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.
In today’s world, we are constantly on the go, a steady state “busy-ness” is the norm, and we’re always running from one responsibility to the next - literally! So, it’s no wonder that physical fatigue is such a common complaint among singers. Physical fatigue can put our voice at risk of injury as we are more likely to try to exert more effort singing to compensate.
The good news is that there are some really simple (and natural) ways to increase your energy so you can keep up with your busy life.
1. Get off the blood sugar roller coaster
One of the simplest ways we can boost our energy is to stabilize blood sugar. When we don’t eat enough food throughout the day or when we eat foods that are higher in sugar, our energy levels bottom out.
You can balance your blood sugar, and boost your energy naturally by:
2. You like to move it, move it!
When you’re tired, the last thing you want to do is exercise. However, as hard as it can be to get your butt off the couch, it’s one of the best things you can do to fight fatigue.
And, it turns out that you don’t even have to commit to a long workout!
A California State University study concluded that even a brisk 10-minute walk can increase your energy for up to 2 hours.
So when you feel that afternoon slump coming on, skip the coffee and lace up your running shoes instead.
3. Up your sleep game
It may seem obvious that lack of sleep causes fatigue. However did you know that the quality of your sleep can have an even bigger impact on your daily energy? Even slight disturbances in our sleep can affect how rested we feel the next day.
Here are a couple of tips for a more restful sleep:
4. Drink up!
Before you reach for that coffee or energy drink to perk you up, consider switching to plain old water. While caffeine is usually the first choice for busting out of an energy slump, remember that it can interfere with sleep.
And then there’s dehydration. Even mild dehydration impairs our concentration, decreases our mood and zaps our energy. Surprisingly, many singers, even though they know the importance of hydration, are not actually getting enough.
How do you know if you may be dehydrated?
Check the colour of your urine. If it’s the colour of straw, you’re good to go. If it’s a darker yellow colour, it’s time to drink up.
If you’re still craving a caffeine hit, try the Energizing Matcha Smoothie recipe below.
Matcha gives a longer lasting energy boost than coffee. It doesn’t hit you hard and then cause you to crash. Plus the recipe really is delicious!
Energizing Vanilla Matcha Smoothie
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 scoop of vanilla protein powder (your choice, no added sugar)
1-2 tsp matcha green tea powder (start with less if you’re new to matcha - it packs a kick!)
½ frozen banana
Ice cubes (optional)
1 large handful of spinach or kale (optional, but recommended)
How to prepare
Combine all ingredients into a blender and blend until desired smoothness is achieved. Sip and enjoy!
Glycemic Index Foundation - https://www.gisymbol.com/about-glycemic-index/
California State University Long Beach, Public Affairs & Publications - https://web.csulb.edu/misc/inside/archives/vol_58_no_4/1.htm
National Sleep Foundation - https://sleepfoundation.org/press-release/what-good-quality-sleep
Time.com Health Land - http://healthland.time.com/2012/01/19/bad-mood-low-energy-there-might-be-a-simple-explanation/
One day this summer I ended up taking my mother to emergency because she hit her head after fainting on the toilet. The cause was straining on the toilet. Talking to the nurse she said it was actually very common to faint while straining due to constipation, due to a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Constipation is the opposite of diarrhea - it's when stool tends to stick around longer than necessary. Often it's drier, lumpier, and harder than normal, and may be difficult to pass.
Constipation often comes along with abdominal pain and bloating. And can be common in people with certain gut issues, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
About 14-24% of adults experience constipation. Constipation becomes chronic when it happens at least three times per week for three months.
Constipation can be caused by diet or stress, and even changes to our daily routine. Sometimes the culprit is a medical condition or medications. And sometimes there can be a structural problem with the gut. Many times the cause is unknown.
As a singer this can actually cause risks to your voice. During a bowel movement, especially one that is difficult to pass, the valsalva maneouver is often engaged. The valsalva maneouver is often associated with weight lifting. It is a way of establishing intra-thoracic pressure by forcefully closing the vocal folds. Often the muscles of the neck are tensed, as well. This can all lead to structural changes around the larynx such as overly developed vocal fold adductor muscles and neck muscles that can be full of tension. This can lead to less freedom of the larynx and constricted phonation.
