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Science of Communication

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Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Or in this case, communication issues or stress?

Studies show there is a strong link between a person’s ability to communicate effectively with others and their stress levels. Both can come first, however, to trigger the stress response. Let’s look at how each can be the trigger.

Communication Issues Come First

We say communication issues because for some people they do have a legitimate reason for having difficulty communicating. There could be a stammer that prohibits someone from speaking as freely as their thoughts flow. Or neurological impairments that require someone to process slower or differently than others, causing hesitation or mispronunciation in speech. Then there are the more common attention issues some of us have that make it challenging to focus on deep conversations for long periods of time. And finally, medications can create cloudiness or fogginess, so things are easily forgotten, and tracking complex discussions is difficult.

Each of the above communication issues puts a person in very difficult situations where feelings of embarrassment, frustration, and anger can easily arise. This triggers the stress response because it goes against our basic human need for love, belonging, and self-actualization. 

Having impediments to communication physically change the way your brain functions and how quickly your neurotransmitters stimulate your body during conversations. This reinforces the elements of communication such as trust-building, connecting, validation, and understanding.

What if your communication issues aren’t physical or neurological but merely emotional?

By emotional we mean your fear of communicating or level of confidence you have in speaking openly with others. How you generated your fear or where your lack of confidence came from isn’t relevant. What is important is that you have core beliefs about the way you interact with people that stop you from:

  • Asking for what you need
  • Getting what you desire
  • Being validated by others
  • Having a sense that your voice matters
  • Presenting your authentic self to the world

When people have to hold themselves so tightly together they don’t or feel they can’t communicate, research shows the stress response kicks in high drive and overloads the brain with fear, caution, and anxiety-ridden hormones. The more this happens the more a person shuts down and stops trying to communicate altogether. 

Stress Comes First

During stress, the body reacts in ways that significantly impact our ability to communicate, both as the messenger and receiver. Let’s review some of the more important ways so you can understand why mastering communication skills is so essential to the SMaRT program.

Impacts of Stress on Communication

  • The body stops all blood supply to the ears, causing a massive decrease in the ability to hear.
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking are shut off so energy can be moved to the part of the brain that manages crisis actions.
  • Messages, instructions, and announcements get confusing because our brain cannot manage multiple bits of information at once.
  • Hearing becomes impaired because our brain cannot juggle more than a few facts at once 
  • Instead of remembering information in linear or chronological order, people recall what was most important or last said.

You can see with the shortlist of side effects above just how fragile communication is when you or someone else is under stress.  Asking for assistance when life becomes overwhelming is harder, not only for emotional reasons brought on by stress (fear of being judged or thought weak, embarrassed of your situation, etc.) but rather due to physical and neurological repercussions of stress.  These lead to increased tension, anger, miscommunication, kerfuffles, and dissolving of relationships that could be saved if people were addressing the right issue.

Key Takeaways

What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Communication issues or stress? The short: communication issues come first.

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