Have you ever stopped to think about it? Most singers perform evenings and even into the wee hours of the morning. This can set us up to have a schedule similar to many shift workers. Shift work is defined as anything that is outside regular daytime work hours that could encompass 7 am to 6 pm.
In fact, some of us may even be pulling double shifts if you have a day job, as well as your nighttime gigs or rotational shifts if you have a day job during the week and then perform weekends. Even singing teachers can be considered shift workers.
This can have serious consequences to our health. Within the World Health Organization's (WHO) definition of "health", shift work is a risky condition at all three of their reference levels. It is a risk factor for health, it also perturbs the sleep/wake cycle and circadian rhythms, and it hampers family and social life.
Some of the health issues that have been linked to shift work include:
Some speculation on the cause of these health risks is that our sleep/wake cycle is disrupted, which affects the circadian rhythm, or body clock. Our bodies naturally are primed for the difference between day and night. In the morning, our body temperature starts to rise to wake us. Sunlight signals receptors into the eye, which sets off production of hormones that will help us thrive through the day. In the evening, our body temperature starts to drop and levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep, start to rise. When this circadian cycle is disrupted it can cause hormonal imbalances (including melatonin, reproductive hormones, insulin, hunger hormones, cortisol, seratonin and more), a rise in cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, which all can lead to health problems.
These disruptions can also lead to insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality. This can lead to fatigue and loss of mental alertness, which could impact our ability to perform at our best. The International Classification of Sleep Disorders has officially defined the Shift Work Sleep Disorder (307.45-1) as one that "consists of symptoms of insomnia or excessive sleepiness that occur as transient phenomena in relation to work schedules".
Family and social life can become strained by working hours that don’t fit with the schedules of family and friends. Socializing with friends becomes difficult, since you are working during their leisure time. Singers with children may get insufficient or disrupted sleep by having to take care of young children or get children off to school in the morning. After school time may be taken up with rehearsals or teaching.
I personally experienced this with my children. When by kids were preschoolers, it was great – I’d have them all day and then my husband would come home and I would teach from late afternoon through the evening. Once they started school not so great. I’d start teaching as soon as they got home from school until their bedtime. It did cause strain and my kids did start having some behavioural problems until I was able to schedule some family time into my evenings.
What can we do?
For many singers there is little choice, but to continue to work evenings. If booking daytime gigs, like church work or singing at retirement homes isn’t going to do it for you, then there are some things you can do to try to make your schedule work for you and get your body primed for your work schedule.
Have you ever considered your singing schedule as shift work? I’d love to know how you cope with it and if you use any of these strategies. If you haven’t give them a try and let me know how you do.
Get more tips to optimize your singer’s health with my free Singer’s Wellness Guide. Click here to get your’s now.
We now come to the final part in our three part series on managing anxiety through lifestyle changes. If you missed parts one and two you can find them here:
Beating Anxiety – Part 1: Nutrition
Beating Anxiety – Part 2: Exercise
Today we are talking about sleep. While stress and anxiety can cause sleep disturbances, likewise, studies have shown that sleep deprivation can cause anxiety-like symptoms or exacerbate already present anxiety. It can be a chicken or egg scenario.
Whether anxiety started your sleep disturbances or sleep disturbances caused anxiety, treating your sleep should be a priority.
Are you getting enough?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should be getting 7 – 9 hours of sleep. A study of elite performers (musicians, athletes, chess players) showed that the top performers had an average of 8 hours and 36 minutes of sleep. However, the average American only gets 6.6 hours of sleep a night. It’s become a badge of honour in our society to get by on less sleep, but it has serious consequences.
Sleep deprivation can affect our alertness and mood, and slowly start chipping away at our happiness. Four hours of sleep deprivation in a night can leave you as impaired as drinking a six-pack of beer. Now if you get 5 hours of sleep, you may be thinking, “well that’s only 2 hours of sleep lost if I’m supposed to get 7 hours of sleep”, but you may be one of those people that need 9 hours of sleep and then you are in trouble.
Finding the right amount of sleep is a personal matter and may take a little bit of time (perhaps during vacation when you don’t have to worry about waking up at a certain time) to discover what the right amount is for you.
If you do experience a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy or any one of the 70 known sleep disorders, then make sure that you see your personal physician to discuss treatment of the disorder. Many people with anxiety do suffer from a sleep disorder.
