These days it seems like every time you ask someone how they are the answer is “busy”. In an age where technology is supposed to ease our workload, the average person is actually working more.
The life of a singer can be exceptionally busy. Since most singers don’t make a living wage off their singing, they need to supplement with other income, so add to a daily job and household responsibilities the time for lessons, research, practice, rehearsals and performances and you can be busy from early morning to late in the night.
If you’re lucky enough to be a successful professional singer, life is still a hectic whirlwind of travel, lessons and coachings, auditions and, for some, 8 performances a week or MORE!
A singer’s life is full of stress.
It’s not just the busyness, but the emotional stress that we need to get through dealing with auditions, performance expectations (ours and other’s), reviews, rejections, competition and worrying about our vocal health.
You as a singer are already most likely a sensitive soul. Singers, as other musicians, feel deeply. This gives us the ability to transform the notes and words on a page into a profound emotional experience for your audience. This also makes us more vulnerable to mental health issues.
What is stress?
Stress is a natural response to external stimulus. It’s part of our fight or flight instinct. You sense a threat and your body starts to release a number of stress hormones into the body, mostly from the adrenal gland.
A stressor is the stimulus (or threat) that causes stress, e.g. exam, audition, performance, divorce, death of loved one, moving house, loss of job.
Sudden and severe stress generally produces:
This explains the pre-performance shallow breathing and loss of appetite, and the post-performance colds that many singers experience.
Usually, when the threat is past, your body goes back into a balanced state.
Problems start to occur when the stress doesn't dissipate or occurs with great frequency. This is chronic stress. It can affect the immune, metabolic and cardiovascular systems, and lead to atrophy of the brain's hippocampus (crucial for long-term memory and spatial navigation).
Cortisol (one of the main stress hormones), stays elevated. This is the hormone that releases glucose for energy. This can lead to unregulated eating and the craving for “comfort” foods, to maintain the energy levels that the stress response is asking for. Outcomes of this can be obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
In fact, untreated chronic stress can result in serious many serious health conditions. In addition to the above it can also lead to anxiety and depression, insomnia, muscle pain and heart disease.
Despite its connection to illness, it’s estimated that 33 percent of Americans never discuss ways to manage stress with their healthcare provider.
So how can you tell if you are over stressed or approaching burnout?
If you’re to stressed you might feel:
If you’ve reached the point of burnout you will be experiencing:
If you are experiencing burnout or chronic stress symptoms then be sure to address this with your health care practitioner.
8 Tips to Manage Stress:
The best way to manage stress is to make it a priority to do so. So here are 8 tips to help you reduce the stress in your life.
If you want more stress busting tips and a supportive community of singers, then click here to join our free group The Fit Singer Community.
Coffee is one of those things - you either love it or hate it. You know if you like the taste or not (or if it’s just a reason to drink sugar and cream). You know how it makes you feel (i.e. your gut, your mind, etc.).
Not to mention the crazy headlines that say coffee is great, and the next day you should avoid it!
As singers we are also told to avoid it due to the dehydrating effect of caffeine on our vocal folds.
There is actual science behind why different people react differently to it. It's a matter of your genetics and how much coffee you're used to drinking.
NOTE: Coffee does not equal caffeine. Coffee contains between 50-400 mg of caffeine/cup, averaging around 100 mg/cup. Coffee is one of the most popular ways to consume this stimulant. But… a cup of coffee contains a lot of things over and above the caffeine. Not just water, but antioxidants, and hundreds of other compounds. These are the reasons drinking a cup of coffee is not the same as taking a caffeine pill. And decaffeinated coffee has a lot less caffeine; but, it still contains some.
Let's look at caffeine metabolism, its effects on the mind and body, and whether coffee drinkers have higher or lower risks of disease. We'll also look at some studies on the effects on the voice. Then I’ll give you some things to consider when deciding if coffee is for you or not.
Not all people metabolize caffeine at the same speed. How fast you metabolize caffeine will impact how you’re affected by the caffeine. In fact, caffeine metabolism can be up to 40x faster in some people than others.
About half of us are “slow” metabolizers of caffeine. We can get jitters, heart palpitations, and feel "wired" for up to 9 hours after having a coffee. The other half is "fast" metabolizers of caffeine. They get energy and increased alertness and are back to normal a few hours later.
This is part of the reason those headlines contradict each other so much - because we’re all different!
