This is both one of my favorite and least favorite times of the year. I love the holidays and time with family and of course, the music, but I hate the sickness that this season brings. No one likes to be saddled with a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat or aches, and pains during the holidays! But for a singer, being sick can mean a lot more than just missing out on family time. It can mean loss of money, loss of opportunity and if not treated properly, loss of voice (at least until you’re over the illness).
Today, I’m going to share a few of the things that I do to strengthen my immune system, and how I care for my voice when I have a performance during this time of year.
Because a cold can cause inflammation in the vocal cords, limiting pitch, range, and vocal mobility, it can leave you sounding gravelly and hoarse. Since I sing in a recital in the Winter, getting sick is something I need to avoid at all costs.
So, here are some of my personal tips on how I keep myself (and my vocal instrument) healthy during cold and flu season!
- Stay hydrated! Water is not only your body’s, but your vocal cords BFF – being hydrated keeps the vocal cords flexible and helps maintain the mucosal lining which protects your cords from the natural friction that occurs during vocalization (the vocal cords vibrate against each other to create sound). Without enough moisture, the cords can swell, hindering healthy vocal function and thus affecting your sound. And swollen vocal cords are susceptible to more serious and even permanent damage. I like to drink room temperature water, as I feel like too cold constricts my vocal cords and too hot relaxes them too much, but that’s just me – the important thing is to keep them moisturized!
- Load up on immune-boosting foods and supplements! I go all extra with this one – especially since I have adrenal issues and need the help as it is. Foods that I make sure to eat lots of are garlic, greens, anything high in vitamins C, A & E and antioxidants, red wine (when not performing the next day), lots of water with lemon. My go-to supplements are raw zinc, olive leaf, black elderberry (I add to my water with lemon), zinc lozenges, probiotics, turmeric, and saligesic (instead of NSAIDS for pain). I also started taking this and this on the advice of my adrenal specialist. Also, I love using everything by Superior Vocal Health, especially their Vocal Immunition!
- Get enough sleep & rest – Sleep is the time when your body works to heal and repair itself, so making sure you get enough of it is super important. I try and make sure that I get at least 7-8 hours, more if I am feeling drained. During the day, I try not to push myself too hard so as not to get run down, which can leave me more vulnerable to sickness.
- Use a humidifier – Winter temperatures, plus dry, heated indoor air can sap our vocal cords of essential moisture. Using a humidifier at night helps to keep throats, cords and nasal passages hydrated.
- Focus on relieving stress and tension – Stress can wreak havoc on your immune system, making it easier to fall ill, so avoiding anything stressful is extremely important! To keep calm so I can carry on healthily, I do breathing exercises (which is also part of my vocal technique), listen to my favorite classical music (which has many health benefits I’ll list later), or just take a day (or two) to do absolutely nothing but veg out on the couch and watch tv. To relieve tension (which can affect quality of sound and even cause vocal injury), I see a chiropractor twice a month and do facial massage and gua sha to get rid of any tension in my neck and jaw.
If no matter how hard I tried to avoid catching anything (which can be quite the challenge working with children!), these are how I cope without causing injury to my voice:
- Keep the hydration game strong! Same as above, but more so! In addition to water, I’ll add decaf herbal tea with honey and also veggie or bone broth.
- Stay away from anything that is dehydrating! While it may seem like a good idea to load up on decongestants, menthol cough drops or throat sprays, these can actually do more harm than good. All are very drying and can affect your vocal quality. Dehydrated vocal cords are more prone to injury. And as much as I love my glass of wine at night, I stay away, especially before a performance. I also avoid spicy foods as those irritate my cords, and even more so when sick.
- Rest up buttercup! – Being sick can drain you of energy, so if I don’t need to go anywhere, I stay home. And resting also means vocal rest – if I don’t need to use my voice, I don’t. And I never push my voice when teaching or practicing with a cold. If I have a sore throat (and inflammation), I won’t sing at all and I barely speak.
- Keep up with the immune boosters and supplements – Follow #2 from the prevent list, rinse and repeat until better. If I have a sore throat, I will also gargle with Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar (with the Mother) and water. It tastes like sadness, but it does help. I also use Comvita’s raw Manuka honey to suppress coughs and soothe my throat.
- It’s ok to wine – I know this goes against #2, but wine does have antioxidants as well as alcohol which helps you relax and sleep, so if I am not singing, I make sure to have a glass or two at night. I’d rather not take NyQuil, so this is my substitute.
- Don’t push yourself – If I’m sick, I never overdo it – if I need to bow out of performing to save my voice, then I will. If I absolutely have to perform while sick (which has happened, story to come later), then I find ways to work around the illness so I don’t cause any vocal damage. IE: If singing in a chorus, I’ll lipsync to save my voice for a solo, if I can’t sing a line, I’ll speak it if that works. And I won’t push my voice to create volume – if I need a mic to get through, then I use a mic.
These are just some of the things I do to both prevent and treat a cold and also to take care of my instrument. Unlike a guitar or piano, etc, if my instrument gets severely damaged, I can’t purchase a new one or get it fixed. Vocal damage can take a long time to heal or it can be irreparable. I definitely don’t want to risk anything happening if I can avoid it! 🙂
What are your tips for staying healthy during cold/flu season?
Until next time!
*All products mentioned, except the Comvita were purchased by me. No affiliate links were used. All photos were taken, created and edited by TBE, please do not use without permission.