Stress voice: how a hard day at work changes the way you talk

Name: Stress voice.

Age: Look it up yourself.

Appearance: I really don’t have time for this.

Hey, is everything OK? Oh, sure. I have a pile of work to do, my boss is on my back for no reason, one of the kids has been sent home sick from school and now I’ve got to have a stupid conversation with you. But, yes, everything’s wonderful. Thanks for asking.

Are you sure? You sound quite stressed. What gave you that idea?

The sound of your voice. What, me? No, I always talk with such speed and intensity that strangers visibly recoil. That’s just my personality.

You can’t fool me. Oh God, you sound just like the researchers at Saarland University in south-west Germany.

That’s honestly the first time anyone has said that to me. They just did a study on how stress affects our voices, and they discovered that a stressful day changes how we speak. Apparently, after a hard day our breathing becomes more rapid, which causes us to speak faster, louder and with more intensity.

That seems obvious. Well, this happens regardless of how much stress we feel. We might be feeling completely calm and serene after a difficult day, but the changes in our voice will give the game away. For example, you would never know that I’m stressed.

I would. No, you wouldn’t. How?

Well, you’re almost crying, for starters. Anyway, whether you feel stressed or not, external stressors tend to activate your sympathetic nervous system, leading to the production of cortisol and adrenaline. And this is what causes your breath to speed up, changing your voice.

You’re babbling. So, anyway, this study is great, because if voice detection software can pick up on these changes, it might be able to help doctors and employers diagnose stress before it becomes a problem. Not that it’s a problem for me.

Your hair is literally falling out of your head in real time. Can’t help that! But wouldn’t that be great? Stress is a universal cause of health problems, so early diagnosis has the potential to help the lives of millions. Millions of people who aren’t me, obviously, because I’m completely fine.

Why is your skin turning pale? I don’t know! Stop asking me so many questions! Wow, it’s really getting hot in here, isn’t it?

Not really. OK, fine, maybe I am a bit stressed. What gave it away? The subtle bronchodilation of my airways?

That. Also, you are crouched in the foetal position. There might be something to this study, you know.

Do say: “Stress can make your voice change.”

Don’t say: “YES, I ALREADY KNEW THAT! JESUS CHRIST!”

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