Over the last 20 some years of teaching singing I've noticed an increasing number of singers that struggle with anxiety, Performance anxiety has always been a problem for many singers, but anxiety disorders are on the rise. In my health coaching practice it's also a common thread.
This is the first in a three part series on how lifestyle can help anxiety, both clinical disorders and performance anxiety. I will be giving you tips and strategies to help you get back to feeling confident on and off the stage.
In this part we will discuss the impact of nutrition and what foods will help the most. The following parts will deal with physical exercise and sleep.
My own story with anxiety goes back to my childhood. I was a very VERY shy child. Though it was never diagnosed, it was social anxiety. Even as an adult I had a hard time in social situations and felt very awkward. The stigma of getting help was very real and my family had so many other issues that it seemed to me that my problems weren’t that big, so I never sought treatment. However, when I did change my lifestyle through exercise and nutrition it was if a veil had lifted! I suddenly found myself more willing to take chances socially and felt so much more confident in myself.
Though lifestyle factors can go a long way to helping alleviate anxiety, it’s important to realize that it can have many underlying factors that need to be addressed. A combination of improving lifestyle and working with a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders is the most effective way to treat anxiety.
Anxiety DisordersFirst let’s have a little background look at anxiety.
Anxiety is prevalent in our society. According to Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) 54 percent of woman and 46 percent of men experience some form of anxiety disorder.
Some common disorders are generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder and specific phobias.
Many use medication to help alleviate their anxiety. Paxil and Zoloft, two of the more popular anti-anxiety medications, ranked 7th and 8th in the top ten prescribed medications in the US. However, singers should use these medications with caution since they can cause a dry mouth and dry out mucous membranes that can result in hoarseness, sore throat and voice changes leaving the vocal folds susceptible to injuries such as nodules.
Mental and physical health are closely linked. People with a mood disorder are at much higher risk of developing a long-term medical condition.
Just a few of the symptom of those who have an anxiety condition include:
Some level of performance anxiety is expected for any performer. Some even say that if you don’t feel nervous, you won’t give a good performance. It’s a natural state of being faced with an unfamiliar situation; your body’s fight or flight response. Usually the anticipation of performing is usually worse than the actual performance. However, for some performance anxiety can be debilitating.
There are many ways to learn to cope with performance anxiety that incorporate cognitive strategies (mindset, meditation, triggers). However, lifestyle here also plays an important role. It can help give you a reliable instrument for singing; energized, healthy, with an alert mind.
If you are tired or unwell, there is always the worry that you won’t perform as well as you would like and the very real worry of vocal injury.
Nutrition to boost you mood and performance
Studies have shown that adopting a healthier diet can boost peoples' mood. In particular, eating more nutrient-dense meals, which are high in fibre and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars. Likewise, studies have shown that a “junk food” diet can have negative psychological effects.
Making healthy dietary change can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. These conditions have been linked to inflammation in the body due to how chronic stress adversely affects the body’s inflammation response. Eating an unhealthy diet, such as junk food, high sugar foods, and stimulants, stress the body, which can contribute to inflammation problems. Chronic inflammation is also linked to many diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the body’s stress load causing a reduction in inflammation.
Women in particular seem to benefit from dietary interventions for symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Though that’s no excuse for the guys to get complacent, since they are still at great risk of inflammatory conditions that will affect their health.
Performance anxiety also benefits from supportive lifestyle factors including physical exercise, sleep and healthy diet. The best strategy is to adopt healthy eating as a lifestyle choice. This will ensure decreased inflammation, which as we already discussed can prevent (and in some cases, reverse) many diseases that can affect your ability to sing and to sing with confidence.
On performance days you should avoid alcohol, high caffeine, high-sugar, high-fat and spicy foods before performance and eat easily digestible complex carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, which will produce a sustained release of energy during performance. This will also help you better maintain concentration and focus.
Some great meal ideas include whole grain pasta with a mild primavera sauce, lentil soup, or a bean and rice burrito bowl. Avoid wheat/gluten products if you have irritable bowel syndrome or have a known sensitivity to wheat products.
Foods that boost your mood
Some of the causes of anxiety have to do with nutrient deficiencies. The nutrients and foods listed below will help boost your mood and make you feel energized.
B Vitamins and Folate:
Studies have indicated that many people who suffer from anxiety and depression have an elevated incident of folate deficiency. Vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which influences mood. Other B vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, have positive effects on the nervous system. Deficiencies of these vitamins have been linked to increased anxiety.
Foods rich in B vitamins:
Aparagus, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, beets, citrus, spinach, avocado, broccoli, nuts and seeds, brussel sprouts, papaya, banana, carrots, sweet potatoes,
Antioxidants including Vitamins C and E:
When we’re anxious and stressed, our bodies crave vitamin C to help repair and protect our cells. Researchers7 at the State University of New York found that anxious symptoms are linked with a lower antioxidant state.
