These are disruptive and worrying times to be sure. We are holed up in our homes as many countries, states and provinces have issued shelter-in-place orders. Singers and other performing artists are losing their income. And it’s not just from cancelled performances. Many singers work a second job in the hospitality industry. The closures of restaurants, lay-off from airlines, these have a far reaching effect.
I’m hearing from doctor friends about the severity of it. The life or death choices they are needing to make. And here’s something not mentioned often enough in the media - if you do get it and survive you may get permanent lung damage!
All this is scary stuff!!!
All these worries and isolation can also end up affecting our mental health. So this is a time more than ever that we have to keep looking for the positive.
If you look you can see people showing great amounts of love.
The list goes on if you look for it…
In my neighbourhood, some thoughtful soul dotted the pathways with pinwheels full of posititve messages like “Be Kind”, “Laugh”, ”Smile”.
But don’t forget to show some love to yourself, as well.
This is an especially critical time. Parents trying to juggle working from home and looking after their kids. Loss of jobs. Self-isolation. These are all hard on our emotional, mental, physical and social health. So making time to show yourself some love is important.
Here are a few suggestions for your self-care.
This Too Shall Pass
Remind yourself that these are unusual circumstances, that humans are highly adaptable and that this time will pass. The arts community is already adapting with live streaming concerts, balcony concerts, etc. And when this all blows over - you can bet people will want to celebrate! And celebrate BIG! What’s a celebration without music? Start working on your cover of “Happy Days Are Here Again”.
Be Kind to Yourself
Know that you are doing the best you can in the current situation. Forgive yourself for not dealing with the stress and trauma as you think people expect you to. We all have our own ways of coping. Give yourself some grace.
And don’t forget that everyone else is dealing with it too. Sure some people may be acting in an irrational manner to our way of thinking, but they are scared and people react in different ways. Give them and yourself some slack. It will take a burden off your mind.
Stick to a Schedule
Maintain some form of schedule. Keeping busy and practicing some self-discipline can keep your mind occupied. Don’t use this as an excuse to binge watch Netflix and sleep the day away. If you usually have a morning routine, stick to it. Keep meals as regular as possible. Make time to get outside for a walk. Those working from home with kids may need to make creative schedules. For example parents can work in alternating 90 minute blocks; while one parent works the other is looking after the kids.
If you have more time on your hands, this can be a great time to try new recipes or work on improving your nutrition. Plan out some meals and do a day of meal prep. Even though you are at home there will be times that you just don’t feel like preparing anything, but that can lead to stress eating crappy food, which will just make you feel worse in the end. Having healthy food already prepared is the best way to beat the impulse eating. Healthy eating can help boost immunity and help regulate hormones related to stress.
Whether it’s a stroll through your neighbourhood, dancing to your favourite songs in your living room or doing, yoga or an at home HIIT body weight workout, keep moving. Exercise has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants to boost mood. It will also protect you from back pain that can occur from being too sedentary. As well, you want to keep your alignment and core singing ready!
Now is a great time to get into better sleeping habits. Reset your circadian rhythms for better health. Go to bed at a regular time. Get your 7 - 9 hours. Allow yourself to wake up naturally without an alarm clock. A good night's sleep can help reduce anxiety, boost your mood and strengthen your immune system.
Though the term started out as social distancing, what we are really doing is physical distancing. Humans are social creatures. Our well-being is derived, in part by our social interactions. Having meaningful relationships is key to that. For extroverts especially, being in isolation can be hard. So stay connected. Video chats are the best way, because we get more out of the interaction by seeing other people's facial expressions. Have a Zoom Happy Hour with some friends. Skype with your parents or grandparents. Even a good ol’ phone call can do the trick. Going out for a walk can also help even if you aren’t stopping to talk to other people and staying 2 metres away - you will feel less alone.
Learn Something New
Take the extra time you have to try something new. We all have something we have always wanted to learn, but don’t have the time. This is the perfect opportunity to start. Start learning a new language, learn to knit. You can even have a game with your family - learn one new fact every day and share it.
Whether you make time for meditation or do household chores in a mindful way this is a great way to show yourself some love. There are some great guided meditations on self-love, self-esteem, gratitude, tranquility, stress relief - whatever you need it’s out there. That the time to just BREATHE.
As a singer you are already a creative being at heart. Using that creativity during this stressful time is a great way to vent feelings. Write, draw, make music, do an interpretive dance. Whatever feels right to you in this moment. Journaling is a great way to get feelings out and a place to put down some creative thoughts. Your soul needs this.