The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body
NOTE: Most studies look at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.
The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body also differ between people; this is partly from the metabolism I mentioned. But it also has to do with your body’s amazing ability to adapt (read: become more tolerant) to long-term caffeine use. Many people who start drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have coffee every day.
Here’s a list of these effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):
So, while some of these effects are good and some aren’t, you need to see how they affect you and decide if it’s worth it or not.
Coffee and health risks
There are a ton of studies on the health effects of coffee, and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to get certain conditions.
Here’s a quick summary of what coffee can lead to:
Many of the health benefits exist even for decaf coffee (except the caffeine addiction and sleep issues).
NOTE: What’s super-important to note here is that coffee intake is just one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for these diseases. Please never think regular coffee intake is the one thing that can help you overcome these risks. You are health-conscious and know that eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep and exercise are all critical things to consider for your disease risk. It’s not just about the coffee.
Caffeine and the Singer
So what does it mean to you as a singer?
An initial pilot study from 1999 showed that there was an effect on vocal production in all participants after consuming 250 mg of caffeine, though the variability was quite great. This study had only 8 participants, so it was to small a sampling to make a definite conclusion.
A subsequent study from 2011 with a group of 16 subjects compared them in two sessions, one at which they consumed 480 mg caffeine and one at which they consumed a sham beverage containing only 24 mg. There was no discernible difference in voice measurements between the two sessions.
Another study from 2013 took 58 females between the ages of 18 and 35. They were split into two groups, one being given 100 mg of caffeine and the other control group being given a placebo. Tests administered to both groups did not identify any differences between them in the measurements of vocal acoustic and aerodynamics.
All these studies have small samplings and many limitations, so no firm conclusion can yet be reached on the effect of caffeine on the voice.
The best advice is "better safe than sorry". Follow conventional vocal wisdom by restricting caffeine use and for every cup of coffee, drink 2 cups of water.
Vocal issues aside, should you drink coffee or not?
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should drink coffee. No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health.
Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:
If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee. Does it:
Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating it for a while and see the difference.
Recipe (Latte): Pumpkin Spice Latte
3 tbsp coconut milk or other non-dairy milk
1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
¼ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp pumpkin puree
½ tsp maple syrup (optional)
1 cup coffee (decaf if preferred)
Add all ingredients to blender and blend until creamy.
Serve & enjoy!
The holidays have been over for about a week now. Sometimes those holiday feasts are just amazing.
And it's not just the abundance of delicious food but also the people, the decorations, and the ambiance.
It made it way too easy to indulge during the past month. And there are other holidays through the year where the same will be true.
But it doesn't always stop there. There are post-performance parties and receptions.
Sometimes we overeat on regular days. Or at regular meals. Or All. The. Time.
Overeating and singing do not go well together. Who wants to sing when we feel bloated or in a post-meal coma? Here are three tips to avoid overeating at meals.
(Psst, turn these into habits and ditch the willpower!)
Tip #1: Start with some water
When your stomach is growling and you smell amazingly delicious food it's too easy to fill a plate (or grab some samples with your bare hands) and dive into the food.
But did you know that it's possible to sometimes confuse the feeling of thirst with that of hunger? Your stomach may actually be craving a big glass of water rather than a feast.
Some studies have shown that drinking a glass or two of water before a meal can help reduce the amount of food eaten. And this super-simple tip may even help with weight loss (...just sayin').
Not only will the water start to fill up your stomach before you get to the buffet, leaving less room for the feast but drinking enough water has been shown to slightly increase your metabolism. And of course, we want to keep our vocal folds hydrated.
Tip #2: Try eating “mindfully”
You've heard of mindfulness but have you applied that to your eating habits?
This can totally help you avoid overeating as well as having the added bonus of helping your digestion.
Just as being mindful when you meditate helps to focus your attention on your breathing and the present moment being mindful when you eat helps to focus your attention on your meal.
Do this by taking smaller bites, eating more slowly, chewing more thoroughly, and savouring every mouthful. Notice and appreciate the smell, taste and texture. Breathe.
This can help prevent overeating because eating slower often means eating less.
When you eat quickly you can easily overeat because it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to know that your stomach is full.
So take your time, pay attention to your food and enjoy every bite.
Bonus points: Eat at a table (not on the run to the next rehearsal), off of a small plate, and put your fork down between bites.
