Publisher Ryan Rivera is an advocate for understanding anxiety and its effects. In this article he gives some tips on creating resilience to cope with stammering.
Research over several decades has indicated that stammering can have a negative impact on a person's mental health¹. Some theorise that stammering is caused by factors like anxiety and stress, while others believe it is the stammering that ultimately leads to/creates the mental health issues². The answer is probably somewhere in between, where stammering and anxiety are more cyclical in nature, with anxiety about stammering leading to more stammering.
Regardless of this, the reality is that adults who stammer can often find living a life of contentment to be challenging. Anxiety - particularly social anxiety - can make it difficult to bond with others and live a fulfilling life.
A study in resilience
Despite these challenges, many people who stammer are living perfectly happy lives. Researchers at the University of Sydney set out to find the differences between those living without the mental health burdens of stammering and those experiencing severe social anxiety. They found the following resilience factors:
- Health status - Overall health of the subject.
- Social support - How well subjects felt they were socially supported.
- Vitality - The subject's energy level.
- Social functioning - Ability to communicate and interact with others.
- Fewer physical limitations - Physical fitness and ability issues.
- Greater sense of self-efficacy - Confidence in their own independence.
Particularly, they found that social support, self-efficacy, and healthy social functioning were the most important adaptive factors for resilience³.
Improving your resilience
Resilience isn't necessarily something one can change instantly, but there are ways you can get started in each of these areas, and the hope is that over time you'll find yourself better able to deal with the stresses of stammering - and of life.
Perceived social support is the belief that you have friends or family that truly support you. Those with social support often report more confidence, feel greater joy at their successes and less failure after their mistakes, and overall live a better quality of life.
Social anxiety can make it difficult to feel like you're bonding with others. But where you receive social support is not as important as knowing that it's there, which is why a great first step is to join a support group, so that you can interact with people that understand your situation and support your recovery. That little change will go a long way toward living with greater resilience.
The hope is that over time you'll find yourself better able to deal with the stresses of stammering - and of life."
Self-efficacy is described as the belief in your ability to overcome challenges and excel at an activity. Stammering often contributes to a feeling of hopelessness that makes this less possible, and certainly there is no 'quick fix' for creating this belief. But one of the simplest things you can do is start exercising. One of the more interesting effects of exercising, beyond simply improving your health (also an important part of resilience), is that the act of exercising releases a neurotransmitter that improves your mood, whilst simultaneously burning away stress hormones. Combine that with improved strength, self-confidence, and the feeling of success when you meet exercise goals, and you'll find that exercise has a profound effect on your ability to achieve a feeling of self-efficacy.
Healthy social functioning may be one of the tougher issues to address because it is developed, not necessarily learned in the sense that it is the result of years of experiences rather than the teachings of one person. Socialising with support groups is a great start, but there's more that can be done.
One method of dealing with this issue is found in the dating world. Men needing dating tips are often instructed to mimic the behaviours of men that are successful with women, to get them used to what they 'should' be doing. Those that feel they have social issues as a result of their stammering may find that mimicking those without social issues helps them understand what they need to do so that the behaviours start to come more naturally.
One cannot become resilient overnight, and it may be an uphill battle. But those that find that anxiety affects their quality of life can find ways to deal with the stress, and the above tips may represent ways to start building personal resilience and overcome any of the mental health issues that stammering has contributed to.
Ryan Rivera is the founder of www.calmclinic.com , which aims to educate others about the effects of anxiety on their quality of life.
¹ Larry Molt (2003) 'Stuttering & Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder): Background Information and Clinical Implications?, www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/molt6.html
² Tracie Randolph (1997) 'Theories of Cause?'
³ Craig, Blumgart & Tran (2011) 'Resilience and Stuttering: Factors that Protect People from the Adversity of Chronic Stuttering', doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2011/10-0304)
From the Autumn 2012 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 16