Since many singers suffer from acid reflux, which can have major consequences to the voice, it’s also important to note the connection between constipation and acid reflux, Though constipation does not cause acid reflux, the straining could put pressure on the stomach, which could aggravate reflux. More interestingly antacid medications can cause constipation as most contain aluminum hydroxide and aluminum can impair the muscle contractions that move things along.
Whether you know why you’re constipated or not, there are some things you can do for relief:
1. Eat more fibre
You've probably heard to eat more prunes (and figs and dates) if you get constipated.
Why is that?
It comes down to fibre.
Dietary fibre is a type of plant-based carbohydrate that we can’t digest and absorb. Unlike cows, humans don’t have the digestive enzymes to break it down. And that’s a good thing!
Even though we can’t digest it ourselves, fibre is very important for our gut health for two reasons.
First, fibre helps to push things through our system (and out the other end).
Second, fibre is an important food for feeding the friendly microbes in our gut.
There are two kinds of fibre: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water to make a gel-like consistency. It can soften and bulk up the stool; this is the kind of fibre that you want to focus on for helping with constipation. Soluble fibre is found in legumes (beans, peas, lentils), fruit (apples, bananas, berries, citrus, pears, etc.), vegetables (broccoli, carrots, spinach, etc.), and grains like oats.
Psyllium is a soluble non-fermenting fibre from corn husks. It’s been shown to help soften stools and produce a laxative effect.
Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, holds onto water and can help to push things through the gut and get things moving. It's the kind found in the skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, celery, zucchini, as well as the skins of apples, pears, and potatoes.
It’s recommended that adults consume between 20-35 grams of fibre per day.
If you are going to increase your fibre intake, make sure to do it gradually. Radically changing your diet can make things worse!
And, it’s also very important to combine increased fibre intake with my next point to drink more fluids.
NOTE: There is conflicting evidence on how fibre affects constipation. In some cases, less insoluble fibre may be better, especially if you have certain digestive issues. So, make sure you’re monitoring how your diet affects your gut health and act accordingly. And don’t be afraid to see your healthcare provider when necessary.
2. Drink more fluids
Since constipated stools are hard and dry, drinking more fluids can help keep everything hydrated and moist. This is especially true when trying to maintain a healthy gut every day, rather than when trying to deal with the problem of constipation after it has started.
And it doesn't only have to be water - watery foods like soups, and some fruits and vegetables can also contribute to your fluid intake.
Always ensure you're well hydrated, and drinking according to thirst; this is recommended for gut health as well as overall health.
Probiotics are beneficial microbes that come in fermented foods and supplements. They have a number of effects on gut health and constipation. They affect gut transit time (how fast food goes through us), increase the number of bowel movements per week, and help to soften stools to make them easier to pass.
Probiotic foods (and drinks) include fermented vegetables (like sauerkraut and kimchi), miso, kefir, and kombucha.
More research is needed when it comes to recommending a specific probiotic supplement or strain. If you’re going to take supplements, make sure to read the label to ensure that it’s safe for you. And take it as directed.
Some studies show a gut benefit from regular exercise.
Ideally, aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days.
In terms of stress, when we’re stressed, it often affects our digestive system. The connection between our gut and our brain is so strong, researchers have coined the term “gut-brain axis.”
By better managing stress, we can help to reduce emotional and physical issues (like gut issues) that may result from stress. Try things like meditation, deep breathing, and exercise.
And last but not least - make sure to go when you need to go! Don’t hold it in because that can make things worse. You should be going at least once a day if your gut is in optimal health.
Optimal digestion is so important for overall health. Constipation is a common problem.
Constipation is a problem that could have risks to your voice.
Increasing our fibre and water intake and boosting our friendly gut microbes are key things we can do to help things move along.
And don't forget how lifestyle habits can affect our physical health! Exercise, stress management, and going to the bathroom regularly can also help us maintain great gut health.
Have you found that fibre, water, or probiotics affect your gut health? What about exercise, stress, and regular bathroom trips? I'd love to know in the comments below!
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.