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.
'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.
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.
This is the second in a two part series on lifestyle factors that may be contributing to anxiety.
In part one we discussed what anxiety disorders are. We also talked about performance anxiety and how many of these strategies are helpful for that, as well. And finally we explored the role of nutrition in anxiety and what foods may be exacerbating anxiety and what foods can help relieve it. If you haven’t read it yet you can find it here: Beating Anxiety - Part One: Nutrition
This week our focus will be on the role of exercise in relieving anxiety.
How Does Exercise Help?
There have been numerous studies on the beneficial effects of exercise on anxiety and depression. Exercising can be as effective as drugs for the treatment of anxiety. Why it works is still under consideration, but there seem to be many possible contributing factors
One possible explanation is that the stress pathway called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, undergoes changes that affect stress reactivity and anxiety under the influence of exercise.
Another possibility is that exercise increases serotonin synthesis, metabolism, and release. Serotonin being one of the major mood hormones necessary to our well being.
There is evidence that exercise stress can affect gene expression that affects the area of the brain rich in neurons that produce norepinephrine – a neuro-transmitter that plays a vital role in the fight or flight response.
Another possible mechanism for the anxiety relieving effects of exercise is by the body’s production of natural opioids and endocannaboids, which have a role in the regulation of mood and emotional responses. Exercise may induce a euphoric state with the release of these naturally occurring chemicals in the body and reduce pain – no weed necessary.
Aside from these physiological explanations, there are also some psychological reasons for the role of exercise in reducing anxiety.
Exposing someone with high anxiety sensitivity to the physiological symptoms they fear, such as rapid heartbeat, in the context of physical exercise may increase their tolerance for such symptoms as the brain soon realizes that there is no serious threat Repeated exposures through regular aerobic exercise may also help in getting used to the feared sensation.
Distraction is often a technique used to help those with anxiety and depress, so it’s another reason why exercise is effective at reducing anxiety.
Likely, it’s a combination of many of these reasons that help reduce anxiety. Whatever the reason may be, it’s clear that exercise is helpful.
How much exercise do you need to get the effects?
Regular exercise is important, so aiming for 3 to 5 times a week.
In a study on college musicians with musical performance anxiety, it was found that those who exercised regularly had lower performance anxiety scores than their more sedentary counterparts.
On a daily basis, it’s been shown that 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise has more benefit than less than 30 minutes, but there didn’t seem to be any more benefit past 45 minutes. However, even 10 minutes daily to start will start providing some relief.
And what are the best exercises?
As I like to say, the exercise you are willing to do is the best exercise. However, a study from the University of Missouri suggests that high intensity interval training seems to have the greatest anxiety-relieving effect compared to steady state cardio.
As always, it’s important to check with your physician before starting any new exercise program and work up the intensity gradually to avoid injury.
If you want exercise ideas and more anxiety busting tips, join our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Facebook group.
Over the last 20 some years of teaching singing I've noticed an increasing number of singers that struggle with anxiety, Performance anxiety has always been a problem for many singers, but anxiety disorders are on the rise. In my health coaching practice it's also a common thread.
This is the first in a three part series on how lifestyle can help anxiety, both clinical disorders and performance anxiety. I will be giving you tips and strategies to help you get back to feeling confident on and off the stage.
In this part we will discuss the impact of nutrition and what foods will help the most. The following parts will deal with physical exercise and sleep.
My own story with anxiety goes back to my childhood. I was a very VERY shy child. Though it was never diagnosed, it was social anxiety. Even as an adult I had a hard time in social situations and felt very awkward. The stigma of getting help was very real and my family had so many other issues that it seemed to me that my problems weren’t that big, so I never sought treatment. However, when I did change my lifestyle through exercise and nutrition it was if a veil had lifted! I suddenly found myself more willing to take chances socially and felt so much more confident in myself.
Though lifestyle factors can go a long way to helping alleviate anxiety, it’s important to realize that it can have many underlying factors that need to be addressed. A combination of improving lifestyle and working with a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders is the most effective way to treat anxiety.
Anxiety DisordersFirst let’s have a little background look at anxiety.
Anxiety is prevalent in our society. According to Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) 54 percent of woman and 46 percent of men experience some form of anxiety disorder.
Some common disorders are generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder and specific phobias.
Many use medication to help alleviate their anxiety. Paxil and Zoloft, two of the more popular anti-anxiety medications, ranked 7th and 8th in the top ten prescribed medications in the US. However, singers should use these medications with caution since they can cause a dry mouth and dry out mucous membranes that can result in hoarseness, sore throat and voice changes leaving the vocal folds susceptible to injuries such as nodules.