Caffeine and other sleep disruptors
If you are using coffee and energy drinks loaded with caffeine to make it through the day, you may be sabotaging yourself. Caffeine has a half-life of 8 – 12 hours, meaning that the caffeine is still in your system 8 – 12 hours later. And a quarter-life of 16 hours. You really don’t want to be drinking anything caffeinated past noon and you should’t be drinking more than 2 cups, especially if you suffer from sleep disturbances.
Even those who say that they sleep through the night with caffeine have been shown in studies to be unable to reach the slow wave deep sleep that is needed for a restorative sleep.
You may also want to skip that nightcap or post show drink. Alcohol, though it may make you feel sleepy and help you fall asleep quickly, it will actually become a stimulant and wake you up in the night.
Eating too close before bedtime is another way to disrupt your sleep. This can be hard when you suffer anxiety and are prone to comfort eating. It can also be hard as a singer, if you have theatre call, which makes you skip dinner and then you’re off for a late night dinner after the show. Timed eating may be a solution for this (and it’s great for your digestion and body compostition, too). That means you are fasting for 12 – 16 hours. So if you allow your last meal to be at 5 pm you won’t eat again until the next morning. The trick here is to make sure you have enough calories during the day to keep your energy up and also eating good quality food that can help with your anxiety. To find the best foods for anxiety click here.
One other thing that can be disruptive for sleep is intense exercise. Though moderate intensity exercise can be done at anytime, even right before bed without fear of sleep disruption, vigorous intensity cardiovascular exercise before bed can cause sleep disruption. So save the hard stuff for earlier in the day. That being said, don’t skimp on vigorous intensity exercise as it has been shown to help sleep quality. For more on exercise and anxiety click here.
De-stress and sleep better
Anxiety often has the mind in overdrive with worries and thoughts, so taking time at the end of the day to de-stress can have a positive influence on your sleep. Avoid doing anything stressful such as paying bills before going to bed. Write out your to-do list for the next day so your brain isn’t whirling with those thoughts. Taking a hot bath with some lavender essential oil can be calming and getting out of a hot bath will start to lower your body temperature, which can aid sleep. Try some meditation. Listen to relaxing music for 30 - 45 minutes before you go to sleep (classical, Gregorian chant and binaural music are all great options). You can find more tips on pre-sleep routines here.
As mentioned in the first of this series, anxiety disorders are a serious matter and you should seek the aid of a mental health professional. Unfortunately, many doctors and therapists do not understand all the lifestyle factors that can be contributing to anxiety, so it won’t hurt to try to implement healthy lifestyle changes along side the other care you will be getting. Just be sure to let your healthcare provider know of the changes you’re making and any differences in mood you may be experiencing, especially if you are on medication, as dosing may need to be adjusted.
If you want more guidance on lifestyle changes, then you may want to book a Singer’s Wellness Strategy session with me. You can book your session here.
This is the second in a two part series on lifestyle factors that may be contributing to anxiety.
In part one we discussed what anxiety disorders are. We also talked about performance anxiety and how many of these strategies are helpful for that, as well. And finally we explored the role of nutrition in anxiety and what foods may be exacerbating anxiety and what foods can help relieve it. If you haven’t read it yet you can find it here: Beating Anxiety - Part One: Nutrition
This week our focus will be on the role of exercise in relieving anxiety.
How Does Exercise Help?
There have been numerous studies on the beneficial effects of exercise on anxiety and depression. Exercising can be as effective as drugs for the treatment of anxiety. Why it works is still under consideration, but there seem to be many possible contributing factors
One possible explanation is that the stress pathway called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, undergoes changes that affect stress reactivity and anxiety under the influence of exercise.
Another possibility is that exercise increases serotonin synthesis, metabolism, and release. Serotonin being one of the major mood hormones necessary to our well being.
There is evidence that exercise stress can affect gene expression that affects the area of the brain rich in neurons that produce norepinephrine – a neuro-transmitter that plays a vital role in the fight or flight response.
Another possible mechanism for the anxiety relieving effects of exercise is by the body’s production of natural opioids and endocannaboids, which have a role in the regulation of mood and emotional responses. Exercise may induce a euphoric state with the release of these naturally occurring chemicals in the body and reduce pain – no weed necessary.
Aside from these physiological explanations, there are also some psychological reasons for the role of exercise in reducing anxiety.
Exposing someone with high anxiety sensitivity to the physiological symptoms they fear, such as rapid heartbeat, in the context of physical exercise may increase their tolerance for such symptoms as the brain soon realizes that there is no serious threat Repeated exposures through regular aerobic exercise may also help in getting used to the feared sensation.