Foods rich in antioxidants:
Kale, dark green leafy vegetables, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, dark chocolate, pecans, goji berries, artichokes, beets, goji berries, red cabbage, beans
Researchers have shown that magnesium may be an effective treatment for anxiety-related symptoms, as inadequate magnesium reduces the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
Foods rich in magnesium:
Whole grains, nuts and seeds, black beans, spinach, quinoa, avocado, tofu
Omega-3 fatty acid:
According to a study from Ohio University, omega-3 fatty acids are particularly effective when it comes to foods that help with anxiety. They are known to be highly effective anti-inflammatories and are the kind of fats our brains crave.
Foods rich in magnesium:
Chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds
They call the gut the second brain and it’s actually powered by our gut microbiome. Feeding the good bacteria in our gut can help with serotonin production. A link has been found between the consumption of fermented, probiotic foods and a reduction in social anxiety.
Foods rich in probiotics:
Sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, sourdough bread
I would love to hear about your experiences and if you've ever thought of food as a way to deal with anxiety. Leave a comment below or contact me.
If you want more ideas of how to get more of these anxiety busting foods into your diet, join our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community where I frequently share recipes and other anxiety busting tips.
Joseph Firth et al, The effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety, Psychosomatic Medicine (2019). DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000673
The Science & Psychology of Music Performance: Creative Strategies for Teaching and Learning by Richard Parncutt and Gary McPherson | Feb 18 2003
April 16, 2019 marks World Voice Day this year. Every year there’s a theme; the 2019 World Voice Day Theme is “Be Kind With Your Voice” as developed by the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery as developed by its Voice Committee.
What does it mean to be kind with your voice?
What comes out of our mouths can have a deep effect on those around us.
As singer’s we have a special gift to communicate and touch people deeply through the use of music and words. Sharing that gift is certainly being kind with your voice. Studies have suggested many health benefits to listening to music:
Now those are some awesome benefits that you can provide with your voice!
Of course we also have to consider the spoken word. That has a huge impact, too. There’s a great expression: You have two ears and one mouth and it’s best to use them in that proportion.
Too often we speak more than we listen. Learning to choose your words wisely is the first part of being kind WITH your voice. Then we also have to consider the tone we use, our inflections and speed of speech.
Studies have shown that people who speak in a monotone are perceived to not care. High-pitched voices can become shrill and be perceived as defensive. Speaking at a fast pace can seem aggressive. Other qualities of voice that may give people a negative impression of the speaker are vocal fry (the gravelly sound that drives singing teachers mad!), which makes the speaker seem lazy and upspeak, which makes the speaker sound immature or less confident in what they are saying.
So if you have something to say, make sure you are choosing kind words and delivering them in a tone of voice that will not be mistaken for anything but kindness.
What are you doing to celebrate World Voice Day?
Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans have an allergic disease?
It’s lousy being that one in five as a singer, even worse when it’s an allergy that affects your respiratory tract.
It may be called hay fever, seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis, it all means the same thing to your instrument. Nasal congestion, sneezing, watery, itchy eyes, throat soreness, the need to clear your throat due to post nasal drip, pain and/or pressure in the ears, headaches and fatigue can play havoc on the voice. It will affect your resonance. You may even experience voice breaks, vocal fatigue or laryngitis.
Typical treatment with antihistamines and decongestants can dry out the mucosal surfaces of your mouth, pharynx and larynx, which can lead to problems affecting your vocal quality and your vocal stamina, as well as putting you at risk of vocal injury.
A quick Google search of "singing with allergies" produces a list of quick fixes from daily nasal washes to herbal teas to lining your nose with Vaseline. They may do in a pinch, but wouldn't it be nice if you could just get rid of the allergies.
There has been a marked increase in the allergies and asthma over the last few decades. This leads scientists to believe that it is not a genetic condition, but due to environmental and lifestyle factors. One of the largest factors being diet.
If you REALLY want some allergy relief, start by taking a good look at your plate. The best remedy for seasonal allergies may be increasing your consumption of plant-based foods. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains are rich in a variety of nutrients that work together to keep you healthy even during the height of allergy season.
Follow these tips and eat a balanced diet full of the foods below and hit the high notes instead of sneezing them:
1. Eliminate Processed Food:
Processed foods can contain additives, chemicals and other undesirable ingredients like refined sugar, refined flour and soy that might make your allergies worse. They also increase inflammation in the body, which makes your immune system have to work in overdrive. This entire process makes allergies more prevalent in the body, not to mention makes you feel run down and tired. Try to buy organic, since pesticides can also cause some people to react to a food as well.
2. Rule out Food Allergies:
If you have a known food allergy, then you are probably avoiding it. However, some people have low grade allergies or even unknown food allergies. During allergy season, when your immune system will be overwhelmed you may want to cut out these common allergens: wheat, barley, rye, dairy, soy, gluten, shellfish, nuts, and sesame.
