If you have a chronic voice disorder or work with those who do, you may know exactly what I'm talking about when I say "overthinking" voice production.
When you take an automatic process like speech and it all of the sudden becomes less automatic, a lot of the focus is now put into a more conscious speech production pattern. You now become much more aware of each sound, how smooth or strained they are, or maybe even how your speech sounds to others. The focus may now be on what your speech sounds like rather than what you are intending to communicate.
Those with a neurological voice disorder like spasmodic dysphonia, may find themselves frequently engaging in thinking about all aspects of their voice. What will it sound like when you open your mouth? What will others think of the voice? How will others judge you due to the sound of your voice? Will you get your message heard?
You may even rehearse what you want to say in your head beforehand or practice it aloud. You may engage in a mental preparation before, say, ordering at the driver thru or saying "hello" when picking up the phone.
You may be more likely to "overthink" all of these aspects, which can often lead to further exacerbation of tension and symptoms. So how do we get out of this pattern?
First, I'd say practice voice therapy strategies like resonant hums, straw phonation, or flow phonation (see other blog posts for details on these) but with the mindset of exploring your voice and not achieving a perfect voice quality. The goal is not a perfect voice quality anyways, but a more "functional" quality that allows for greater ease, fluency, and clarity of your speech. If we are practicing any voice techniques or attempting to use our voice with the goal of reaching a perfect voice or voice without any symptoms whatsoever, we may be actually making symptoms worse with increased strain or tension. Rather, what if you try to discover what manner of voicing makes things feel a bit easier. What if you release the muscles in your throat, shift your focus to be more forward, release some more airflow. or think about exhaling while you speak. What if you just thought about an easy voice rather than a perfect voice? What if you focused less on the sound of your voice or how others were viewing your voice and more about the message you need to transmit?
If you focus more on your message and less of how your voice sounds how does this change things for you? How does the use of these voice strategies lead you to experience an easier voice with less effort.
Less effort is more here!
It may seem like all you want is a smooth voice but consider being upfront about your voice disorder with others before speaking if this will make you feel more comfortable. Remember, your words and communication still have meaning no matter what your voice sounds like!
If you're interested in engaging in a further discussion about psychosocial symptoms of chronic voice disorders check out my upcoming webinar at dysphonia.org/nsda-webinars