about things in general. A very easy way to deal with these issues is to take a practical and dry approach to the issue. This problem-solving approach identify the problem and deal with it.

Case study
Michael went to a party with a lot of people he didn’t know. This made him anxious. He decided to use a problem-solving approach to the problem.
The problem: I have to speak to a lot of people I don’t know. Then I will stutter.
Solutions: Don’t go. Only talk to people I know. Isolate new people and then talk with them. Only nod and say “mmh” when in groups. Selected solution: Isolate new people and then talk with them.
Action: Went to party and isolated new people. This reduced anxiety and also his stuttering. Sometimes he got into a group, which increased his anxiety and stuttering habit.
Review and iterate: Work on isolating people and what you think about yourself.

All in all

Everybody experience anxiety from time to time. But for people who stutter it’s an ongoing thing. Science validates it and we read about how my friend Michael used tools and the Stoics to get over his anxiety.

Your stuttering habit, beliefs and anxiety go hand in hand. Relieve one and the other will follow — it may not be perfect, but that is alright for now. We need fast results right now. With fast results, we start to believe. More stable results will follow. Then we grow out of our stuttering habits. It’s a cycle.

There is hope for you. Don’t give up.

Where go to from here?

To achieve normal conversations I suggest you begin reading:

What doesn’t kill you — stuttering treatment through history

Free up brain power to thrive without stuttering

Stutterers wake up stupid with less than 6 hours of sleep

What cause stuttering? There are 3 possibilities