Distraction is often a technique used to help those with anxiety and depress, so it’s another reason why exercise is effective at reducing anxiety.
Likely, it’s a combination of many of these reasons that help reduce anxiety. Whatever the reason may be, it’s clear that exercise is helpful.
How much exercise do you need to get the effects?
Regular exercise is important, so aiming for 3 to 5 times a week.
In a study on college musicians with musical performance anxiety, it was found that those who exercised regularly had lower performance anxiety scores than their more sedentary counterparts.
On a daily basis, it’s been shown that 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise has more benefit than less than 30 minutes, but there didn’t seem to be any more benefit past 45 minutes. However, even 10 minutes daily to start will start providing some relief.
And what are the best exercises?
As I like to say, the exercise you are willing to do is the best exercise. However, a study from the University of Missouri suggests that high intensity interval training seems to have the greatest anxiety-relieving effect compared to steady state cardio.
As always, it’s important to check with your physician before starting any new exercise program and work up the intensity gradually to avoid injury.
If you want exercise ideas and more anxiety busting tips, join our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Facebook group.
Over the last 20 some years of teaching singing I've noticed an increasing number of singers that struggle with anxiety, Performance anxiety has always been a problem for many singers, but anxiety disorders are on the rise. In my health coaching practice it's also a common thread.
This is the first in a three part series on how lifestyle can help anxiety, both clinical disorders and performance anxiety. I will be giving you tips and strategies to help you get back to feeling confident on and off the stage.
In this part we will discuss the impact of nutrition and what foods will help the most. The following parts will deal with physical exercise and sleep.
My own story with anxiety goes back to my childhood. I was a very VERY shy child. Though it was never diagnosed, it was social anxiety. Even as an adult I had a hard time in social situations and felt very awkward. The stigma of getting help was very real and my family had so many other issues that it seemed to me that my problems weren’t that big, so I never sought treatment. However, when I did change my lifestyle through exercise and nutrition it was if a veil had lifted! I suddenly found myself more willing to take chances socially and felt so much more confident in myself.
Though lifestyle factors can go a long way to helping alleviate anxiety, it’s important to realize that it can have many underlying factors that need to be addressed. A combination of improving lifestyle and working with a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders is the most effective way to treat anxiety.
Anxiety DisordersFirst let’s have a little background look at anxiety.
Anxiety is prevalent in our society. According to Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) 54 percent of woman and 46 percent of men experience some form of anxiety disorder.
Some common disorders are generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder and specific phobias.
Many use medication to help alleviate their anxiety. Paxil and Zoloft, two of the more popular anti-anxiety medications, ranked 7th and 8th in the top ten prescribed medications in the US. However, singers should use these medications with caution since they can cause a dry mouth and dry out mucous membranes that can result in hoarseness, sore throat and voice changes leaving the vocal folds susceptible to injuries such as nodules.
Mental and physical health are closely linked. People with a mood disorder are at much higher risk of developing a long-term medical condition.
Just a few of the symptom of those who have an anxiety condition include:
Some level of performance anxiety is expected for any performer. Some even say that if you don’t feel nervous, you won’t give a good performance. It’s a natural state of being faced with an unfamiliar situation; your body’s fight or flight response. Usually the anticipation of performing is usually worse than the actual performance. However, for some performance anxiety can be debilitating.
There are many ways to learn to cope with performance anxiety that incorporate cognitive strategies (mindset, meditation, triggers). However, lifestyle here also plays an important role. It can help give you a reliable instrument for singing; energized, healthy, with an alert mind.
If you are tired or unwell, there is always the worry that you won’t perform as well as you would like and the very real worry of vocal injury.
Nutrition to boost you mood and performance
Studies have shown that adopting a healthier diet can boost peoples' mood. In particular, eating more nutrient-dense meals, which are high in fibre and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars. Likewise, studies have shown that a “junk food” diet can have negative psychological effects.
Making healthy dietary change can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. These conditions have been linked to inflammation in the body due to how chronic stress adversely affects the body’s inflammation response. Eating an unhealthy diet, such as junk food, high sugar foods, and stimulants, stress the body, which can contribute to inflammation problems. Chronic inflammation is also linked to many diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the body’s stress load causing a reduction in inflammation.
Women in particular seem to benefit from dietary interventions for symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Though that’s no excuse for the guys to get complacent, since they are still at great risk of inflammatory conditions that will affect their health.
Performance anxiety also benefits from supportive lifestyle factors including physical exercise, sleep and healthy diet. The best strategy is to adopt healthy eating as a lifestyle choice. This will ensure decreased inflammation, which as we already discussed can prevent (and in some cases, reverse) many diseases that can affect your ability to sing and to sing with confidence.