Do Something Indulgent
Some indulgence is good for your self-care. I’m not talking about eating a bag of chips and washing down with a bottle of wine for dinner. That kind of indulgence is numbing and self-destructive. I’m talking about taking a long hot bath (with ONE glass of wine if you like), giving yourself a mani or pedi, take a day to relax and binge watch a series. If it makes you feel happy, something you can savour without numbing yourself, then it’s probably a legit indulgence. Before reaching for that glass of wine or eating a pan of brownies ask yourself this question. “Am I doing this because I’m bored or stressed or am I doing this because I want to relax and savour the moment?”.
If you are already someone who suffers from anxiety, depression or trauma, this can be an even harder time. Make sure you seek out professional help from a qualified healthcare practitioner if you need to.
We are all here to lift each other up.
If you need someone to talk to or help staying on track with healthy habits please feel free to contact me. I’m here for you. You can contact me here or join my Facebook group Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice where I offer a weekly challenge to keep you on track.
Stay safe my dear singers.
Hydration is one of the most well-known tenets of vocal hygiene. You know you need to keep those folds hydrated well to keep the surface lubricated so that the friction that occurs from the folds constantly beating together won't end up in injury.
You may also know that hydration also has to hit the deeper layers including the vocalis muscle. We want hydration at the cellular level of all parts of the vocal folds to keep them flexible for optimal performance. Did you know that studies have shown that a 1-2% drop in body water can impede performance?
A dip in hydration at this level can also affect your cognitive functioning and you need a clear mind for singing. No time for brain fog when you have to remember all your words, rhythms, choreography, listen to your accompaniment, and the list goes on - all while maintaining good vocal technique.
And let’s face it, the Vocalis Muscle is not a high priority area for the body, so you may feel the effects of dehydration even earlier at your vocal folds. On top of that, your body doesn't register the fact that it's thirsty until you reach the 2% dehydration mark. So staying on top of the hydration game is really important.
You've probably heard the adage "pee pale", however, that might not be telling you everything you need to know about your hydration. You can have clear urine and still be getting dehydrated!!!
Here are 15 things that may be making you dehydrated:
Many medications can cause dehydration. Some of the most common medications that lead to dehydration are:
One of the symptoms of diabetes is the frequent need to urinate. When blood sugar levels get too high the body tries to bring it back down by flushing out the excess sugar through peeing. If you are frequently thirsty or take too many trips to the washroom see your doctor.
3. Insufficient Fibre
About 97% of the North American population is fibre deficient. They don’t get anywhere near the recommended daily requirement, which is about 30 g of fibre per day. That in itself is far lower than what our bodies are actually designed to handle. Aside from the many other health benefits of fibre, eating fibre and water rich-foods like fruits and vegetables can help hydration. It also will allow it to be absorbed into the body more slowly for deeper hydration.
4. Processed Foods
Ultra processed foods have a number of things going against them. First they are devoid of fibre.(See point 3) They can make your blood sugar levels rise making you feel thirsty.(See point 2). They are often very dry foods since water has mostly been removed from them. And they are high in sodium. If you do eat processed foods drink more water to make up for lack. Better yet stick to water-rich whole foods..
5. Your period
Estrogen and progesterone influence your body's hydration levels, and when the two are roller-coastering, like when you're in the throes of PMS, you may need to increase your fluid intake to stay hydrated.
Women who experience heavy flows will need to hydrate extra, too, since you are losing fluid. And remember the dehydrating effects of medications - Midol a commonly used medication for menstrual cramps may be making matters worse.
We all like to have the occasional post show drink with our castmates, but you have to keep in mind that alcohol has well-known diuretic properties. If you do have a drink or two make sure to drink a glass of water for every serving of alcohol..
7. Herbs and Supplements
Many herbs and supplements have been shown to increase urine output, which could potentially lead to dehydration. Among them are parsley, celery seed, dandelion, and watercress. Small amounts as a seasoning in food should not be a problem as part of a whole food diet, but if you are taking therapeutic amounts of herbal or other supplements, check with your naturopath. Natural does not always mean safer.
8. Low Carb Diet
Carbohydrates are stored as energy in your body in the form of glycogen in your muscles and liver. Each glycogen molecule is linked to 9 water molecules. That's why when you start a low carb diet you drop a couple pounds of water weight. The number on your scale might look good, but it's not great for your hydration levels. Fruits, which are often shunned because of their perceived sugar levels are richly hydrating (not to mention all the other nutrients they provide). Plus, since whole carbs such as oatmeal, whole grain pasta, and brown rice all soak up water during the cooking process, eating them can actually increase your hydration levels. If you cut them out of your diet you could be reducing your fluid intake, too.