Tip #3: Start with the salad
You may be yearning for that rich, creamy main dish.
But don't start there.
(Don't worry, you can have some...just after you've eaten your salad).
Veggies are a great way to start any meal because they're full of not only vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and health-promoting phytochemicals but they also have some secret satiety weapons: fiber and water.
Fiber and water are known to help fill you up and make you feel fuller. They're “satiating”.
And these secret weapons are great to have on your side when you're about to indulge in a large meal.
Have your glass of water, eat mindfully, and start with your salad to help avoid overeating at meals.
Need help staying on track? Then join us in the FREE Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Community.
Recipe (Water): Tasty (and beautiful) Pre-Meal Water Ideas
If you're not much of a plain water drinker or need your water to be more appealing to your senses here are five delicious (and beautiful looking) fruit combos to add to your large glass of water:
Tip: You can buy a bag (or several bags) of frozen chopped fruit and throw those into your cup, thermos, or uber-cool mason jar in the morning. They're already washed and cut and will help keep your water colder longer.
What is Metabolism?
This word “metabolism” is thrown around a lot these days.
You know that if yours is too slow you might gain weight. But what exactly does this all mean and why should singers care?
Well technically “metabolism” is the word to describe all of the biochemical reactions in your body. It's how you take in nutrients and oxygen and use them to fuel everything you do – including singing.
Your body has an incredible ability to grow, heal, and generally stay alive. And without this amazing biochemistry you would not be possible.
Metabolism includes how the cells in your body:
So when you put all of these processes together into your metabolism you can imagine that these processes can work too quickly, too slowly, or just right.
Which brings us to the “metabolic rate”.
This is how fast your metabolism works and is measured in calories (yup, those calories!).
The calories you eat can go to one of three places:
As you can imagine the more calories you burn as work or creating heat the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off because there will be fewer “leftover” calories to store for later.
There are a couple of different ways to measure metabolic rate. One is the “resting metabolic rate” (RMR) which is how much energy your body uses when you're not being physically active.
The other is the “total daily energy expenditure” (TDEE) which measures both the resting metabolic rate as well as the energy used for “work” (e.g. exercise) throughout a 24-hour period.
What affects your metabolic rate?
In a nutshell: a lot!
The first thing you may think of is your thyroid. This gland at the front of your throat releases hormones to tell your body to “speed up” your metabolism. Of course, the more thyroid hormone there is the faster things will work and the more calories you'll burn.
But that's not the only thing that affects your metabolic rate.
How big you are counts too!
Larger people have higher metabolic rates; but your body composition is crucial!
As you can imagine muscles that actively move and do work need more energy than fat does. So the more lean muscle mass you have the more energy your body will burn and the higher your metabolic rate will be. Even when you're not working out. And lean muscle is a necessity to the active lives of singers.
This is exactly why weight training is often recommended as a part of a weight loss program. Because you want muscles to be burning those calories for you.
The thing is, when people lose weight their metabolic rate often slows down which you don't want to happen. So you definitely want to offset that with more muscle mass.
Aerobic exercise also temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Your muscles are burning fuel to move so they're doing “work”.
The type of food you eat also affects your metabolic rate!
Your body actually burns calories to absorb, digest, and metabolize your food. This is called the “thermic effect of food” (TEF).
You can use it to your advantage when you understand how your body metabolizes foods differently.
Fats, for example increase your TEF by 0-3%; carbs increase it by 5-10% (this is a deceptive number and more on that later), and protein increases it by 15-30%.
But before you go out and start stocking up on steaks, think of this, there is no significant difference between animal and plant protein to TEF. Furthermore, a whole food diet, one rich in healthy carbs (whole grains, vegetables and fruits) will increase TEF by nearly 50% over a processed food diet.
By trading some of your fat or refined carbs for lean protein and whole food carbs you can slightly increase your metabolic rate.
Another bonus of protein is that your muscles need it to grow. By working them out and feeding them what they need they will help you to lose weight and keep it off.
The Mind-Body Connection
And don't forget the mind-body connection. There is plenty of research that shows the influence that things like stress and sleep have on the metabolic rate. These are areas that we singers quite often have trouble with. Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises are all methods that help reduce stress and improve the mind-body connection.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to metabolism and how so many different things can work to increase (or decrease) your metabolic rate.
Your body is your instrument and how your metabolism is working will affect your voice in the long run.
To keep your instrument in top shape join our free Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.