Everyone deals with stressful moments in their life. From experiencing work-burnout to dealing with strife in our relationships, we can’t avoid it.
This stress can manifest itself in various ways. Classic symptoms include headaches, interrupted sleep, persistent tiredness and chest pains, but further signs include spots and other skin issues, jittery limbs and under eye circles.
Now, new research has found that being stressed can change your voice, too.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, asked 111 people aged between 19 and 59 to complete voice diaries over a period of seven days.
Recordings of people speaking every evening after work were analysed by researchers over the course of a week. The participants were asked to report on both the stressors they experienced that day and their perceived stress levels.
Distinct changes were identified on the days people reported more stress factors, researchers found. The participants spoke quicker and with more intensity when they had strains that day, regardless of how stressed they said they were feeling.
In other words, we don’t always know how stressed we actually are – but our voice might be giving the game away. And the reason for those changes?
Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to the production of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, Dr Markus Langer, a study author from Saarland University in southwest Germany, explains.
This has an impact on several bodily functions, including our voice.
Researchers are optimistic their findings could be used to help people keep track of their everyday stress levels and better manage their wellbeing. Voice recordings would be an objective measure that would not be reliant on someone noticing how much stress they were under, they said.
Wearable technologies or microphones in our smartphones and smart speakers could be used to gather voice data over longer periods of time to help us understand our individual and collective stress levels.
“Considering that stress is a universal cause of health problems, this could help to monitor the everyday impact of stressors and facilitate early stress detection, potentially contributing to better wellbeing,” the study’s authors said.
What can we do to tackle stress in the moment?
Nicola Perry, a counsellor from North Somerset, previously told HuffPost that she estimates that 90% of her clients are stressed in some way. “We live in quite an anxious society and we’ve got fragmented attention between work, social media, the demands of our phone,” she says. “We haven’t got the same focus to be able to deal with problems that maybe we would have in the past.”
Mindfulness can help reduce stress and improve mood, and calming breathing exercises might help if you’re feeling particularly anxious.
Neil Shah, chief de-stressing officer at non-profit organisation The Stress Management Society, advises sitting or standing in a relaxed position; slowly inhaling through your nose, counting to five; and breathing out from your mouth, counting to eight. Repeat this several times.
Exercise can also help boost your mood if you’re feeling low from stress – as well as helping you to think more clearly. There’s also evidence to suggest volunteering or helping others can boost a person’s resilience to stress.
Chatting to friends, family members or even colleagues about your stresses may be useful, as they can offer support or, if volume of work is a problem, ways to ease the burden of workload.
But if you feel like stress might be taking over your life, consider speaking to a therapist – you can find one who is a good fit for you through sites like Counselling Directory and BACP.