Can anxiety cause stuttering? A look at speech and mental health

Couple talking while taking a walk in natureStuttering is a complex speech issue that affects about 1% of adults. People who stutter can become socially anxious, afraid of public speaking or worried about their stuttering will undermine their performance at work or at school.

Surveys show that stuttering is not a mental health diagnosis, and stress is not the main cause of the trauma. Stress can, however, make the wound worse. This can create a dirty feedback loop in which a person is afraid of stuttering, causing them to stutter more. In some cases, anxiety about the trauma can disturb a person's relationships and communication ability.

What causes the trauma?

The characteristic of stuttering is the repetition of some sounds, syllables or words. There is a continuity from mild to severe. In some people, the injury is so mild that others may not notice at all. For a minority of people stuttering, the situation can be so serious that it makes communication extremely difficult.

Most people who stutter fall somewhere in the middle. They walk over the words and repeat some syllables. They may feel anxious about speech and others may notice that their speech is not formal. But they are able to talk to others, and others are able to understand what they are saying.

Types of stuttering

Researchers believed stuttering was a mental health problem caused by trauma or fear. While it is possible for the trauma to cause stuttering, it is rare. Instead, providers divide the wound into two distinct types:

Developmental stuttering

Developmental injury is the most common type of stuttering. Common to 2-6 year olds, who learn to speak, are usually removed by themselves. Five to 10 percent of children stutter at some point, and at least 75 percent overcome it. For the remaining 25%, injury can continue to be a problem in adulthood.

Developmental injury is often much worse when a child is worried. The speech of stuttering children can be improved when they talk for a longer period of time. This means that the first few suggestions of a conversation may be slow and stop, but when the child becomes more relaxed, it can be less injured.

Developmental stamina works in families. This suggests a genetic link and the researchers have identified some genes associated with the trauma. However, the specific causes and impulses for developmental stuttering are still not fully understood.

Neuronal stuttering

Neurogenic stuttering is much less common than developmental stuttering. This is due to a problem with the brain caused by an injury, developmental issue or illness. For example, some people develop stuttering after a stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Although anxiety can make neurogenic trauma worse, anxiety is more closely linked to developmental stuttering.

Negative experiences with others can trigger a person's anxiety about the trauma, and this anxiety can make stuttering worse.

The relationship between anxiety and stuttering

For many people, verbal communication is an important way to connect with others. Stuttering makes this communication more difficult. This can cause stress, especially in social relationships. A 2009 study found that injuries increased the probability of anxiety diagnosis by six to seven times and increased the probability of diagnosing social anxiety 16 to 34 times. Another study in 2009 found that 50% of adults stuttering have social anxiety.

Stuttering can change the way people relate to the person who stutters. Children who stutter sometimes experience intimidation and isolation. Adults can fight to feel heard at work or in high-pressure situations, such as public debate at an academic conference. Negative experiences with others can trigger a person's anxiety about the trauma, and this anxiety can make stuttering worse.

A stuttering person may also have false beliefs about stuttering, as this stuttering necessarily means that others will not take them seriously or will not hear them. This fear can affect important decisions about life, such as where to go to school and what jobs to look for. For example, a talented researcher may choose not to speak at a conference or accept a professor because of their fears of public speaking.

Tackling anxiety associated with the trauma

People experiencing stress associated with stuttering can find relief in a number of strategies. These include:

  • Relaxation exercises. Meditation, deep breathing and positive discussion can help.
  • Support groups. Spending time with other people stuttering through a support team can make the trauma feel less isolated, relieving stress.
  • Practicing social skills. Some people who intentionally stutter avoid social situations due to their anxiety. This can undermine their social skills, making them feel more stressed in social situations. Finding communication opportunities can help.
  • Training for stuttering. Understanding what's trauma can help some people feel better about their trauma.

How parents can help with stress associated with stuttering

Most people who stutter are children. Parents and other family members can help a lot. Try the following:

  • Create a relaxed environment around speech and communication. Do not talk to your child, correct their speech or ask them to speak faster.
  • Listen to your child carefully while talking. Children who stutter can worry about the person they are talking about annoyed or drowsy. Give your child time.
  • Do not fix the injury of your child or give them the word they seem to be looking for.
  • Encourage your child to talk about his feelings about the trauma. Make sure that stuttering is common and offers support for the anxiety they feel.
  • Examine family therapy. Counseling in a family environment can help destigmatist stuttering. The right therapist can offer each member of the family specific strategies to support a stuttering child.

How treatment can help with stress caused by stuttering

Stuttering can be cured. Many people see enormous improvements in their speech after seeking help from a speech therapist. A therapist can help with stress and other issues related to stuttering, allowing a person who stutters to concentrate on overcoming their speech difficulties.

A strong therapeutic relationship is the most important factor in the success of the treatment. Research also shows that certain techniques can help with anxiety associated with the trauma. Exposure treatment can help people who have anxiety about stuttering in specific situations, such as a date or a job conference. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can reduce social anxiety by helping people to recognize, correct, and ultimately prevent automatic self-destructive thoughts.

Even for people who continue the trauma, treatment can restore a sense of self-confidence. Addressing the causes of anxiety can prevent it from getting worse. Stuttering should not undermine a person's quality of life or ability to succeed. It's one of the many human differences. For many people who stutter, treatment offers a path of shame and isolation and trust and better relationships. With the right support, people who stutter no longer see stuttering as a deficit or something to be afraid of.

Bibliographical references:

  1. Büchel, C. & Sommer, M. (2004). What causes the trauma? PLoS Biology, 2(2). Retrieved from
  2. Craig, A. & Tran, Y. (2005, January 5). What is the relationship between stuttering and anxiety? Retrieved from
  3. Iverach, L., O'Brian, S., Jones, M., Block, S., Lincoln, M., Harrison, E., . . Onslow, M. (2009). Prevalence of anxiety disorders in adults seeking speech therapy for stuttering. Journal of Stress Disorders, 7(23), 928-934. doi: 10.1016 / j.janxdis.2009.06.003
  4. Menzies, R.G., Onslow, M., Packman, A. & O Brian, S. (2009). Cognitive behavioral therapy for stuttering adults: A seminar for speech therapists. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 3(34), 187-200. doi: 10.1016 / j.jfludis.2009.09.002

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