The Link Between Anxiety and Stuttering
For many people, verbal communication is an important way to connect with others. Stuttering makes this communication more difficult. This may trigger anxiety, especially abut social relationships. A 2009 study found stuttering increased the odds of being diagnosed with anxiety by six- to seven-fold and increased the likelihood of a diagnosis of social anxiety 16- to 34-fold. Another 2009 study found that 50% of adults who stutter have social anxiety.
Stuttering may change the way people relate to the person who stutters. Children who stutter sometimes experience bullying and isolation. Adults may struggle to feel heard at work or in high-pressure situations, such as speaking publicly at an academic conference. Negative experiences with others can fuel a person’s anxiety about stuttering, and this anxiety may make stuttering worse.
A person who stutters may also have false beliefs about stuttering, such as that stuttering necessarily means others won’t take them seriously or listen to them. This fear may affect major life decisions such as where to go to school and which jobs to seek. For example, a talented researcher might opt not to speak at a conference or accept a professorship because of their fears about public speaking.
COPING WITH STUTTERING-RELATED ANXIETY
People who experience anxiety related to stuttering may find relief in a number of strategies. Those include:
- Relaxation exercises. Meditation, deep breathing, and positive self-talk may help.
- Support groups. Spending time with other people who stutter through a support group can make stuttering feel less isolating, alleviating anxiety.
- Practicing social skills. Some people who stutter deliberately avoid social situations because of their anxiety. This can undermine their social skills, making them feel more anxious in social situations. Finding opportunities to practice communication may help.
- Education about stuttering. Understanding what stuttering is may help some people feel better about their stuttering.
HOW PARENTS CAN HELP WITH STUTTERING-RELATED ANXIETY
Most people who stutter are children. Parents and other family members can do a lot to help. Try the following:
- Create a relaxed environment around speech and communication. Don’t talk over your child, correct their speech, or ask them to speak more quickly.
- Attentively listen to your child while they speak. Children who stutter may worry the person to whom they are speaking is annoyed or bored. Give your child time.
- Don’t correct your child’s stutter or give them the word they appear to be looking for.
- Encourage your child to talk about their feelings about stuttering. Reassure them that stuttering is common and offer support for the anxiety they feel.
- Consider family therapy. Counseling in a family setting can help destigmatize stuttering. The right therapist can offer each member of the family specific strategies for supporting a child who stutters.