On performance days you should avoid alcohol, high caffeine, high-sugar, high-fat and spicy foods before performance and eat easily digestible complex carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, which will produce a sustained release of energy during performance. This will also help you better maintain concentration and focus.
Some great meal ideas include whole grain pasta with a mild primavera sauce, lentil soup, or a bean and rice burrito bowl. Avoid wheat/gluten products if you have irritable bowel syndrome or have a known sensitivity to wheat products.
Foods that boost your mood
Some of the causes of anxiety have to do with nutrient deficiencies. The nutrients and foods listed below will help boost your mood and make you feel energized.
B Vitamins and Folate:
Studies have indicated that many people who suffer from anxiety and depression have an elevated incident of folate deficiency. Vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which influences mood. Other B vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, have positive effects on the nervous system. Deficiencies of these vitamins have been linked to increased anxiety.
Foods rich in B vitamins:
Aparagus, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, beets, citrus, spinach, avocado, broccoli, nuts and seeds, brussel sprouts, papaya, banana, carrots, sweet potatoes,
Antioxidants including Vitamins C and E:
When we’re anxious and stressed, our bodies crave vitamin C to help repair and protect our cells. Researchers7 at the State University of New York found that anxious symptoms are linked with a lower antioxidant state.
Foods rich in antioxidants:
Kale, dark green leafy vegetables, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, dark chocolate, pecans, goji berries, artichokes, beets, goji berries, red cabbage, beans
Researchers have shown that magnesium may be an effective treatment for anxiety-related symptoms, as inadequate magnesium reduces the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
Foods rich in magnesium:
Whole grains, nuts and seeds, black beans, spinach, quinoa, avocado, tofu
Omega-3 fatty acid:
According to a study from Ohio University, omega-3 fatty acids are particularly effective when it comes to foods that help with anxiety. They are known to be highly effective anti-inflammatories and are the kind of fats our brains crave.
Foods rich in magnesium:
Chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds
They call the gut the second brain and it’s actually powered by our gut microbiome. Feeding the good bacteria in our gut can help with serotonin production. A link has been found between the consumption of fermented, probiotic foods and a reduction in social anxiety.
Foods rich in probiotics:
Sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, sourdough bread
I would love to hear about your experiences and if you've ever thought of food as a way to deal with anxiety. Leave a comment below or contact me.
If you want more ideas of how to get more of these anxiety busting foods into your diet, join our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community where I frequently share recipes and other anxiety busting tips.
Joseph Firth et al, The effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety, Psychosomatic Medicine (2019). DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000673
The Science & Psychology of Music Performance: Creative Strategies for Teaching and Learning by Richard Parncutt and Gary McPherson | Feb 18 2003
April 16, 2019 marks World Voice Day this year. Every year there’s a theme; the 2019 World Voice Day Theme is “Be Kind With Your Voice” as developed by the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery as developed by its Voice Committee.
What does it mean to be kind with your voice?
What comes out of our mouths can have a deep effect on those around us.
As singer’s we have a special gift to communicate and touch people deeply through the use of music and words. Sharing that gift is certainly being kind with your voice. Studies have suggested many health benefits to listening to music:
Now those are some awesome benefits that you can provide with your voice!
Of course we also have to consider the spoken word. That has a huge impact, too. There’s a great expression: You have two ears and one mouth and it’s best to use them in that proportion.
Too often we speak more than we listen. Learning to choose your words wisely is the first part of being kind WITH your voice. Then we also have to consider the tone we use, our inflections and speed of speech.
Studies have shown that people who speak in a monotone are perceived to not care. High-pitched voices can become shrill and be perceived as defensive. Speaking at a fast pace can seem aggressive. Other qualities of voice that may give people a negative impression of the speaker are vocal fry (the gravelly sound that drives singing teachers mad!), which makes the speaker seem lazy and upspeak, which makes the speaker sound immature or less confident in what they are saying.
So if you have something to say, make sure you are choosing kind words and delivering them in a tone of voice that will not be mistaken for anything but kindness.
What are you doing to celebrate World Voice Day?
Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans have an allergic disease?
It’s lousy being that one in five as a singer, even worse when it’s an allergy that affects your respiratory tract.
