As the cold weather season approaches, we singers have to be extra vigilant in our efforts to stave off winter illnesses. While many people are able to deal with a few sniffles and sneezes at their jobs, singers’ voices can be greatly affected by even a common cold. Cancelling a gig means losing out on a paycheck, and cancelling an audition means the potential of losing out on a gig! And for the younger singers, it often means missing their voice lessons and being farther from their goals. So, both general health and a healthy singing voice are necessary for the active singer.
We all know the cliché of the neurotic singer with a scarf tightly wound around their throat and a cup of tea in hand. While some “remedies” are nothing but tradition, I have compiled below a list of extremely useful practices and things that can help the singer boost their immune system (and therefore voice) this winter.
Hydration is a necessity for maintaining a healthy body, and the average adult should be drinking between 8-10 glasses of water per day. Water helps to flush toxins out of your system, as well as increase circulation of white blood cells and nutrients. The former are key to fighting off infections, so the faster they get to an infection in your immune system, the quicker and easier they can fight off the threat of more severe illness. In addition, a hydrated body will create more moisture in the eyes and mouth, further helping to repel dirt, dust and any bacteria in two of the most common places for illness to enter your system.
Please note that, while drinking water while singing can be comforting, hydration of the body does not happen instantaneously. It can take 48-72 hours for your water intake to fully absorb, so make sure you keep drinking water in the days before a big performance or audition. Keeping hydrated also aids in getting a good night’s sleep.
This one is a no-brainer. Your body requires sleep to recuperate and recover after your long day. The more time you give it to do this, the faster and more efficiently you can fight off any infections threatening your body. And, much like hydration, it can take a few days to kick in, so try to get a good night’s rest for a few days before any big singing event.
Much like a hydrated body, an active body can circulate necessary items (such as white blood cells and nutrients) to cells that need them quicker and more effectively. Additionally, the rise in your body temperature may prevent the growth of bacteria. Even small amounts of activity can provide much needed stress relief in our hectic world.
Stress can lead to illness, so consider walking those few extra blocks rather than take the subway, or take a relaxing and strengthening yoga class at your local fitness center. Not only will you look better, you (and your voice) will feel better too!
Another no-brainer. Your body needs a varied array of vitamins, and monitoring what foods you eat controls whether or not you get the required amounts of nutrients. A body that lacks certain vitamins may be more susceptible to illness, so in the winter months, you may consider taking a daily vitamin with one meal.
There are other home remedies that can prevent the onslaught of infection, such as Echinacea.
In general, foods to be avoided immediately prior to singing include milk and other dairy products, chocolate, caffeine and extremely spicy foods. These can all lead to increased phlegm, acid reflux, and other problems for the singing voice.
While no magical tea concoction can immediately cure your cold, it can have helpful benefits on your road to recovery. Not only do warm liquids help to soothe a sore throat, but they also help to cut through any mucous build up. Certain teas contain herbs and spices that can help to coat the throat and reduce swelling even more. Among the most popular are ginger, licorice and, of course, honey. Add a tiny drop of lemon juice to your tea, and reap the soothing benefits.
Caffeine should be avoided, as it will dry you out. Favorite singer teas include Yogi Throat Comfort and Throat Coat.
With the dry, cold weather that winter brings, singers often find themselves with dry mouths and sinuses. This can be extremely uncomfortable and uncooperative for singer. To maintain a healthy amount of moisture, the simple process of steaming can work wonders. Steaming can be done with a bowl of boiled water and a towel, in the shower, or through the use of a personal steamer.
For stuffy nose and congestion, add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to your steaming water- it serves as a natural decongestant and anti-inflammatory. Plus, it smells great!
Additionally, a humidifier in your bedroom can help to keep the dry weather from causing you to wake up with a dry, scratchy throat.
Saline solution is a common tool used to flush out mucous membranes that have become infected due to colds, allergies, and other upper respiratory illnesses. The sterile solution, when used either through a nasal spray or through the very popular Neti-pot, loosens mucous and clears out congested nasal passages.
It is important to note, however, that plain saline brands such as Ayr or Ocean are recommended, as “allergy” nasal sprays tend to contain a decongestant that can often dry out sinuses, as well as become habit-forming.
Just as a body needs sleep to recover, your voice needs rest when it has been used too much or used during an illness. While a good singing technique can carry you through a performance during an illness, there is nothing that will help your voice stay healthy like a day of rest.
In general, I recommend taking at least one day a week off from singing (even vocalizing or practicing). There are plenty of things to work on that do not require full-out singing (translations, dramatic interpretation, memorization), that ensure singers are never at a loss for work!
I hope these tips will help you in your vocal endeavors through the winter.
Happy Holidays, and happy (healthy) singing!