Mental and physical health are closely linked. People with a mood disorder are at much higher risk of developing a long-term medical condition.
Just a few of the symptom of those who have an anxiety condition include:
Some level of performance anxiety is expected for any performer. Some even say that if you don’t feel nervous, you won’t give a good performance. It’s a natural state of being faced with an unfamiliar situation; your body’s fight or flight response. Usually the anticipation of performing is usually worse than the actual performance. However, for some performance anxiety can be debilitating.
There are many ways to learn to cope with performance anxiety that incorporate cognitive strategies (mindset, meditation, triggers). However, lifestyle here also plays an important role. It can help give you a reliable instrument for singing; energized, healthy, with an alert mind.
If you are tired or unwell, there is always the worry that you won’t perform as well as you would like and the very real worry of vocal injury.
Nutrition to boost you mood and performance
Studies have shown that adopting a healthier diet can boost peoples' mood. In particular, eating more nutrient-dense meals, which are high in fibre and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars. Likewise, studies have shown that a “junk food” diet can have negative psychological effects.
Making healthy dietary change can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. These conditions have been linked to inflammation in the body due to how chronic stress adversely affects the body’s inflammation response. Eating an unhealthy diet, such as junk food, high sugar foods, and stimulants, stress the body, which can contribute to inflammation problems. Chronic inflammation is also linked to many diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the body’s stress load causing a reduction in inflammation.
Women in particular seem to benefit from dietary interventions for symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Though that’s no excuse for the guys to get complacent, since they are still at great risk of inflammatory conditions that will affect their health.
Performance anxiety also benefits from supportive lifestyle factors including physical exercise, sleep and healthy diet. The best strategy is to adopt healthy eating as a lifestyle choice. This will ensure decreased inflammation, which as we already discussed can prevent (and in some cases, reverse) many diseases that can affect your ability to sing and to sing with confidence.
On performance days you should avoid alcohol, high caffeine, high-sugar, high-fat and spicy foods before performance and eat easily digestible complex carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, which will produce a sustained release of energy during performance. This will also help you better maintain concentration and focus.
Some great meal ideas include whole grain pasta with a mild primavera sauce, lentil soup, or a bean and rice burrito bowl. Avoid wheat/gluten products if you have irritable bowel syndrome or have a known sensitivity to wheat products.
Foods that boost your mood
Some of the causes of anxiety have to do with nutrient deficiencies. The nutrients and foods listed below will help boost your mood and make you feel energized.
B Vitamins and Folate:
Studies have indicated that many people who suffer from anxiety and depression have an elevated incident of folate deficiency. Vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which influences mood. Other B vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, have positive effects on the nervous system. Deficiencies of these vitamins have been linked to increased anxiety.
Foods rich in B vitamins:
Aparagus, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, beets, citrus, spinach, avocado, broccoli, nuts and seeds, brussel sprouts, papaya, banana, carrots, sweet potatoes,
Antioxidants including Vitamins C and E:
When we’re anxious and stressed, our bodies crave vitamin C to help repair and protect our cells. Researchers7 at the State University of New York found that anxious symptoms are linked with a lower antioxidant state.
Foods rich in antioxidants:
Kale, dark green leafy vegetables, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, dark chocolate, pecans, goji berries, artichokes, beets, goji berries, red cabbage, beans
Researchers have shown that magnesium may be an effective treatment for anxiety-related symptoms, as inadequate magnesium reduces the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
Foods rich in magnesium:
Whole grains, nuts and seeds, black beans, spinach, quinoa, avocado, tofu
Omega-3 fatty acid:
According to a study from Ohio University, omega-3 fatty acids are particularly effective when it comes to foods that help with anxiety. They are known to be highly effective anti-inflammatories and are the kind of fats our brains crave.
Foods rich in magnesium:
Chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds
They call the gut the second brain and it’s actually powered by our gut microbiome. Feeding the good bacteria in our gut can help with serotonin production. A link has been found between the consumption of fermented, probiotic foods and a reduction in social anxiety.
Foods rich in probiotics:
Sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, sourdough bread
I would love to hear about your experiences and if you've ever thought of food as a way to deal with anxiety. Leave a comment below or contact me.
If you want more ideas of how to get more of these anxiety busting foods into your diet, join our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community where I frequently share recipes and other anxiety busting tips.
Joseph Firth et al, The effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety, Psychosomatic Medicine (2019). DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000673
The Science & Psychology of Music Performance: Creative Strategies for Teaching and Learning by Richard Parncutt and Gary McPherson | Feb 18 2003
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.