Practical steps for overcoming a stammer/stutter
Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim
Whether you have had your stutter for a long or short time, you can do a number of things to help yourself. Think of this as a long-term plan to deal with the problem, not an instant fix.
WARNING: doing this may make things worse for a while till you can suss out your body’s reactions and reduce the excess tensions / spasms causing the problems. If you are unsure, do seek the help of a Speech & Language Therapist.
Try this process:
1) Observe yourself
Do not use any avoiding strategies for a while and try and pretend to watch yourself as an observer, or video record yourself; check out:
your breathing - how relaxed is it? are you breathing on a good deep breath, or is it shallow and tight, only using the top of your lungs, with tense shoulders?
your throat - is it tight? does it feel as though your voice box has totally clamped up?
your mouth and tongue - where is the tension when you are blocking on a sound or repeating it? Does it feel as though the muscles are in a spasm? which muscles?
the rest of your body - your hands, feet, legs, tummy - is there tension and muscle clenching going on anywhere?
2) Make a note of what you observe...
...then try consciously first tightening then relaxing those parts of your body that were tense, just to see how the relaxed sensation feels, so you can recognise it - but not while you are talking. Once you have this data and feedback...
3) ...then work on one area at a time, and exercise each area individually
These exercises will help you to see that your relaxation and tension is under your control. Even when the pressure of speaking comes, you know how 'relaxed' feels now, and can consciously will your body to relax before starting to talk. Here I walk you through some exercises:
Learning to control your breath is probably the key to help you most. Yoga helps in this! Take a deep breath from the bottom of your chest, feel your chest expand when you put your hands on your lower chest. This is important, because many people who stammer only breath from the top part of their lungs, so do not have enough breath to see them through a whole sentence, and causes tension in the shoulders and neck.
Try gentle humming, on ‘Aaaaaah’ first then ‘mmmm’.
Try increasing the volume of the hum, and decreasing it.
If it sounds raspy and rough, then you need to tighten / relax your throat muscles, and just let the air go through your throat without any sound.
Then try the humming again.Your mouth and tongue - making strange faces at yourself will help! (To do that you need to tense up different parts of your mouth and even your tongue!)
Then, rolling your lips with ‘brrr' and your tongue for some good Scottish sounding ‘rrrrr’ sounds!
I recommend that all of this is done best in a comfortable place of solitude or in the bathroom where there is leeway for eccentric noises and a mirror in which to see the effects of how relaxed you can be!
Note that sometimes when you stammer you may find your hand clenching, or your foot tapping or another part of you making sympathetic movements in an effort to help you get out what you want to say. You may not even be aware of doing these movements, but if you do video yourself, you may notice them.
Make a contrast of tight then relaxed movements with that part of your body, and feel how relaxed that part of your body can be when you are talking.
These movements often reduce naturally when your actual talking becomes easier, so don’t spend lots of emotional energy worrying about these.
4) Reflect on your exercises
Take time to check out what you have learned about relaxing all those tense muscles. It is a good idea to write down your reflections for each one.
If you can do it when you do not have to talk, then you can raise your awareness of how each part of your body feels. When you are talking it is hard to think of anything except getting words out!
Before you have to speak, remind yourself to get into relaxed mode.
Before you even open your mouth to speak, just take a moment, breathe, let your throat and mouth tighten then relax, and start into what you have to say, very gently, very smoothly.
There’s rarely a rush to speak quickly. Remember, most people don’t mind waiting a few moments - and if they are too impatient, well, I probably wouldn’t want to talk with them anyway!
I find the general exercises, and breathing exercises especially, that we do in yoga are really effective - there are lots of youtube videos to learn from.
5) Find a Speech Therapist to help you
The techniques I've listed here are much easier when learned and practised with a Speech and Language Therapist, if you can find one: additionally, they will have other ways to help you too.
Have you ever tried some of these techniques to help overcome your stammer?
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Until next time!
Margi Kulsoom Orchard (MRCSLT & HCPC, UK Reg.) Highly Specialist Speech & Language Therapist