How to Communicate Effectively (Even When You’re Stressed)

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Why Being Able to Communicate Effectively is Important

Communication is important for so many aspects of life! Being able to communicate effectively helps us to:

  • Get what we want
  • Establish relationships & build connections
  • Be a good leader/ get along at work
  • Enjoy better physical and mental health
  • One recent study even found that poor social skills are not only linked to mental health problems like depression and anxiety, but also to physical health problems.

    (I was surprised to learn that loneliness – often the result of poor communication skills – presents health risks as serious as smoking, obesity or eating a high-fat diet with lack of exercise.)

    But, in today’s technology-obsessed age, face-to-face interaction has decreased.

    Which makes it more difficult to cultivate the in-person communication skills still necessary to succeed.

    Especially for younger generations who never knew a world without texting or Instagram.

    The ability to communicate under pressure is one of the most highly-sought after skills by employers.

    And it's no wonder given that 3 in 5 millennials believe life is more stressful now than ever before. Also, Gen Z is the most stressed generation, with 91% experiencing symptoms of stress in the past month, according to the American Psychological Association's 2018 Stress in America Survey.

    Fortunately, effective communication is a skill that can be learned and improved.

    So, if you’re interested in learning how to communicate more effectively under stress, keep reading!

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    4 Core Skills of Effective Communicators

    Core Skills of Effective Communicators pic

    There are four main principles of effective communication.

    If you can master these things, then I guarantee you will be a great communicator! (or at least better than you were before …)

    1. Listening 

    Being a good listener is the first step to being a good communicator.

    I took a class called "Listening" in law school. It was really eye-opening to see how much most of us (including myself) just don’t listen well or often enough!

    To be a better listener:

    • Focus- Pay undivided attention to the person speaking to you. Eliminate as many distractions as possible and be mindful. For example, don’t be on your phone or looking around at other things… look at the person and make eye contact. 
    • Don’t interrupt- Let the other person finish saying what they want to say. Do not interrupt, finish their sentences or think about what you want to say before they have finished. Many communication problems arise when we jump to conclusions.

    2. Confidence

    When you’re confident, it shines through in your communication, both spoken and unspoken.

    • Verbal communication- Confident people tend to speak assertively. When you’re assertive, you are able to express your opinions, needs and desires without being disrespectful to others. You are able to set boundaries and make decisions that you will later feel comfortable with.

      *Cultivating the skill of assertiveness can also help to reduce feelings of frustration and resentment that arise from stifling your true thoughts/opinions/wishes. This is particularly helpful if you suffer from anxiety.
    • Non-verbal communication- 97% of communication is non-verbal. Culture plays an important role here, but some general things to focus on to improve your non-verbal communication include eye contact, gestures, posture and smile.

    3. Emotional Intelligence

    Emotional intelligence, or the ability to identify and control emotions, is an important aspect of effective communication.

    Having a high degree of emotional intelligence is one of the qualities associated with great leaders.

    Being sensitive to your emotions and the emotions of others allows you to:

    • Be empathetic- Relating to others on an emotional level helps us to communicate with them in a more direct, meaningful way.
    • Build rapport- While self-disclosure is important for building rapport, it is also important to be aware of timing – sometimes, it’s best just to listen and not talk about yourself.
    • Display genuine curiosity- When you are genuinely interested in others and ask thoughtful questions, they tend to like you more and therefore the lines of communication open up.

    4. Negotiation 

    The ability to negotiate is one of the most transferable skills you can have!

    Things are constantly changing, making the ability to solve complex problems super valuable.  

    Now more than ever, employers want to know that you are able to solve complex problems. 

    The ability to negotiate tough situations is useful in basically every aspect of life from business to relationships.

    And it’s especially useful to be able to maintain composure when you’re in a high-conflict, high-stakes or high-stress situation.

    I could easily write an entire book on this topic so I won’t get into the details here! But some general things to work on to improve your negotiation skills include being:

  • Open-minded
  • Flexible
  • Tactful & diplomatic
  • Respectful
  • Patient
  • Creative
  • Communicate Effectively Under Stress:

    How Stress Affects Communication

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    Stress is a barrier to effective communication.

    It impairs our ability to focus, hear and process information.

    When we have anxiety, we’re often distracted by thoughts about the future or the past.

    We engage in “what if” thinking – either catastrophizing about the future or ruminating over the past.

    When our thoughts are racing at a million miles a minute, we’re not focusing entirely on the task at hand.

    And that can show through in our voices, expressions and body language.

    Stress and anxiety can also affect us physically, further impairing our ability to remain calm under pressure and communicate effectively.

    Fortunately, if we know the physical symptoms of stress then we can address them in order to calm ourselves down and communicate more effectively.

    How Stress Affects the Body

    Stress affects our thoughts, feelings and behavior.

    Which is why it’s so much more difficult to communicate effectively under pressure.

    There are proactive ways to minimize stress such as simplifying your life, doing a brain dump, meditating and eating a healthy, anti-anxiety diet.

    But, sometimes you just need quick stress relief for effective communication.

    The best way to do that is to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety such as:

  • Muscle tension
  • Shallow breathing
  • Elevated heart rate, blood pressure
  • Increased adrenaline, cortisol
  • Upset stomach
  • Tips to Communicate Effectively Under Stress

    Tips for Communicating Under Stress Pic

    So, since we know some of the physical manifestations of stress, we can combat them.

    For example:

    • To ease muscle tension, practice progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Consciously clench and release each muscle group one at a time to release stress and anxiety from your body.
    • Combat shallow breathing and elevated heart rate by practicing controlled, deep breathing. Inhale through the nose for 5 seconds and hold for five seconds. Exhale through the mouth for five seconds and wait five seconds before taking another breath.
    • Burn off excess adrenaline and cortisol by doing some exercise. Try weight- lifting, a HIIT workout or walking outside to really boost your mood. This is one brilliant way to use anxiety to your advantage.
    • If possible, talk while engaging in some sort of physical activity. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy – just going for a walk or holding a thumb/palm stone can help a great deal. *Two of my favorites are black obsidian and rose quartz.
    • Ground yourself by engaging your senses. Try using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.

    We can also combat the emotional manifestations of stress to communicate more effectively:

  • Keep your communication simple, short and to the point to avoid confusion. Get to the heart of the matter and be clear about the main message you’re trying to send.

  • When you are under stress, you’re more likely to misunderstand what others are saying. So, be sure to check your accuracy by asking questions and playing "devil’s advocate" before making any assumptions.

    • It can also help to distract yourself for a minute. Focusing on something else will interrupt the anxiety and keep it from escalating. Try watching something funny. Laughter truly is the best medicine. My suggestion? Liza Koshy! 👇🤣

    Over to you … what do you struggle with the most when it comes to communication? Let me know in the comments!

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    Infographic- How to Communicate Effectively Under Stress

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    About the Author

    Kalliope Archondis, JD, LLM. 👋Hi! I'm Kalli, personal development blogger and Etsy shop owner. Check out our Self Care by 3D Success relaxation spa gift sets here.