It may be called hay fever, seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis, it all means the same thing to your instrument. Nasal congestion, sneezing, watery, itchy eyes, throat soreness, the need to clear your throat due to post nasal drip, pain and/or pressure in the ears, headaches and fatigue can play havoc on the voice. It will affect your resonance. You may even experience voice breaks, vocal fatigue or laryngitis.
Typical treatment with antihistamines and decongestants can dry out the mucosal surfaces of your mouth, pharynx and larynx, which can lead to problems affecting your vocal quality and your vocal stamina, as well as putting you at risk of vocal injury.
A quick Google search of "singing with allergies" produces a list of quick fixes from daily nasal washes to herbal teas to lining your nose with Vaseline. They may do in a pinch, but wouldn't it be nice if you could just get rid of the allergies.
There has been a marked increase in the allergies and asthma over the last few decades. This leads scientists to believe that it is not a genetic condition, but due to environmental and lifestyle factors. One of the largest factors being diet.
If you REALLY want some allergy relief, start by taking a good look at your plate. The best remedy for seasonal allergies may be increasing your consumption of plant-based foods. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains are rich in a variety of nutrients that work together to keep you healthy even during the height of allergy season.
Follow these tips and eat a balanced diet full of the foods below and hit the high notes instead of sneezing them:
1. Eliminate Processed Food:
Processed foods can contain additives, chemicals and other undesirable ingredients like refined sugar, refined flour and soy that might make your allergies worse. They also increase inflammation in the body, which makes your immune system have to work in overdrive. This entire process makes allergies more prevalent in the body, not to mention makes you feel run down and tired. Try to buy organic, since pesticides can also cause some people to react to a food as well.
2. Rule out Food Allergies:
If you have a known food allergy, then you are probably avoiding it. However, some people have low grade allergies or even unknown food allergies. During allergy season, when your immune system will be overwhelmed you may want to cut out these common allergens: wheat, barley, rye, dairy, soy, gluten, shellfish, nuts, and sesame.
3. Eat vitamin C rich foods:
If you eat a whole foods plant-based diet, you’re probably getting a good amount of vitamin C. This antioxidant is known for its role in keeping us healthy during cold and flu season, and it can also protect us from foreign invaders during allergy season. Some excellent sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, papaya, red bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
4. Carotenoid Rich Foods:
Dark green leafy vegetables, including seaweed are rich in carotenoids. As are orange coloured fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and carrots. A study found that those with the highest level of total carotenoids in their blood stream (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein/zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin and cryptoxanthin) had a significantly lower prevalence of seasonal allergies.
5. Quercitin Rich Foods:
This anti-oxidant has properties of an anti-histamine. It can reduce the inflammatory response throughout the body, including those that are caused by an increase in histamine levels when an allergic response occurs. Foods such as onions, apples, berries, broccoli, cherries, grapes, capers, and tea are all great sources of this important antioxidant. You need to regularly consume quercetin-rich foods to see the benefits, but since they are all healthy plant-foods, with many other amazing benefits, you should be eating them daily anyway!
6. Eat Garlic and Tumeric:
Garlic is a such a powerful, yet humble food. This one food has been linked to cancer prevention, blood sugar regulation, a healthier heart, and reduces inflammation in all parts of the body. Boost your immunity with a small serving every day. If you don’t like garlic, turmeric is also an anti-inflammatory food with incredible benefits, and may also help lower the allergic response you suffer during pollen season. You can easily have tumeric by adding it to curries or try some Golden Milk.
7. Eat Omega-3 Rich Foods:
Flax seeds chia seeds, walnuts are all great sources. Similar to the carotenoid finding, those with higher levels of both long and short chain omega-3 fatty acids in their blood stream were found to have less allergic rhinitis.
Hydration is more important than ever during allergy season! Drink lots of water (preferably with fresh lemon – citrus has been associated with lower allergy and asthma symptoms).
9. Reduce/Eliminate Meat:
One study on diet and allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (runny nose/itchy eyes) confirmed that meat can increase the risk by 71%. Other studies have also shown the link between diets marked by greater intakes of meats, poultry, and seafood and greater risk of hayfever and asthma.
So start adding more fruits and veggies on your plate to replace the meat and processed foods and see how you do. (Bonus: these foods do so much more for you and your voice than just ease allergies)
What do you do to alleviate your allergies? I'd love to know, Leave a comment below.
Need motivation or help transitioning? Then join us in our Facebook community, Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
My voice teacher used to always say to me, “A tree only grows tall if it has deep roots, and your voice will only flourish if you connect deep in your body.” For me that connection to the body always felt tenuous. I had to really think about it.