3. Eat vitamin C rich foods:
If you eat a whole foods plant-based diet, you’re probably getting a good amount of vitamin C. This antioxidant is known for its role in keeping us healthy during cold and flu season, and it can also protect us from foreign invaders during allergy season. Some excellent sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, papaya, red bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
4. Carotenoid Rich Foods:
Dark green leafy vegetables, including seaweed are rich in carotenoids. As are orange coloured fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and carrots. A study found that those with the highest level of total carotenoids in their blood stream (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein/zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin and cryptoxanthin) had a significantly lower prevalence of seasonal allergies.
5. Quercitin Rich Foods:
This anti-oxidant has properties of an anti-histamine. It can reduce the inflammatory response throughout the body, including those that are caused by an increase in histamine levels when an allergic response occurs. Foods such as onions, apples, berries, broccoli, cherries, grapes, capers, and tea are all great sources of this important antioxidant. You need to regularly consume quercetin-rich foods to see the benefits, but since they are all healthy plant-foods, with many other amazing benefits, you should be eating them daily anyway!
6. Eat Garlic and Tumeric:
Garlic is a such a powerful, yet humble food. This one food has been linked to cancer prevention, blood sugar regulation, a healthier heart, and reduces inflammation in all parts of the body. Boost your immunity with a small serving every day. If you don’t like garlic, turmeric is also an anti-inflammatory food with incredible benefits, and may also help lower the allergic response you suffer during pollen season. You can easily have tumeric by adding it to curries or try some Golden Milk.
7. Eat Omega-3 Rich Foods:
Flax seeds chia seeds, walnuts are all great sources. Similar to the carotenoid finding, those with higher levels of both long and short chain omega-3 fatty acids in their blood stream were found to have less allergic rhinitis.
Hydration is more important than ever during allergy season! Drink lots of water (preferably with fresh lemon – citrus has been associated with lower allergy and asthma symptoms).
9. Reduce/Eliminate Meat:
One study on diet and allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (runny nose/itchy eyes) confirmed that meat can increase the risk by 71%. Other studies have also shown the link between diets marked by greater intakes of meats, poultry, and seafood and greater risk of hayfever and asthma.
So start adding more fruits and veggies on your plate to replace the meat and processed foods and see how you do. (Bonus: these foods do so much more for you and your voice than just ease allergies)
What do you do to alleviate your allergies? I'd love to know, Leave a comment below.
Need motivation or help transitioning? Then join us in our Facebook community, Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
My friend Kate, a professional singer for a decade, had a rude awakening about 3 years ago. In the middle of singing a song her voice snapped. She had a vocal hemorrhage. On closer inspection it turned out she also had pre-nodules and significant stiffness in her right fold.
She chronicles her journey back to vocal health in her book “Just One Voice”, but one of the underlying causes of her injury was reflux.
This is the stuff singer’s nightmares are made of. The thing is many singers are not even aware of their reflux. When you feel heartburn or have a distinct backflow of acid to the back of your throat, you can be sure you are suffering from Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), but many singers don’t feel this, yet they may still experience Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR).
LPR occurs when stomach contents come up the throat in a gaseous form or as a mist. This allows for easy access to the larynx as the mist can be inhaled. And you won’t even know it.
Though it was previously thought that the acid was doing the damage, more current research suggests that it is actually not the acid, but inflammation due to the action of pepsin.
Pepsin is a digestive enzyme, specifically for the breakdown of protein. Guess what the pharyngeal and laryngeal tissue is made of? That’s right. Protein. So the pepsin is digesting your tissue! Gross!!! Right? The stomach has a special lining that prevents this from happening, but outside of the stomach all tissue is fair game for the pepsin.
To make matters worse, Even if pepsin stops digesting and lays dormant, it can be reactivated by acid. So that coke or orange juice you drink can be reactivating it starting the cycle all over again.
What does this mean to your voice?
If you have LPR you may be experiencing inflammation in the vocal folds and even a thinning of the epithelial layer of the vocal folds. This puts you at greater risk of nodules, polyps, and hemorrhages when you sing. It also increases the risk of laryngeal cancer (though this is still a very rare form of cancer at 1% incidence).
If you have a very active singing life, this is a disaster waiting to happen.
Look out for the symptoms:
Chronic cough and throat clearing
Feeling of a lump in the throat
See an ENT if you have any of the above issues that are not associated with a common cold and persist for more than 2 weeks.
What can you do?
I’ve already laid out some basics in Acid Reflux and the Singer: What Every Singer Needs to Know. Paying attention to what you eat does matter. There is now evidence that a plant-based diet together with alkaline water is as effective as proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) therapy.
Why is the alkaline water important? Remember earlier I mentioned that the pepsin is active in acid (that's a pH of 2 – 6.9) and can be reactivated by coming into contact with more acid? Well, it turns out that pepsin is permanently deactivated in an alkaline environment.