9. Indoor Environment
In the heat of summer or the cold of winter we often head indoors, but air conditioning and heating can both have a drying effect. Probably moreson than the outdoor weather. Who has ever experienced the chapped lips and dry skin of winter,yet you barely spend any time outdoors except for running from your door to your car and back. It’s the heating that’s drying you out!
If you exercise you will perspire, but the length and intensity of your workout will dictate how much body water you are losing through sweat. It’s important to adjust your water intake to match the intensity of your workout. Endurance athletes especially are prone to dehydration. A good way to make sure you are getting enough is to weigh yourself naked before and after your workout. If you are hydrating enough you should weigh the same. If not, top up with the deficit amount in your post workout drink.
I mentioned our indoor environment, but of course our outdoor environment matters, too. Extremes of heat, cold, low humidity and high altitudes all can impact your hydration levels. If you’re in a desert-like climate with extremely low humidity and high heat you can feel the water being sucked right out of you (that’s how it felt to me in Las Vegas with temperatures of 110F. The dry cold of a Winnipeg winter, where I live, can be dehydrating as well. High Altitude is also somewhere where you may need to adjust your water intake.
12. Irritable Bowl Syndrome and Irritable Bowl Disease
Digestive issues like irritable bowl syndrome, irritable bowl disease, diverticulitis and other problems of the gut can be debilitating enough on their own (believe me I know I have colitis, which still flares up if I eat wheat or broccoli, my two trigger foods), but their symptoms which can include nausea and chronic diarrhea can cause dehydration, In the search of relief, many people who suffer from these conditions try elimination diets to discover or avoid trigger foods, If you are eliminating whole food groups of fluid-rich foods, you could end up further contributing to dehydration.
High altitude, dry recycled air - air travel can definitely contribute to dehydration if not managed well. If you are flying to a concert gig, you will likely not have sufficient time on the other end to re-hydrate properly, so it’s imperative to stay on top of it before, during and after the flight. Avoid the in-flight alcoholic drinks, which will further complicate matters, drink extra water, and eat plenty of water-rich foods. This is also a great time to use a Humidiflyer or other surface hydration method such as a personal steamer or nebulizer.
14. Drinking Too Much Water at One Time
Your body can only absorb so much water at a time. It is better to drink in smaller quantities throughout the day than to guzzle a litre at a time only to have it go straight through you. The danger with this is that it could also be flushing out vital electrolytes that can lead to a potentially life- threatening condition called hyponatremia.
15. Misinterpreting Your Thirst Cue
Often when people feel hungry, it’s actually thirst they are feeling. This can lead to overeating and not getting enough water. If you feel hungry and it’s not close to meal time try this: drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes. If that satisfies you, then it was thirst you were feeling. If you’re still hungry then go ahead and have a snack.
To find your optimal level of water to drink start with taking your body weight in pounds and dividing by two. This will give you the amount in ounces of water to drink daily. From there make any adjustments as needed for the above mentioned causes of dehydration. If you keep your hydration levels up you will feel more energized, alert and your vocal folds will be very happy.
Remember that if you think you are drinking enough and still feel thirsty, you need to seek medical advice.
For more tips of keeping your voice in top shape join the Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Community.
Happy New Year!
It’s hard to believe we’re already two weeks into the new year!
Someone on my Facebook feed posted a meme that went something like this:
“30 days has September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31 except for January which has about seven #@!$% hundred.”
I know that especially applies to us further north, like here in Winnipeg, where the days are short and the cold is bitter and we won’t be seeing any green until sometime in April. It’s especially hard on those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but that’s a whole other blog.
I personally don’t find it long at all. When back to school doesn’t start until nearly a week in, and there are upcoming masterclasses, auditions, exams, recitals, festivals and performances, January hardly seems long enough!
And herein lies the problem for many a performer.
We are afraid to miss out!
We don’t want to miss any opportunity to perform and be seen, to network, to take that next step in our performing career. And it’s not just active performers, teachers, too, taking on every possible student and giving their students extras outside of lessons.
This fear of missing out (FOMO) is running us into the ground. We feel stressed. We lose sleep. We skip meals. We start to get sick more often. Our mental and physical health suffer.
As a result our creativity suffers!