That is until I started working out in an efficient way that developed my deep core muscles to the point that it wasn’t such a conscious effort any more. When that core connection is there my breathing becomes more efficient and my sound floats freely and effortlessly. I could sing all day!
First of all lets review some of the major core muscles involved in breathing.
If you’ve been going to the gym knocking out crunches and planks and still don’t feel the magical quality of that connection, it’s because these aren’t the most efficient exercises to activate the desired muscles.
Crunches really only work the rectus abdominus, a very superficial muscle. It’s the one that can give you a great six-pack, but can actually hinder your breathing if too tight. The movement of crunches and sit-ups may also put undue strain on neck and shoulders.
Planks can be great, but are really an advanced move. They can be difficult to do without proper guidance to achieve the proper muscle activation, plus they have other limitations and may not be for everyone. I’ve addressed it before here.
The following five exercises in the video will hit all the muscles that you need to get great stabilization and activation of the core muscles that will have you singing freely throughout your range in no time.
So try them out an let me know how you do with them.
Looking for more exercises designed specifically for singers? Then join our Facebook group Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
You go to lessons and coaching. You practice and practice and practice. You do yoga because you’ve heard it’s great for singers. You hydrate until your pee can’t be any paler. You become a hermit at the first sneeze you hear. But are you really doing everything it takes to keep your instrument in shape for peak performance?
Though some of the above are good practices, other’s like over-hydrating, may not do your body good. And perhaps they have you focusing on the immediate rather than the long-term health of your voice.
The following is a list of components I feel, after singing a lifetime and teaching for over 20 year, every singer should consider in the health of their instrument. Some you may already be doing. Some you may find you haven’t even thought about.
1. Good Alignment
You’ve been taught what good alignment should be – ears over shoulders, over hips, blah, blah, blah. What you really need to be concerned with are muscular imbalances.
Daily activities such as sitting, texting, even sports and running can cause tightness in some muscles and weakness in others. To maintain good muscle balance requires a strong core and stretch and strength exercise to correct for any underlying imbalances. You also need to be thinking more about the fascia that runs through your body and connects everything,. This all needs to be worked on a daily basis to counteract our daily activities.
Your alignment should be a natural default position that can be held without tension, unconsciously.
2. Good Breath Mangement
The use of breath is of utmost importance for singing. It’s the motor that gets the voice in motion. This requires learning to strengthen and control the muscles of respiration. It requires good alignment for freedom of movement of these muscles. Learning how to breath for singing is one of the cornerstones of voice lessons.
One thing that isn’t always addressed in lessons is the need for cardiovascular capacity. This means the functioning of the lungs in such a way that you are able to oxygenate your blood and body sufficiently to allow your muscles to work to full capacity without tiring too soon. It will allow you to sing longer phrases. If you’re body is screaming for oxygen it’s going to lead to a premature breath. So yes, that cardio is important.
3. Freedom from Unwanted Tension
For a freely functioning voice we need freedom from unwanted tension. You need to understand the root cause of tension. Is it due to muscular imbalance? Stress? Over-stretched muscles? Contracted muscles? Bad habits? You can read more about finding the root cause here.
Work at restoring balance through a stretch and strength program and stress management.
There are two types of stamina we need to sing. One is vocal stamina. This is achieved by correct technique and slowly building your endurance over time. The other is physical stamina.
Physical stamina is necessary to deal with the demands on the stage so that you can move and sing without being winded. It will help you with your vocal stamina as well, since if you are exhausted you are more likely to start pushing your voice and set yourself up for vocal fatigue or, even worse, vocal injury.
It also helps with the demands of life. You need to get through that whole day first. Grocery shopping, cleaning the house, yard work, children and even lugging equipment for a gig are all tasks that are going to drain your energy if you don’t have the strength and cardiovascular conditioning to pull you through. And then you are expected to hit the stage with a dazzling performance.
Work on all aspects of your stamina.
5. Strong Immune System
The dread of every singer is that they get sick before a performance. Common infections like colds, flus and strep throat can really mess up your plans and even your income. Allergies, too, are a condition of the immune system and all that gunk in your sinuses and back of the throat can make it difficult to sing.
Building a strong immune system is a must. You can read more about it here.
6. Freedom of Disease
At first glance you may be thinking, well isn’t that like having a strong immune system? Yes and no. What I’m referring to here is chronic disease: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, premature aging and cognitive decline. These are often referred to as diseases of affluence that are greatly attributed to lifestyle.