An alkaline pH of 8 – 10 is most effective to deactivate pepsin.
You can buy alkaline water, or you can buy expensive machines that can mineralize your water to make it alkaline. It’s also possible to make your own by adding baking soda to water, however, this has a high sodium content, which is not recommended for your health. Buying bottled alkaline water may be the best way to go if can’t spring for a machine. If you are on a tight budget, then instead of drinking the baking soda water, try gargling after a meal.
These are the dietary steps Kate took to help with her reflux: An anti-inflammatory plant-based approach, avoiding triggers like soda, caffeine, chocolate, citrus, tomatoes and strong spices and alkaline water. Her folds are now pristine.
If you suspect you have reflux, get checked by and ENT, and if you want to get back on track vocally, you may be interested in The Fit Singer’s 14 Day Vocal Reset, which includes a reflux friendly meal plan.
Doucet, Kate J, Just One Voice A Book on Vocal Sustainability and Injury Prevention, 2018, Outskirts Press, Inc.
Colds, flu, sore throats. Winter is the time for getting sick. Of course that just won’t do for a singer. Every singer's nightmare is to get that tickle in the throat and sniffles coming on just before a performance.
Usually I try to promote prevention through a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, good nutrition, stress management, and sleep. However, there are times but even the best laid plans go awry.
So what’s a singer to do when that illness comes along?
Let's start with what you shouldn't do.
Do not sing with a severely sore throat.
Though you may be able to get by singing with a bit of a head cold if you feel it in your throat chances are your vocal folds are also inflamed and you put yourself at risk of vocal injury.
Don’t sing if you feel really lousy.
Aside from the possibility of inflammation in the vocal folds, if you are not feeling well and have to increase your effort to sing, you will put your voice at risk of vocal injury.
Do not use over the counter cough and cold medications if you are going to sing.
Many of them contain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. These drugs will numb the pain and then you won't be able to feel if there is a vocal problem. You could end up with a vocal hemorrhage. Same goes for any herbal remedies that numb the pain, even good old Throat Coat tea is not safe to use if you are actively singing.
Do not drink alcohol.
Alcohol can affect your gut microbiome which is essential to your immune system. It's also a diuretic that will dry you out. When you're sick you need to hydrate more than ever.
Do not take antibiotics unless you know you have a bacterial infection.
Over-prescription of antibiotics is a problem these days. Taking antibiotics kills off good and bad gut bacteria throwing your immune system off balance.
Do not eat sugar.
If you feel a cold coming coming on, cut out the sugar and simple carbs. Sugar is inflammatory and lowers your immune system.
Do not use Facebook recommendations for wacky remedies.
Many can be ineffective and at worst can put you at risk of vocal injury. Ever hear of putting onions on your feet? Or using colloidal silver? Please, just don't.
Now let's talk about what you should do and some natural remedies that you can use.
Do increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Even if you haven't been eating them regularly before your cold they will still help boost your immune system and shorten the length and severity of your symptoms.
Drinking lots of water will improve your body's ability to function and fight off the infection. In addition to water, soups and herbal teas are great are great to have for hydration and may have other soothing and healing benefits. Some good herbal teas to include in your cold and flu fighting arsenal are ginger tea with lemon, marshmallow tea which is good at suppressing coughs and soothing sore throats, peppermint tea. You can also have water with a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar. Raw apple cider vinegar is known to kill germs and bacteria. Drink it a few times a day when you have a cold or flu.
Do make sure you are taking vitamin D.
Especially in Northern climates where we don't get much sunlight Vitamin D deficiency can be a problem and it is known to be important to your immune system. Read more on vitamin D here.
Steaming will help open up your sinuses and hydrate your vocal folds providing you with some relief. Adding some essential oils such as peppermint, rosemary or oregano can help clear up and soothe even more.
Do gargle with salt water.
Salt water can help kill germs lurking in the back of your throat.
Do some light vocalizing.
Using semi-occluded vocal tract exercises (SOVT), especially straw phonation, can help with healing of inflamed vocal folds.
Do see an Ear, Nose, Throat specialist (ENT) if you are concerned or if symptoms last for more than two weeks.
You want to make sure you're voice stays healthy for a lifetime of enjoyment.
Here are a few other natural remedies you can try.
For congestion make a rub of coconut oil with a few drops of peppermint oil or eucalyptus oil. Other essential oils that are antibacterial and antiviral are thyme and rosemary which can be incorporated in rubs, steaming or diffusers.
Licorice root is known to soothe coughs however use in moderation and for no longer than two weeks at a time as there may be side effects from overuse.
Eat lots of garlic. Garlic is known to have natural antibacterial and antiviral properties. Try mashing two cloves of garlic with little bit of honey and lemon juice and chewing on this every 3 to 4 hours at the first signs of a cold.
