Everyone deals with stressful times in their life. From experiencing work burnout to dealing with conflict in our relationships, we cannot avoid it.
This stress can manifest itself in many ways. Classic symptoms include headaches, interrupted sleep, persistent tiredness and chest pains, but other signs include blemishes and other skin problems, nervous limbs and dark 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 ages 19 to 59 to complete voice diaries over a seven-day period.
Recordings of people talking every night after work were analyzed by researchers over the course of a week. Participants were asked to report the stressors they experienced that day and their perceived stress levels.
Distinct changes were identified on days when people reported more stressors, the researchers found. Participants spoke faster and with more intensity when they had tensions that day, regardless of how stressed they said they were feeling.
In other words, we don’t always know how stressed we are – but our voice could be giving away the game. And the reason for these changes?
Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to the production of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, explains Markus Langer, author of the study at the University of Saarland in southwest Germany.
This has an impact on various bodily functions, including our voice.
The researchers are optimistic that their findings can be used to help people track their daily stress levels and better manage their well-being. Voice recordings would be an objective measure that would not depend on someone realizing how much stress they were under, they said.
Wearable technologies or microphones on our smartphones and smart speakers can be used to collect voice data over long periods of time to help us understand our individual and collective stress levels.
“Given that stress is a universal cause of ill health, this could help monitor the daily impact of stressors and facilitate early detection of stress, potentially contributing to better well-being,” the study authors said.
What can we do to deal with stress right now?
Nicola Perry, a counselor from North Somerset, previously told HuffPost that she estimates that 90% of her clients are stressed in some way. “We live in a pretty anxious society and we have fragmented attention between work, social media, the demands of our phone,” she says. “We don’t have the same focus on dealing with problems that we might have had in the past.”
Mindfulness can help reduce stress and improve mood, and calming breathing exercises can help if you’re feeling particularly anxious.
Neil Shah, anti-stress director for the nonprofit The Stress Management Society, advises sitting or standing in a relaxed position; breathing in slowly through the nose, counting to five; and exhaling through the mouth, counting to eight. Repeat this several times.
Exercise can also help improve your mood if you’re feeling depressed — as well as helping you think more clearly. There is also evidence to suggest that volunteering or helping others can increase a person’s resilience to stress.
Talking to friends, family or even colleagues about your stress can be helpful as they can offer support or, if workload is an issue, ways to lighten the workload.
But if you feel like stress might be taking over your life, consider talking to a therapist — you can find one that’s right for you on sites like the Counseling Directory and BACP.