Before I get on to the main subject of this post I want to share a story about my son, Misha.
His plight over that last year mirrors what many singers have been going through. As an elite fencer on the Canadian team, he was on track to qualify for the Olympics only to have everything cancelled last March.. No travel, no tournaments, even limited ability for training (unfortunately, you can't fence online, unlike singing, which has blossomed online). But now the buzz is that qualifying will be happening by April, so Misha is setting off on his first trip in 10 months to train in Vancouver and then will be heading out to Montreal to be with the National Team. Exciting, but also so worrying these days.
Now that we find ourselves in the middle of January we are at that time of year, when we just want things to be over. We certainly want COVID-19 to be over, we want the travesty of the U.S. election to be over, and we want winter to be over.
Mid-winter has a number of challenges for the singer.
Less sunlight, cold temperatures and dry air from heating (or if you're in the prairies you get the dry cold). This can spell trouble for the voice from dried out vocal folds to greater risk of an upper respiratory tract infection
A frequently asked question by some of my students is “How do I keep from getting sick?” That is an excellent question that every singer needs to ask, this year more than ever, since COVID-19 can hit the respiratory system hard.
Wearing masks, staying in seclusion and handwashing is certainly one way to avoid respiratory infections. Though necessary during these pandemic times, these are actually not the only course of action we should be taking. Even before the pandemic we were living in an overly sanitized world and this has actually had a negative influence on our immune systems.
I used to be one that frequently got ill, if not before or during a performance than definitely after. This had a lot to do with stress and the levels of stress hormones in my system. Even when I wasn’t performing I would get frequently ill. That all changed when I increased my fitness level and optimized my nutrition. These “discoveries” are what has prompted me to become a personal trainer. nutrition and stress resiliency coach. I love sharing my knowledge and experience with not just my students, but with other singers.
So here are my top tips for preventing illness. Now getting fit and cleaning up your nutrition are journeys that will take time and will be individual, but here are 5 things you can do now to help reduce the risk of infection.
1. Make time to de-stress
Stress is a big part of getting ill. Our adrenal systems are in overdrive, but can only do it for so long before giving out. When they do you will be hit hard. Whether it’s making time to meditate, eating mindfully, taking a hot bath, reading a good book or just vegging out in front of the TV; commit to at least an hour a day in some activity that will calm you where you allow yourself to not think about any of the myriad things you need to do.
Do a physical activity for at least 30 minutes every day. If you are a beginner, this might start out as walk. As you progress, keep challenging yourself and trying different activities. Keep your body guessing! Even though you may be fitter than you were before, if you keep doing the same thing your body adapts and will plateau not just with physical results, but with immunity as well.
3. Make a green smoothie every day
This was a game-changer for me. Just throwing a handful of spinach or kale can make a huge difference. You are getting a burst of nutrients in an easily absorbable form. Fruits are full of vitamins such as C, A and some B vitamins, and the greens that are full of minerals such as iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, calcium, and vitamins A, C, B6, and folate (exact nutrients will vary with choice of fruits and greens). Both also contain other phytonutrients and of course, fiber (over 90% of Americans fall short of meeting their daily fiber intake.) Whole foods are always preferable to supplements.
4. Humidify and hydrate
Keeping your vocal folds and the rest of your respiratory tract well hydrated from the inside out will help maintain a protective mucosal layer to prevent the entry of viral or bacteria pathogens. Central heating may keep you toasty warm, but it dries out the air which can suck the moisture right out making you more susceptible to infection. Make sure you're indoor spaces are at about 50% humidity by running a humidifier or use a personal nebulizer with an isotonic saline solution. Humidifying will take care of the upper surface of your vocal folds, but you what to also be hydrated deeper to help flush out toxins. The cold and dry may require that you increase your daily water intake.
5. Get plenty of sleep
This is the time of rest and restoration of the body. It allows for the brain to drain toxic build up and the rest of your body is healing and repairing, the toxic by-products of stress can also be removed from your system. The average adult requires 7 – 9 hours or sleep.
Here’s a BONUS tip.
If you find you are very stressed and need a little extra help, an adaptogen supplement may be helpful. Adaptogens are a unique group of herbs used to improve the health of your adrenal system. By tonifying and rejuvenating the entire adrenal system, adaptogens promote the healthy regulation of cortisol the “stress hormone”. This special class of herbs improves strength, energy, stamina, endurance and mental clarity. Here is a list of a few adaptogens: Maca root, astragalus root, ashwagandha root, maitake mushroom, cordyceps, reishi mushrooms, holy basil, shisandra and ginkgo.
If you feel you need some help de-stressing or boosting your immune system then I would love to help. You can contact me to book an Introductory Health Coaching session. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Hi, I'm Elizabeth! I'm your guide on your vocal journey. I work with singers - Voice Students of all ages, Singing Teachers and Choristers - basically anyone who LOVES to Sing and wants to free their voice.