Apply coconut oil to your nostrils and ears and mouth. Coconut oil has antibacterial properties make sure you were using unrefined coconut oil that will still have the enzymes in it. This will prevent entry of germs into your system it's a great preventative when you are traveling on planes where the air is very dry.
Try some of these strategies the next time you get sick. Let me know what works for you.
If you need help revitalizing your voice after a cold or flu then the 14 Day Vocal Reset is for you. Check it out here.
This is a question that comes up often.
A big reason many teachers site as for discouraging students from trying to achieve those six-pack abs is the fact that there is too much tension which interferes with freedom of breath, but it's not really true. (If you don't want explanations and just examples involving shirtless men, then just scroll down now.)
Ok, this can be true in an untrained singer who already has developed a bad habit of clenching their abs tightly. Dancers and body-builders are usually the worst offenders. A lot of work needs to be done to re-educate their breathing, but not really much more than the average new student who tends to breath in a shallow manner.
What about experienced singers? Really all it takes is to inform them that they should continue to practice their singing breath when they workout.
Honestly that’s all it takes if they already have good breathing patterns. In fact, most athletes do practice good breathing technique. My triathlon coach used to tell us that as we rode our bikes. “Breath into your belly!” he’d yell, “Those Tour de France guys look like they’re pregnant when they breathe!!!”
And it’s not just on bikes. Running, swimming; they all require that deep breathing that we use for singing. And these athletes hit the gym for strength training as well, so it’s not just about the weights. It about how you breathe when you lift the weights.
Let’s take a look at a few examples. I know this is going to be difficult for you ladies, but let’s make the effort to look at the breathing patterns of Chris Helmsworth (as Thor) and Michael Phelps. Try not to get too distracted.
Notice how Thor lifts his shoulders with every breath. He is concerned with maintaining his glamour muscles. The tension may be dramatic, but it’s going to affect his fighting capabilities with poor oxygen exchange. Good thing he has a magic hammer.
Now take a look at Michael Phelps. This is the way you breathe to win! Look at those ribs and abs move. You can have those abs and breath with complete freedom too.
But I’m not going to leave it there. We also want to see whether a SINGER can have a six-pack and still breathe for singing. So here is your proof with William Burden and Nathan Gunn in the Pearl Fischers duet. You can especially see the working abs at 2 minutes.
So yes, singers, you can have awesome abs and breathe freely. We don’t necessarily build tension from creating those abs, we just have to learn how to keep them flexible.
After all our abdominal muscles are important to maintaining our posture – good alignment is always encouraged for singing and those abdominal muscles are part of the recipe for achieving that. They will protect your back and allow you to move athletically while on the stage (or off).
Just remember that as you sing you cannot maintain the lean magazine-cover look. Your belly will expand as you inhale deeply.
It’s also good to note that to be really ripped also requires a low body fat percentage that just is not sustainable and may not be compatible with singing. Bodybuilders and fitness models often get dehydrated to make the muscles pop, so it’s not a look I’d recommend singers go after.
If you want to find out more about how you can get your abs and still sing with freedom, join the FREE Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Facebook group where I share exercises every week.
Its causes are absolutely everywhere. Would you agree?
While I’m here at Resonanz Opera this summer, it’s certainly something that many singers are telling me about. How they feel stressed. How they feel anxious. How it affects their performance.
Our natural “fight or flight” stress response can sometimes go a little overboard. It’s supposed to help us escape injury or death in an emergency and then return to normal after we’ve fought or flew. But, that doesn’t happen too much in our society - it becomes a long-term reaction. It becomes chronic. If you’re a singer you definitely know what I’m talking about - work, rehearsals, practice, school, gigs, family. We try to do it all and it can take a toll on us.
You’ve probably heard of the main stress hormone, called “cortisol.” It’s released from your adrenal glands in response to stress. It’s also naturally high in the morning to get you going, and slowly fades during the day so you can sleep.
Did you know that too-high levels of cortisol are associated with belly fat, poor sleep, brain fog, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and even lowers your immunity? If you’ve ever experienced a pre or post show cold, it was probably brought on by stress.
Do you experience any of these? Well, then read on because I have a list of foods, nutrients and lifestyle recommendations to help you lower this stress hormone naturally!
Foods and nutrients to lower cortisol
Let’s start with one of the biggies that increase your cortisol… sugar. Reducing the sugar we eat and drink can be a great step toward better health for our minds (and bodies).
High doses of caffeine also increase your cortisol levels. If coffee makes you feel anxious and jittery, then cut back on the amount of caffeine you ingest.
Also, being dehydrated increases cortisol. Make sure you’re drinking enough water every day, especially if you feel thirsty. I’m constantly surprised by how many singers still aren’t getting enough hydration.
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods; this doesn't just help reduce stress hormone, it helps all aspects of your health.
Lower your cortisol levels with tea and dark chocolate (not the sugary milky kind!). Have a bit to unwind.
