Your voice is the gateway between your inner and outer self. It reflects what you are thinking, and especially what you’re feeling. Any tension can be detected by the listener – from the tremor to the vocal attack.
Pressure and tension affects breathing – either by tightening of the diaphragm and forcing the breathing to become shallow or by holding the breath with a consequent hyperventilation. This may produce dizziness, a dry mouth, shaking and trembling, stomach churning and increased pulse. These symptoms distract attention. They certainly impair concentration. They can turn into panic. At the very least, you lose volume or run out of breath before the end of the sentence. Your voice then sounds breathy, as though you’ve been running.
Tension distorts amplification as well as resonance and tone. Your voice can sound shrill when you dampened the lower frequencies by tensing up the muscles in your throat. That shrillness agitates your audience and increases tension in the room. This particularly affects women who have lighter voices and undermines their authority since men find it hard to absorb information conveyed by the higher registers in a voice. It encourages restlessness and frustration, especially in modern environments where there are hard surfaces and laminate flooring. These dampen lower frequencies and amplify higher ones.
When I was teaching Drama in the mid to late ’70s and early ’80s, schools I taught at (for 11 – 18 year olds) had big picture windows, vinyl flooring and shiny painted surfaces. I noticed even though I had had voice training every day for 3 years at drama school, I lost my voice quite frequently in the first few years. My voice rose higher and higher to contend with the noise from children in the class (in those days, I had classes of up to forty-two 15 year olds). Even then, I could not make myself understood. Why? Because those shiny, gleaming surfaces distort sound. I became convinced that the reason some teachers had discipline problems was because they couldn’t make themselves understood, however hard they shouted because of the environment they were in. The more they raised their voices, the more distorted they sounded and the more agitated their class became.
As Nietzsche says,
“We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us.”
Tension is infectious. When you most want calm and clarity, your tension will promote tension in others.