It can affect your voice and ultimately your longevity. The medical and scientific communities now understand that 80 – 90% of these diseases are preventable and many even reversible through lifestyle changes. These will include eliminating processed foods and eating a healthier plant-strong diet, physical exercise, and eliminating risk factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity.
7. Balanced Hormones
Hormones greatly affect our voices and not just the reproductive hormones that have been well documented. Other hormones that can relate to singing include thyroid hormones, insulin, mood hormones, digestive hormones and stress hormones. Many have a direct impact on your vocal folds, others will affect your peak functioning that can put you at risk of vocal injury. Balanced hormones can also help in the battle against chronic diseases. You can read more about hormones and the voice here.
8. Alert Focused Mind
An alert focus mind is an absolute must for a singer.
We need to deal with learning our repertoire, having it memorized, sometimes singing in a foreign language. We need to be able to be aware of all the technique we need to produce a great sound, plus communication of the text. On stage we need to be aware of everything around us and be present and focused in the moment to do all the above PLUS watch the conductor, be aware and interact with the other singers and musicians you are working with, move while singing, handle props, and deal with any mishap or missed cue that might occur. There is no place for brain fog to do all that.
When you are able to get all these 8 things in check then you are in for a lifetime of healthy vibrant singing. How did you do? How many are in your control? If you need help to get all eight elements on track for peak performance, then join our free Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
My friend Kate, a professional singer for a decade, had a rude awakening about 3 years ago. In the middle of singing a song her voice snapped. She had a vocal hemorrhage. On closer inspection it turned out she also had pre-nodules and significant stiffness in her right fold.
She chronicles her journey back to vocal health in her book “Just One Voice”, but one of the underlying causes of her injury was reflux.
This is the stuff singer’s nightmares are made of. The thing is many singers are not even aware of their reflux. When you feel heartburn or have a distinct backflow of acid to the back of your throat, you can be sure you are suffering from Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), but many singers don’t feel this, yet they may still experience Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR).
LPR occurs when stomach contents come up the throat in a gaseous form or as a mist. This allows for easy access to the larynx as the mist can be inhaled. And you won’t even know it.
Though it was previously thought that the acid was doing the damage, more current research suggests that it is actually not the acid, but inflammation due to the action of pepsin.
Pepsin is a digestive enzyme, specifically for the breakdown of protein. Guess what the pharyngeal and laryngeal tissue is made of? That’s right. Protein. So the pepsin is digesting your tissue! Gross!!! Right? The stomach has a special lining that prevents this from happening, but outside of the stomach all tissue is fair game for the pepsin.
To make matters worse, Even if pepsin stops digesting and lays dormant, it can be reactivated by acid. So that coke or orange juice you drink can be reactivating it starting the cycle all over again.
What does this mean to your voice?
If you have LPR you may be experiencing inflammation in the vocal folds and even a thinning of the epithelial layer of the vocal folds. This puts you at greater risk of nodules, polyps, and hemorrhages when you sing. It also increases the risk of laryngeal cancer (though this is still a very rare form of cancer at 1% incidence).
If you have a very active singing life, this is a disaster waiting to happen.
Look out for the symptoms:
Chronic cough and throat clearing
Feeling of a lump in the throat
See an ENT if you have any of the above issues that are not associated with a common cold and persist for more than 2 weeks.
What can you do?
I’ve already laid out some basics in Acid Reflux and the Singer: What Every Singer Needs to Know. Paying attention to what you eat does matter. There is now evidence that a plant-based diet together with alkaline water is as effective as proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy.
Why is the alkaline water important? Remember earlier I mentioned that the pepsin is active in acid (that's a pH of 2 – 6.9) and can be reactivated by coming into contact with more acid? Well, it turns out that pepsin is permanently deactivated in an alkaline environment.
An alkaline pH of 8 – 10 is most effective to deactivate pepsin.
You can buy alkaline water, or you can buy expensive machines that can mineralize your water to make it alkaline. It’s also possible to make your own by adding baking soda to water, however, this has a high sodium content, which is not recommended for your health. Buying bottled alkaline water may be the best way to go if can’t spring for a machine. If you are on a tight budget, then instead of drinking the baking soda water, try gargling after a meal.
These are the dietary steps Kate took to help with her reflux: An anti-inflammatory plant-based approach, avoiding triggers like soda, caffeine, chocolate, citrus, tomatoes and strong spices and alkaline water. Her folds are now pristine.
If you suspect you have reflux, get checked by and ENT, and if you want to get back on track vocally, you may be interested in The Fit Singer’s 14 Day Vocal Reset, which includes a reflux friendly meal plan.
