Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘breathing and stuttering

note-to-self-breatheIt always surprises me to hear one person who stutters advise another person who stutters to remember to breathe when facing a stressful speaking situation. It’s not something like remembering to turn off the coffee pot before leaving the house. For that, you have to consciously focus on the act of walking over to the coffee pot and powering it off.

Breathing isn’t like that. There’s isn’t an “on-off” switch that we need to remember to push. It’s not mechanical. Breathing comes automatically. We do not think about doing it. We just do it. Like the Nike slogan. The human body comes equipped with the innate ability to do that which keeps us alive. Unless of course we are injured or gravely ill and mechanical breathing is indeed needed for breathing.

So why then do we often hear people reminding us to breathe? I often get annoyed when people who don’t stutter offer me that advice. Like I have a choice. Like there is a button to push. As if “just breathing” was enough to stop stuttering.

It’s not that easy. Stuttering is a neurologically influenced disorder which interrupts the normal flow of speech. Breathing, which we already do without thinking about it, does not improve our stuttering.

I see and hear this a lot in the stuttering community. Someone will post on a forum that they are nervous about an upcoming job interview and ask for advice. Inevitably, someone will write, “remember to breathe.” That thought doesn’t enter my mind when I am faced with a challenging speaking situation. I am usually thinking about a strategy I can use to lessen repetitions or to get out of a block. Breathing isn’t a trick to pull out of the speech tool bag.

Why do you suppose people who stutter offer this advice to other people who stutter? Is it because they can’t think of anything else?


It’s funny the advice people who don’t stutter give to those of us who do stutter. Like they know the answer and can solve our stuttering problem for us. If it was as simple as just taking a deep breath, all of us who stutter would already be doing that.

I had this advice given to me the other day when I was talking to a medical receptionist over the phone. The woman was impatient and I was having a really stutter-y day. When she asked me a question, I blocked on something and then had a couple of repetitions. She asked me if everything was OK.

I decided to tell her I stutter. I said something like, “everything’s fine. I just stutter. Please bear with me.” It was then that she said, “that’s OK. Just take a deep breath.”

I certainly know she meant no harm. In fact, she had lost her impatient tone and actually sounded like she was trying to be helpful. I didn’t tell her that advising someone who stutters to take a deep breath isn’t really helpful. I felt that would have been rude. I just continued on with the brief conversation and left it at that.

I know for many people who stutter that practicing breathing techniques actually does help with their control of stuttering. It is a technique taught in some fluency shaping programs and seems to be the mainstay of the popular UK McGuire program. Slowing rate and speaking on exhaled breaths does help for some.

But the random advice to take a deep breath usually does not help in the stuttering moment. It definitely does not help me. It just reminds me of how much stuttering is misunderstood by those who don’t stutter.

I’m glad I advertised in my encounter with the receptionist over the phone. That empowers me. Maybe next time I’ll go with the flow and take a deep breath and see if it helps at all. 🙂

One of the most popular posts on this blog, the one that gets the most visitors, is a post titled Breathe In, Breathe Out, that I wrote on April 15, 2010. I think it’s so popular because people who stutter are often looking for techniques that can help to manage stuttering.

The program that focuses most on breathing is the McGuire program. This program stresses the use of costal breathing, where students are taught diaphragmatic breathing techniques. Graduates of the McGuire method practice breathing techniques daily in order for speaking to sound natural.

When I attended speech therapy a few years ago, one of the techniques that the student clinicians taught us was “full breath.” This was part of traditional fluency shaping therapy.

For me, I always found it difficult to concentrate on my breathing and trying to speak at the same time. Both are automatic, things I do without thinking. I breathe with ease. Sometimes I speak with ease, sometimes I struggle when I speak.

When I block, I can sometimes feel myself run out of air and feel breathless. That can be such a helpless, out-of-control feeling. But I still don’t want to take the time to stop and think about breathing and speaking on a full breath.

To me, breathing is just breathing and shouldn’t require extra, specific thought. I’m curious – what do you think?


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2022.
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