Winter is ALMOST over…and for many of us, that is a truly wonderful thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good snowman, rainy day or Christmas carol, but cold, dry weather is most definitely the hardest on your vocal health.
So it’s no wonder that our throats start getting sore and our voices become more easily fatigued when the weather changes! Not only is it dry outside, but forced air heating systems (which are in rampant use during the winter) also dry out the air we breathe inside.
When we breathe in humid air, our throat is automatically more comfortable because the moisture in the air helps maintain the hydration of our vocal cords.
This is the reason personal nebulizers and humidifiers are so popular among singers.
When we are exposed to a dry climate or experience dehydration, it is common for the vocal cords to also lose hydration (mucus) – which keeps them lubricated and comfortable as they vibrate against each other to produce sound – or to overproduce mucus as a protection mechanism. A dehydrated voice can feel sore, swollen, fatigued, scratchy and just overall uncomfortable.
Think about clapping or rubbing your hands together at least 100 times per second and repeating that motion for several hours a day without any protection or barrier…can you imagine the chaffing?! This is comparable to dehydrated vocal cords working all day without enough mucus to protect them. And this is one of the many reasons winter can be so hard on our voices.
Whether it be an upper respiratory infection (head cold, laryngitis, etc.) or full blown influenza, the immune system is working hard during the holiday season. Kids seem to come home with something new almost every week. And for some of us, continual exposure to viruses can be a real impediment to vocal health and comfort.
There are a million tips I could give you for boosting your immune system and not getting sick, but at the end of the day, sometimes it’s just unavoidable. The absolute, most important thing, which I tell my students constantly, is that when you do inevitably get sick, you need to give your body and voice time to heal.
It seems like such a simple, obvious bit of advice, but you’d be shocked with how few people abide by it. We live in an age of immediate gratification and constant forward motion, so the idea of resting – truly resting – for longer than a few days doesn’t even occur to most folks. I myself am certainly a culprit of pushing through a cold for the sake of productivity. However, pushing your voice and body when they are tired and ailing will ultimately not lead to productivity.
Compare it to walking or running a mile on a sprained ankle. You might be able to push through the pain and say you did it, but is that ankle going to be better after? Of course not!! You didn’t give it time to heal. In fact, you put pressure on it when you should have been resting it. This is the exact same as speaking or singing when you have a bad head cold, a sore throat or very little voice at all.
I’ve known countless singers who’ve pushed through sickness and vocal discomfort for weeks or months on end for the sake of their careers, just to cause vocal damage that set them back years.
If you are hoarse, don’t go out to dinner at that loud restaurant and try to speak for two hours. If you have a case of laryngitis and are not able to phonate (produce sound) normally, go on complete vocal rest for a few days. The short-term inconvenience is infinitely smaller than the long-term consequences of not listening to your body.
So enjoy these last weeks of winter, while giving your voice all the care and rest it needs. Although I’ve shared some cautionary sentiments, I hope you leave this entry with a feeling of empowerment, and not fear. Because, ultimately, you have control over your own body and voice. You can choose self-care whenever you need it. In the words of William Ernest Henley, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
LOCAL – LA Dept. of Public Health: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov
NATIONAL – CDC (US Center for Disease Control and Prevention): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Stories of Hope: https://www.obama.org/stories-hope-coronavirus-response/