If the global pandemic has taught us anything it’s the importance of health. The old adage if you don’t have your health you ain’t got nothin’ has taken on a darker sense this past year. Taking care of your health is important to anyone, but to voiceover actors, singers, theatre, and on-camera actors, vocal health is especially vital. As a prolific voice artist veteran, I’m super serious about cold prevention and constantly share my advice, remedies, and do’s and dont’s with my students. Here is some of that collective wisdom on vocal care.
My favorite Christmas movie is the 1941 version of A Christmas Carol. But it has always fascinated me that Bob Cratchet leaves Scrooge’s office wrapping only a scarf around his neck to go face the bitter winter cold. Isn’t a coat more important than a scarf? Not so says Chinese medicine. While layering up is important, in Chinese medicine, the most important layer is the scarf.
This tradition holds that the back of the neck is particularly vulnerable to wind. Wind is the carrier of heat or cold into the body. An invasion of either heat or cold is the equivalent of catching a cold. According to Back Bay Acupuncture – “Have you noticed that when you first start to catch a cold, you have a stiff neck followed by headaches, chills, fever, and fatigue? These are symptoms of a Wind-Cold invasion. Wind-Heat may manifest with a sore throat in addition to the other symptoms. A stiff neck is the first sign of a Wind invasion. Interestingly many of the acupuncture point names around the neck refer to Wind. So how does one expel Wind from the body? Don’t let it invade in the first place: Wear a scarf. “
A scarf can also be an important summer accessory. Rapid changes in temperature as you move into a cold air-conditioned building during a hot summer day can weaken your immune system and cause a summer cold. A light scarf even then can help ward off those ill effects.
Pay Attention to Athletic Attire
Layers are important but as important is what the layers are made of. Especially when you are outside getting exercise – hiking, skiing, running, etc. When the temperatures are cold, pay attention to your athletic attire and its materials.
In Canada, we have an expression – “cotton kills.” This is especially true the closer the cotton layer is to your skin. As you move and perspire, the cotton gets wet and ceases to insulate you as air is replaced by water in the material. And if the air outside your clothing is colder than you are (and it will be, of course), the cotton material will also get colder. In extreme circumstances, this can lead to hypothermia and disorientation, so be careful. Save cotton for the summer when a nice cool shirt against your skin will help you stave off the heat.
Focus on Hydration for Optimal Vocal Care
Not all drinks are created equal. Water is of course the best drink for hydration and vocal health. I recommend drinking 16 ounces before you start your day and sipping another 40-50 ounces through the day as you work. It’s better to keep the water at room temperature or warmer so as not to shock or constrict the vocal apparatus with ice water.
Also pay attention to the food you eat as that can be another source of hydration. Soups – with lots of broth or straight broth – feel good and can be both refreshing and comforting. Foods to avoid include things that produce phlegm like dairy (milk, ice cream), things that dry your throat like caffeine, and (sorry) bacon or other products with high salt content. Counterintuitive, but important to consider, is that citrus fruits are also drying. So while they’re a great source of vitamins, eat them at night not in the morning before you begin working.
Get Plenty of Rest – Physical AND Vocal
Singers have long known the importance of rest and sleep for the voice. Great performance requires a lot of energy and singers are basically vocal athletes who know they need sleep to replenish their vocal energies. But voice over, while not always as sustained as singing, is also a physical output that needs downtime to be optimal. Prolonged use of these powerful but delicate muscles and can do serious or even permanent damage to them.
Beyond the performing realm, the importance of sleep is becoming more center stage as health experts focus on just how sleep-deprived we all are as a global community and how that’s affecting our health. A large component of sleep is cortisol regulation. Cortisol is, without getting too medically geeky, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in conjunction with the kidney and pituitary gland to respond to stress. This little beauty kicks into high gear in a fight or flight response but also impacts mood, digestion, metabolism, and your immune system. But too much cortisol is a bad thing, leading to elevated heart rate, spikes in blood pressure, etc. (remember, it’s preparing you for fighting or flight), so your adrenal glands need a clue to know when to stop making cortisol. And you guessed it, sleep is that clue. It tells your body you’re safe and it’s time to turn off the cortisol tap. Not getting enough sleep, therefore, can lead to an overload of cortisol which can have a seriously damaging effect on your entire body.
Practice A Healthy Mindset for Vocal Care
My husband and kids know I have a rule. Unless it’s bleeding or on fire, don’t bring your drama to me until after I’ve finished my day of work. I need to keep my mind in a healthy positive state to do my job and make my performances the best they can be. Research has proven time and again that when we are focused and in our zone, doing what we love with a positive mindset, we achieve much more, are more productive and more successful. So, like my no-drama rule, you need to find ways to center yourself and eliminate distractions so you can make the most of every session. Meditation or mantras (or both) are good tools for helping you be present in the moment.
Does responsible vocal care mean you can never indulge in vices? Nope – but choose them wisely and make them once in a while things instead of daily activities. Want to indulge in a couple of glasses of wine with a meal? Dig into three scoops of rocky road? Stay out late and cheer your fav hockey team? Go ahead! Just make sure it’s not a “school night” and you don’t have to go into the studio the next day. And when you are indulging, try to give yourself some limits – especially when cheering or talking loudly in bars (when we can do that again) – you don’t want to get so caught up in having fun that you set yourself back for days as you recover.