How can we possibly sing or teach at our best when we have that kind of load on us?
My friend and business coach Michelle Markwart Deveaux said recently on The Full Voice Podcast, “If you do not choose to take the time off your body will do it for you”.
This is absolutely true, and since I’m feeling in a quotey mood another well-known one is, “If you don’t take time for your wellness, then you will be forced to take time for your illness.”
So to help to help you overcome the FOMO in your life here are 3 tips:
Three Tips to Overcoming FOMO:
1. Choose with Intention:
Most of us have many projects we would like to take on, but it’s time to take a hard look at everything and decide what is really important to you. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
Does it “spark joy” as Marie Kondo says?
Does it help you grow personally or professionally?
Does it pay your bills? And are you charging what you’re worth?
If you are doing a freebie, is it a good investment of your time or for the future?
2. Ditch, Delegate and Delay
It’s important to set some boundaries and ask for help when needed. That’s where the 3 Ds come in.
Ditch. Anything that is no longer serving you has to go. Somethings have their season and need to go. Other things may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but may be bogging you down or distracting you from what really needs to happen. If you’ve chosen with intention, then all your other projects can go.
Delegate. There are things that need to be done daily, weekly, monthly, but do YOU really need to do them all. This includes household chores like laundry, meal prep, grocery shopping, cleaning, as well as business things like scheduling, accounting and so on. Can another family member help out with some of the load? Can you outsource some of the tasks?
Delay. Some projects are great. Want to record an album? Want to produce a show? If they aren’t a priority at this moment and you don’t realistically have the time, then it’s something to keep on your wish list, but don’t kill yourself trying to squeeze in everything RIGHT NOW.
3. Make Time for Your Wellness
As I touched on earlier, taking on everything can leave us chronically stressed. It affects our sleep, our eating patterns, which in turn affect our immunity. This can all lead to mental and physical illness. And your ability to practice your art at full capacity will pay the price.
It’s critical to make time for your wellness. This means schedule EVERYTHING. Time for a walk or a workout. Time for meals. Time to socialize or do an activity you enjoy other than singing. Time for sufficient sleep. Time to daydream.
When you’re feeling great you have more energy, you are more productive, and you will be able to create more fully.
Thriving, you’ll feel you are living a life of abundance and the FOMO will not be a constant presence in your life.
I hope you find these tips helpful and will help you make the most of 2020.
If you need help figuring out how to start planning your abundant life and wellness, then be sure to book a Singer’s Wellness Strategy Session and I’d be happy to talk you through it.
'Tis the season when many singers are experiencing more bloating than usual. With all the treats everywhere, from green rooms to receptions to holiday gatherings, there always seems to be rich food in sight.
However feeling a bit “overextended” in the belly after a meal can make it uncomfortable to sing. Instead of hitting high Gs you might be more inclined to hit low “Gas” And fitting into your costume maybe for difficult if you're carrying a “food baby.”
Well, bloating at the best of times is common. Up to 25-30% of people experience it regularly. It happens when you have trouble digesting. The symptoms come from excess gas, reactions to foods, or food not moving through you as well as it could.
Though at this time of year, bloating may be associated with the tendency to overeat rich foods, there are many other reasons you might experience these symptoms. Maybe because of a serious condition (disease), or a food allergy or intolerance (what you eat). It can also result from how you eat.
If you have a serious digestive issue like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), then make sure you eat accordingly. Same goes if you know certain foods give you gas. Simply avoid them.
If you’re already doing those things, and still experience bloating, here are some great tips for dealing with it naturally.
1 - Don’t overeat
If you overeat at a meal, then you’ll feel bigger around the mid-section. You’ll feel more pressure in your abdomen. It will be more difficult to breath properly for singing. Plus, you’re giving your digestive system a hard time. For many singers this can also end up leading to reflux. It’s better to eat until you feel almost full and not overindulge. Grab an extra snack or small meal throughout the day if you have to. Just don’t over-stuff yourself in one sitting.
2 - Avoid sugar alcohols
Sugar alcohols are low-calorie sweeteners made from sugars. In an ingredients list, they end in "-ol,” and include things like sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol. They’re found in some chewing gums and sugar-free foods. Some people experience bloating after eating foods with these. So, try avoiding them and see if that helps you.
3 - Avoid swallowing air
Sometimes the gas that causes pressure in your digestive system is from swallowing air. Things like carbonated drinks are the biggest culprit here. You can also swallow air when you chew gum or drink through a straw, so try ditching these.