Don’t forget your probiotics and prebiotics! There is so much new research about the gut-mind connection, and how taking care of your friendly gut microbes is key! Make sure you’re eating probiotic rich fermented foods and getting a healthy dose of prebiotic fiber.
Lifestyle techniques to lower cortisol
It’s not just food, but there are things you can do with your time that can lower cortisol.
Reduce your stress with mindfulness. Many studies show that reducing stressful thoughts and worry reduces cortisol. Every singer should develop mindfulness strategies that don’t only reduce stress, but can improve your performances.
Get enough exercise (but don’t overdo it). While intense exercise increases cortisol levels temporarily, it can reduce overall cortisol levels. Even on those busy days dry to squeeze in a few 5 - 10 minute walks or even better - a 20 minute HIIT workout.
Get enough sleep!
Getting adequate sleep is way too underrated. Sleep reduces cortisol levels and also helps improve your overall health in so many ways.
Relax and have fun. Things like deep breathing, massages, and listening to relaxing music all reduce cortisol. They also happen to be things that will aid your singing in other ways.
Be social and bust loneliness. Would you believe me if I told you that science has shown health risks from social isolation and loneliness? It’s true! Maintaining good relationships and spending time with people you like and who support you is key. Luckily, most singing involves getting together with others to make music. What could be better!
Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can have several negative impacts on your health and voice. There are many proven ways to reduce levels of cortisol naturally.
In terms of foods and nutrients, have less sugar and caffeine. And have more water, fruit, tea, dark chocolate, probiotics, and prebiotics.
Lifestyle factors are huge when it comes to cortisol. To lower yours, exercise (but not too much), get more sleep, relax, and have more fun.
In the comments below, let me know your favourite ways to bust the stress hormone cortisol!
Recipe (High fiber prebiotic): De-Stressing Chocolate Pudding
3 ripe avocados
¼ cup cacao powder (unsweetened)
½ cup Medjool dates (pitted and soaked for 20 - 30 minutes)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 dash salt
Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try adding a pinch of cinnamon for a deeper flavour.
Though I usually recommend that singers try to stick to eating whole unprocessed foods, the truth is that packaged foods are part of the landscape of our dietary lives. And many unprocessed foods are found in packages as well.
Now if we are eating packaged foods, the priority is to read the ingredients list to make sure you are not getting a food full of artificial sweeteners, colours, preservatives and other chemical additives.
After that we can move on to the Nutrition Facts.
The Nutrition Facts table is on the side of most packaged foods. It’s often found close to the ingredient listing.
The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to eat better, right?
Whether you like the Nutrition Facts table or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay!
Here’s my four-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts table.
Step 1: Serving Size
The absolute most important part of the Nutrition Facts table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it's tricky.
All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.
In Canada, in the next few years (between 2017-2022), serving sizes will be more consistent between similar foods. This will make it easier to compare foods. The new labels will also have more realistic serving sizes to reflect the amount that people eat in one sitting, and not be artificially small.
Let’s use an example - plain, unsalted walnuts from Costco.
As you can see, right under the Nutrition Facts header is the serving size. That is a ¼ cup or 30 g. This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount.
FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is (imagine a ¼ cup of walnuts).
Step 2: % Daily Value
The % Daily Value (%DV) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DV for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day.
NOTE: Since children are smaller and have different nutritional needs if a type of food is intended solely for children under the age of 4, then those foods use a child’s average nutrition needs for the %DV.
The %DV is a guideline, not a rigid rule.
You don’t need to add all of your %DV up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.
NOTE: Not every nutrient has a %DV. You can see it's missing for things like cholesterol, sugar, and protein. This is because there isn't an agreed "official" %DV for that nutrient. The good news is that the new Nutrition Facts tables will include a %DV for sugar. Keep your eyes out for that.
Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein)
Calories are pretty straight forward. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts has 200 calories.
Fat is bolded for a reason. That 19 g of fat (29% DV) is total fat. That includes the non-bolded items underneath it. Here, 19 g of total fat includes 1.5 g saturated fat, (19 g - 1.5 g = 17.5 g) unsaturated fat, and 0 g trans fat. (Yes, unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on the label, so you need to do a quick subtraction).
Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It's easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).
Carbohydrate, like fat, is bolded because it is total carbohydrates. It includes the non-bolded items underneath it like fiber, sugar, and starch (not shown). Here, 30 g of walnuts contain 3 g of carbohydrates; that 3 g are all fiber. There is no sugar or starch. And as you can see, 3 g of fiber is 12% of your daily value for fiber.
Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts contains 5 g of protein.
Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)
The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional.
Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you'll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.
I hope this crash course in the Nutrition Facts table was helpful. While you can take it or leave it when it comes to making food decisions, it’s here to stay. And it will change slightly over the next few years.
Do you have questions about it? Have you seen the new labels with a %DV for sugar? If so, leave me a comment below.
