At the best of times we all have some level of stress, right?
It may be temporary (acute), or long-term (chronic).
Now with COVID-19 stress levels can be higher than ever, worries about finances are top most among singers and other performing artists with no clear idea of when theatres can re-open again or how safe it will be and public gathers, even outdoors, still being limited. Now there is all the worry about aerosolized particles and a study out of Colorado University Boulder has some dire warnings.
There is good and bad news in this. First the good news.
The good news is for most of us, the stress we are experiencing will be acute stress. Yes, this will pass and as creatives, we are sure to find other ways to express our art - and get paid for it.
Acute stress usually won’t mess with your health too much. It is your body’s natural reaction to circumstances, and can even be life-saving. Hopefully, it will make you take action to protect yourself and loved ones.
Then, when the “threat” (a.k.a. “stressor”) is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well.
It's the chronic stress that's a problem. You see, your body has specific stress reactions. If these stress reactions are triggered every day or many times a day that can mess with your health. Your stress resiliency reserve gets eaten away until the balance tips.
So stress (and stress hormones) can have a huge impact on your health.
And that’s the bad news. Many performing artists will be feeling the impact of the isolation as we are already into a fourth month of physical distancing and every day we get more dire news about the virus and its effects.
Let's dive into the "stress mess."
Mess #1 - Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
Why save the best for last? Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed. Especially since we know that people with underlying conditions are at higher risk of mortality and complications from COVID-19.
Stress increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting your blood "thickness," as well as how well your cells respond to insulin.
Mess #2 - Immunity
Did you notice that you get sick more often when you're stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even the flu more frequently when you are stressed? (Post-show cold anyone?)
Well, that's because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers (cytokines) secreted by immune cells consequently, they are less able to do their jobs effectively.
This time of pandemic crisis is no time for a weak immune system.
Mess #3 - "Leaky Gut."
Stress can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as "intestinal permeability." These "leaks" can then allow partially digested food, bacteria or other things to be absorbed into your body.
The stress hormone cortisol can open up tiny holes by loosening the grip your digestive cells have to each other.
Picture this: Have you ever played "red rover?" It's where a row of children hold hands while one runs at them to try to break through. Think of those hands as the junctions between cells. When they get loose, they allow things to get in that should be passing right through. Cortisol (produced in excess in chronic stress) is a strong player in red rover!
This can cause many health problems, including poor immunity, allergies and autoimmune diseases..
Mess #4 - Sleep Disruption
Stress and sleep go hand-in-hand, wouldn’t you agree? It’s often difficult to sleep when you have very important (and stressful) things on your mind.
And when you don't get enough sleep, it affects your energy level, memory, ability to think, and mood.
More and more research is showing just how important sleep is for your health. Not enough sleep (and too much stress) aren't doing you any favours.
Mess #5 - Mental Health
Prolonged stress can have a negative impact on our mental health. The high cortisol levels can damage the hippocampus and cause it to shrink. This area of the brain is associated with memory, learning, imagination and emotional regulation. This can lead to mood disorders and PTSD.
Mess #6 - Increased risk of vocal injury
Any of the above messes can affect your voice. You might find that you are singing with more effort. You might feel more tension creeping in. Vocal fatigue may set in sooner or take longer to recover from. At best, this can make your singing less than its usual vibrant self. At worst it can lead to injury
Reducing stressors in your life is an obvious first step.
● Put less pressure on yourself?
● Ask for help?
● Say "no"?
● Delegate to someone else?
● Accept the things you have no control over?
● Finally, make that decision?
No matter how hard you try, you won’t eliminate stress altogether. So, here are a few things you can try to help reduce its effect on you:
● Deep breathing
● Walk in nature
● Experiencing Zoom overload? Make time to Unplug (read a book or take a bath)
● Exercise (yoga, tai chi, run, etc.)
● Connect with loved ones (virtually if need be)
When I start feeling stressed out, I usually feel a pressure in my head (not a headache), I start to have trouble concentrating and I feel the tension creeping in. It’s all subtle, but I know these are the signs that I need to take a break. Be aware of your signals.
Stress is a huge and often underappreciated factor in our health. It can impact your physical body much more than you might realize.
Stress has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion and sleep, all of which will have an impact on your voice.
There are things you can do to both reduce stressors and also to improve your response to it.
Our current pandemic situation will pass or we will adapt. You can ditch the stress mess and get back to healthy singing!
How are you coping with the stress of the current situation? Feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email and we can talk about what steps you can take to relieve your stress.