You can also swallow air when eating too quickly or while talking. Which leads me to...
4 - Eat slower, more mindfully, and less stressed
Eating too fast isn’t doing your digestive system any favors. You can help the food move along by chewing it thoroughly and slowing down your eating habits. Be mindful and enjoy the time you are spending eating your meals. Savour them.
The feeling of stress can also cause increased bloating. Stress-reducing techniques can help improve your digestion. Try meditating or deep breathing (but not while you’re eating). :)
5 - Try peppermint
Peppermint oil has been shown to improve bloating. It’s thought to increase transit time by relaxing the stomach muscles and increasing the flow of bile. Try steeping fresh peppermint leaves, or a peppermint tea bag, and drinking it slowly. See if that helps reduce your symptoms.
There are a bunch of natural ways to deal with bloating.
First, avoid it by not eating things that give you gas or aggravate a digestive issue. Try not to overeat, consume sugar alcohols, or swallow air. Also, eating more mindfully and reducing stress can help too. Finally, if you are experiencing bloating, enjoy a cup of peppermint tea.
If you do all of these, and still experience bloating, then you may have a food intolerance; this could be from an allergy or intolerance. If you have a major concern, then please see your doctor. Your doctor can help to rule out a serious and/or chronic condition.
Recipe (peppermint): Peppermint Mocha Creamer
1 can coconut milk
½ cup almond milk, unsweetened
2 tbsp cacao powder, unsweetened
½ tsp peppermint extract or essential oil (food-grade and safe for internal use)
3 tbsp honey or maple syrup (optional)
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until well combined.
Store in a sealed container in your fridge.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: While the non-peppermint ingredients in this creamer may or may not be “de-bloating” for you, try these ideas too:
Grow peppermint yourself;
Chew on the fresh leaves; and/or
Steep them for tea.
So much of vocal and physical health is all about habits and actions, but where do these all stem from? What if we don’t have to make as many changes as we think we do? What if there was one powerful thing that makes a lot of difference?
That thing is mindset.
Mindset is sometimes called “the story we tell ourselves.” It’s our attitude toward things in our life. And we have control over our mindset.
And research is showing that it may be far more powerful than we thought.
Very interesting health mindset study
Here’s a quick story about a fascinating study.
Researchers at Stanford University looked at a bunch of people's health and wellness lifestyle habits, as well as health markers.
What they found was that the people who thought they were a lot less active had a higher risk of death than the general public. And, they also had up to 71% higher risk of death than people who thought they were more active. Even if they actually weren't less active!
How is this even possible that people who simply thought they were less active had higher risks, even if it wasn’t true?
There are a couple of ideas why. One is that maybe if we feel like we're less active, it may make us feel more stressed. And stress isn't good for our mental or physical health. Second, there may be a bit of a mind-body connection where the body embodies what the mind visualizes.
Researchers don't know why, but what matters is that there is a good mindset. So, let me give you a couple of strategies to boost your mindset for health.
Health mindset strategy 1 - Aim for good enough.
Almost no one eats perfectly seven days a week. It's inevitable that obsessing over the quality and quantity of everything we eat or drink isn't necessarily a great mindset to have.
It can bring on binging, shame, and guilt - none of these are great ways to get healthy. We want to get healthier by making better choices and building better habits. And these are usually best done incrementally - one step at a time.
So, instead of having a black and white approach where everything is good or bad, why not try aiming for good enough to empower ourselves to make better choices, instead of perfect choices.
Health mindset strategy 2 - Stop making tradeoffs
When you try to earn a gluttonous weekend by eating clean during the week, you're making a tradeoff. You're telling yourself that, as long as you're good most of the week, you can go wild on the weekend.
And that's not awesome because the mindset is jumping from one extreme to the other. You're controlling what you do all week, and possibly thinking about how to indulge over the weekend. Just live as though you're trying to do well every single day. Like you care about your health and wellness. You're doing your best, and that's good enough.
Mindset for health can be a powerful tool for better physical health. There’s a proven mind-body connection that research can measure.
Thinking positively, and dropping the black/white and good/bad labels, can help you reach your health goals.
How is your mindset for health? Which of these tips resonate with you the most? How are you going to implement them in your life? Let me know in the comments below.
Recipe (Morning mindset refresher): Chia Lemon Water
1 tbsp chia seeds
½ lemon, sliced
Add the chia seeds & lemon to your favourite water bottle. Fill to top with water.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Shake before drinking.
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?