Or join our free online community at Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
Recipe (walnuts): Delicious and Super-Easy Walnut Snack
This is a great snack for singers on the go!
8 walnut halves
4 dates, pitted
Make a "date sandwich" by squeezing each date between two walnut halves.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try with pecans instead.
This week is the final week of my first session at Resonanz Opera in Mentor, Ohio. All the singers enrolled in this program have come such an amazingly long way in understanding themselves and their instruments.
I’ve been putting them through their paces with physical workouts designed for singers, as well as teaching them about health from a singer’s perspective.
We’re often given a list of vocal health tips that include a bunch of dos and don’ts. One of these is often – eat well. But what exactly does “eat well” mean and how does it affect the voice?
That is what these singers have been learning. And I’m going to share with you seven ways that good nutrition will aid your voice.
What is good nutrition?
When speaking of voice care, many sources will state what not to eat before performing, such as:
Or you may get very general advice such as:
Or advice of foods to avoid if you suffer from acid reflux.
This can leave you asking, “What are nutritious foods?” So you Google, you read labels at the grocery store and you’re still confused.
With so many seemingly conflicting diets out there how are you supposed to know what to do? Well, one thing they all have in common is that you are to reduce the amount of processed food in your diet and increase the whole foods, that is foods as close to their natural source as possible.
In addition, all of these diets stress eating more plant-based foods, especially vegetables.
7 Ways Good Nutrition Helps Your Voice
So if you are eating a more plant-based diet, here’s what it will do for your voice:
1. Improves energy levels.
The Standard American Diet (SAD), now adopted by many Western societies, is full of processed foods that have your blood sugars unbalanced, with a sugar high followed by a sugar crash. This can leave you feeling sapped of energy.
Eating whole foods, rich in fibre allow for a slower release of sugar into the blood stream maintaining a steady blood sugar level. Healthy sources of carbohydrates and fat are your bodies primary energy sources, but the nutrients in vegetables, especially in dark leafy greens will give you even more of a boost in energy.
2. Improves immunity.
The SAD diet is low on many immune boosting nutrients. Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that aid in warding off those colds and sore throats, and even allergies that singers dread are missing in processed foods. Taking vitamin pills or having vitamins and minerals added into these foods is not the same, since they don’t get absorbed into the body as well and are limited to only a few nutrients versus the thousands of nutrients available in real whole plant foods. Whole food sources are designed for our bodies and have a wealth of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that will keep your immune system strong.
3. Balances hormones.
Keeping hormones balanced can have a big impact on the voice from keeping the swelling of the vocal folds associated with PMS at bay to managing stress responses to keeping your mood at an even keel. Diet plays a large role in this. You can read more about hormones and the voice here.
4. Keeps collagen and elastin fibres in the vocal folds supple.
The tissues of the vocal folds consist of collagen and elastin fibres. These proteins are responsible for flexibility and resiliency of tissues. We see it especially in our skin – wrinkles form as less collagen and elastin are formed. It’s not just superficial aging we need to worry about. We need to maintain elasticity of the vocal folds. Vitamin C is vital in the formation of collagen, as well as other nutrients such as hyluronic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, sulfur containing foods, vitamin A and plant steroids. A healthy diet rich in a variety of plant foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and beans and legumes will ensure that you have all the nutrients to keep producing collagen.
5. Speeds up recovery between vocal use.
As we sing we are using many muscles; laryngeal and respiratory getting the most use. With athletic use the muscles will start to break down and need to repair. You may also be experiencing some inflammation from overuse, as well as a build up of lactic acid. Hydration is essential, but so is a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and lean protein to repair and re-build the used muscles so that you will be ready for the next singing session.
6. Maintains appropriate body composition.
Body composition can definitely have an affect on your voice. Energy levels are higher because there is not excess adipose tissue to carry around. It’s easier to carry out the demands of a director (Does he ask you to fall to the ground? How many times do you need to do this over and over in rehearsal? Can you do it without effort and maintaining support of the voice as you do it? Or maybe you’re a musical theatre performer and need to dance while you sing.) Also, if you are prone to yo-yo dieting it’s hard to maintain a sense of support as your weight fluctuates widely. By eating a healthy plant-based diet, you will be easily able maintain a consistent weight that will service your voice and your health and keep cravings at bay.
7. Reduces risk of vocal injury.
Ultimately, every singer wants to enjoy a lifetime of singing. Avoiding vocal injury is one way to ensure that. When you have improved energy levels, less inflammation and less illness you will be able to sing with less effort (provided you also have good technique in hand). This will reduce the risk of damaging your vocal folds either through a hemorrhage, nodules or polyps. A healthy diet high in plant-foods, which are rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, phytonutritents and omega-3 fatty acids, can be highly anti-inflammatory. Some especially anti-inflammatory herbs include ginger and tumeric, so if you feel inflammation, load up on them. Try this tumeric milk recipe.