Doucet, Kate J, Just One Voice A Book on Vocal Sustainability and Injury Prevention, 2018, Outskirts Press, Inc.
Colds, flu, sore throats. Winter is the time for getting sick. Of course that just won’t do for a singer. Every singer's nightmare is to get that tickle in the throat and sniffles coming on just before a performance.
Usually I try to promote prevention through a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, good nutrition, stress management, and sleep. However, there are times but even the best laid plans go awry.
So what’s a singer to do when that illness comes along?
Let's start with what you shouldn't do.
Do not sing with a severely sore throat.
Though you may be able to get by singing with a bit of a head cold if you feel it in your throat chances are your vocal folds are also inflamed and you put yourself at risk of vocal injury.
Don’t sing if you feel really lousy.
Aside from the possibility of inflammation in the vocal folds, if you are not feeling well and have to increase your effort to sing, you will put your voice at risk of vocal injury.
Do not use over the counter cough and cold medications if you are going to sing.
Many of them contain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. These drugs will numb the pain and then you won't be able to feel if there is a vocal problem. You could end up with a vocal hemorrhage. Same goes for any herbal remedies that numb the pain, even good old Throat Coat tea is not safe to use if you are actively singing.
Do not drink alcohol.
Alcohol can affect your gut microbiome which is essential to your immune system. It's also a diuretic that will dry you out. When you're sick you need to hydrate more than ever.
Do not take antibiotics unless you know you have a bacterial infection.
Over-prescription of antibiotics is a problem these days. Taking antibiotics kills off good and bad gut bacteria throwing your immune system off balance.
Do not eat sugar.
If you feel a cold coming coming on, cut out the sugar and simple carbs. Sugar is inflammatory and lowers your immune system.
Do not use Facebook recommendations for wacky remedies.
Many can be ineffective and at worst can put you at risk of vocal injury. Ever hear of putting onions on your feet? Or using colloidal silver? Please, just don't.
Now let's talk about what you should do and some natural remedies that you can use.
Do increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Even if you haven't been eating them regularly before your cold they will still help boost your immune system and shorten the length and severity of your symptoms.
Drinking lots of water will improve your body's ability to function and fight off the infection. In addition to water, soups and herbal teas are great are great to have for hydration and may have other soothing and healing benefits. Some good herbal teas to include in your cold and flu fighting arsenal are ginger tea with lemon, marshmallow tea which is good at suppressing coughs and soothing sore throats, peppermint tea. You can also have water with a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar. Raw apple cider vinegar is known to kill germs and bacteria. Drink it a few times a day when you have a cold or flu.
Do make sure you are taking vitamin D.
Especially in Northern climates where we don't get much sunlight Vitamin D deficiency can be a problem and it is known to be important to your immune system. Read more on vitamin D here.
Steaming will help open up your sinuses and hydrate your vocal folds providing you with some relief. Adding some essential oils such as peppermint, rosemary or oregano can help clear up and soothe even more.
Do gargle with salt water.
Salt water can help kill germs lurking in the back of your throat.
Do some light vocalizing.
Using semi-occluded vocal tract exercises (SOVT), especially straw phonation, can help with healing of inflamed vocal folds.
Do see an Ear, Nose, Throat specialist (ENT) if you are concerned or if symptoms last for more than two weeks.
You want to make sure you're voice stays healthy for a lifetime of enjoyment.
Here are a few other natural remedies you can try.
For congestion make a rub of coconut oil with a few drops of peppermint oil or eucalyptus oil. Other essential oils that are antibacterial and antiviral are thyme and rosemary which can be incorporated in rubs, steaming or diffusers.
Licorice root is known to soothe coughs however use in moderation and for no longer than two weeks at a time as there may be side effects from overuse.
Eat lots of garlic. Garlic is known to have natural antibacterial and antiviral properties. Try mashing two cloves of garlic with little bit of honey and lemon juice and chewing on this every 3 to 4 hours at the first signs of a cold.
Apply coconut oil to your nostrils and ears and mouth. Coconut oil has antibacterial properties make sure you were using unrefined coconut oil that will still have the enzymes in it. This will prevent entry of germs into your system it's a great preventative when you are traveling on planes where the air is very dry.
Try some of these strategies the next time you get sick. Let me know what works for you.
If you need help revitalizing your voice after a cold or flu then the 14 Day Vocal Reset is for you. Check it out here.
Hi, I'm so glad you found my wellness coaching site. I am a singer, voice teacher of over 20 years, certified personal trainer and nutrition coach.
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