So make sure you are cutting the processed foods and eating a wide variety of fresh or frozen plant foods. As they say: “Eat the rainbow”. Your voice will love you for it.
Get more guidance on how to eat healthly in our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
There has been a lot of conflicting information about dairy products for singers. Some say it causes excess mucus, some say that it’s a myth that’s been debunked. Most singers will agree that it feels icky if you have to sing right after consuming dairy.
For those that have dairy intolerance to lactose, casein, and whey it can be a concern and affect your ability to sing at your peak. Read on to find out the low-down on dairy...
Having a food intolerance is not fun. It can cause abdominal pain, discomfort, and nausea. It also causes embarrassing symptoms like flatulence and diarrhea. Other symptoms linked to food intolerances include muscle or joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin symptoms like rashes and eczema.
Definitely no fun to sing with abdominal pain, bloating, muscle pains, headaches or exhaustion.
Dairy is just one of those foods that many people seem to be intolerant of. Let’s talk about the main components of milk that people react to: lactose, casein, and whey.
Milk sugar (lactose) intolerance
It’s estimated that up to 75% of adults are lactose intolerant. Lactose is the carbohydrate “milk sugar” naturally found in most dairy products. Lactose intolerance is so common you can buy lactose-free milk in your regular grocery store. Lactose-free products are treated with the enzyme “lactase” that breaks the lactose down before you ingest it. It’s this lactase enzyme that is lacking in most people who are lactose intolerant.
The lactase enzyme is naturally released from your intestine as one of your digestive enzymes. It breaks down the lactose sugar in the gut. When someone doesn't have enough lactase, the lactose doesn't get broken down the way it should. Undigested lactose ends up being food for the resident gut microbes. As they ferment the lactose, they create gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhea.
Lactose is in dairy but is in lower amounts in fermented dairy (e.g. cheese & yogurt) and butter. Steering clear of lactose isn't that easy as it is added to other foods like baked goods, soups, and sauces. And if you're taking any medications or supplements, check to see if it's in there too, as lactose is a common ingredient in them.
If you have symptoms of lactose intolerance, keep an eye on food, medication, and supplement labels.
Milk protein (casein & whey) allergy
Milk is a known, and common, food allergen. In Canada, it is considered a “priority allergen” and must be declared on food labels.
So, what are the allergens in milk? You've heard of "curds and whey?" Well, these are the two main proteins in milk. The solid bits are the curds (made of casein), and the liquid is the dissolved whey.
Unlike lactose intolerance, casein and whey can cause an actual immune response. It’s an allergy. And this immune response can cause inflammation, which can put you at higher risk of vocal injury. In fact, we don’t know how many people have these milk allergies, but most estimates put it far below that of lactose intolerance.
Like lactose, these allergenic milk proteins can be found in other products too. They're not just in dairy but are often in protein powders as well (Have you heard of "whey" protein powders?).
Some of the symptoms of milk protein allergy differ from that of lactose intolerance; things like nasal congestion and mucus (phlegm) are more common here. And casein seems to be linked with belly fat.
Interestingly, people who have gluten intolerance are often allergic to milk proteins like whey and casein as well. These can go hand-in-hand.
Like lactose intolerance, if you're allergic to casein and whey keep an eye on labels so you can avoid these.
If you get gassy, bloated, or diarrhea after eating dairy, you may have a lactose intolerance. If you often get a stuffy nose and mucus, then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey.
While dairy may be an entire food group, it is not an essential nutrient. All the nutrients in dairy are available in other foods. If you experience these symptoms, you can try removing dairy from your diet. You may find improved digestion and fewer gut issues. Or you may find improved nasal congestion, or even less belly fat. You may even find you recover faster from vocal fatigue since inflammation places a large part in this.
If you decide to (or have already) removed dairy from your diet, let me know your experience in the comments below.
Recipe (Dairy-free): Chocolate Ice "Cream"
3 bananas, sliced and frozen
2 tsp cacao powder, unsweetened
1 tbsp almond butter
Place frozen bananas in food processor and blend until smooth (a few minutes). You may have to stop a few times to scrape the sides.
Add cacao powder and almond butter and blend until mixed well.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can make this in advance and freeze in an airtight container.
To get more great dairy free recipes, join our free Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
Hi, I'm so glad you found my wellness coaching site. I am a singer, voice teacher of over 20 years, certified personal trainer and nutrition coach.
A singer is a vocal athlete. Just like an athlete, a singer requires strength, agility and stamina. I teach singers to take care of their instrument, their body, through a holistic approach encompassing fitness, whole food nutrition, mindfulness and natural solutions.
In joining me you will learn:
Take a transformative journey to become an empowered singer that performs with outrageous confidence. Go from feeling exhausted, worried about your vocal folds, deprived, overwhelmed and stuck, to feeling comfortable in your own skin, completely energized, with renewed mental clarity and reinvigorated in a matter of weeks.
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