Vocal Health During Cold & Flu Season
A voice actor's worst nightmare!
Congestion, hoarseness, and relentless coughing. Oh my!
AAARRGH!! I was finally struck down after three years of successfully evading colds, flus - and yes, even Covid. And like the Energizer Bunny, when my battery runs down, I go down. Hard. Toppling over right where I'm standing. Not a pretty sight.
Now, three weeks after contracting a nasty cold and spending a few days in bed ... I'm still coughing. So much so that my back muscles feel permanently twisted into a network of Gordian Knots from all that hacking. Painful, annoying, and more than a little detrimental to a voiceover career. Meaning that I've been barely able to literally squeak my way through a script without doubling over. Like I said, aargh! It's a fun little bugger that likes to hang on for weeks.
It's been quite a winter for respiratory illnesses for a lot of people. Cold, flu, RSV, Covid ... take your pick. Hopefully, you've escaped the worst of it. Or at least had very minor cases of the bug du jour. It sure doesn't seem to take much before you're left literally speechless or croaking like a dessicated frog. Again, not a pretty sight.
And universally problematic if you need healthy vocal cords to get you through meetings, presentations, and phone conversations. Or even just to yell at your kids when you think they need it most. If you're a voice actor like me, it puts the kabash on just about all voiceover auditions and bookings. Ouch. No voice, no work.
Fortunately, there are a few things we CAN do to keep our pipes in good - well, at least decent - order to manage and power through these challenges.
Losing your voice is not the end of the world. It just feels like it!
What you CAN do to beat those respiratory bugs...
Apply as many of these suggestions as you can:
Hydrate – with lots of water. Add lemon and honey to help keep those vocal cords smooth and slippery. Hot or cold, water is just what your body needs.
Soothe the throat – with lozenges, tea, and throat spray containing slippery elm, a natural throat lubricant. Licorice and marshmallow are also good for reducing inflammation. I find Traditional Medicinals' "Throat Coat" tea especially helpful, though I also love Aveda's mint tea blend wonderfully soothing.
Hard swallow – frequent coughing causes swelling of your vocal chords and a good way to “lose your voice.” Instead of coughing, try tucking your chin to your chest and swallowing as hard as you can.
Rest your voice – or use a soft, gentle tone instead. Forget whispering, which actually can strain your voice by forcing a greater airflow than normal through the vocal chords.
Humidifier – Mama is right. More humidity in the air means less dryness in your throat. Standing in a hot shower inhaling the steam is beneficial, too, and soooo relaxing.
What NOT to do...
Watch out for these things, which can only make your symptoms worse:
Don't clear your throat too often, which causes irritation and swelling. Try swallowing hard or sipping water instead.
Avoid medications that are drying, like antihistamines and decongestions.
Don’t smoke (inflammatory) or drink alcohol (irritating and drying) or caffeine (dehydrating). That last one can be hard, but try to limit or better yet, avoid altogether.
Avoid hanging around obviously sick people. This may seem a DUH! And sometimes it can't be avoided if you're living with family or roommates. But ... we can wash our hands regularly and be careful what we touch in public spaces, especially mid-fall through late-winter when these bugs are most prevalent.
Don't ignore early symptoms. Feel a cold coming on? I like to chew on some Zicam, drink more water than normal, get more sleep, and avoid overly stressful daily schedule.
And finally ... be careful of the advice people give you. Perhaps including mine! Though it's not as strange as the folk medicine that Mark Twain described receiving when he was under the weather:
(This elderly woman from the western plains) "mixed a decoction composed of molasses, aquafortis, turpentine, and various other drugs, and instructed me to take a wine-glass full of it every fifteen minutes. I never took but one dose; that was enough; it robbed me of all moral principle, and awoke every unworthy impulse of my nature." - Mark Twain
Moral of the story: experiment at your own risk!
Things I do on a daily basis to keep colds, etc. at bay...
I'm usually pretty healthy and I attribute a large part of it to some good, longterm habits:
Vitamin C daily, 1000 mg, builds up the immune system. I strongly suspect that I would have had many more colds, flus, etc. without it.
Exercise, at least a few times a week, to keep the body and immune system fit. Personally, that includes stretching exercises every morning, and at least one short but brisk walk outdoors, weather permitting. I also like to mix in some cardio, Pilates, and low resistance weight work. Maybe your thing is running, tennis or pickle ball, or just running after your preschool kids. Whatever works! Just move.
Sleep. It's the first thing most of us cut back on when we just. have. too. much. to. do. I'm a night owl, always have been, and my sleep was the first thing reduced when I had to get everything done AND get kids up, fed, and off to school (mom taxi here) or weekend activities just about every morning. I'm finally an empty-nester and now back to my old late night habits, though honestly I think I'd get more done if I shifted my schedule back an hour or two. More sleep during the night correlates pretty well to better moods during the day and a stronger immunity to illness.
Keeping well-hydrated with water throughout the day. The old saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Homemade, vegetable-heavy meals ... in other words, good, healthy food. Limited junk food, sodas, sugary snacks, and fast-food runs. Easier for some, not so much for dedicated carnivores or those with hectic schedules. Or those like me with an incurable sweet tooth. But it's a worthy goal.
Laura's Quick Tips
Listen to your mama and what she used to tell you about managing a cold or virus. Yeah, that stuff helps.
Don't ignore early symptoms. Treat them as best you can when they first appear and you may be able to ward off or shorten your downtime.
Good, healthy daily habits may ward off more attacks on your immune system than you'd realize.
When I am laid low, my favorite go-to is hot tea with mint, slippery elm, and honey. Just makes me feel so much better and it pairs well with sitting by the fireplace, too. Wrapping up in a cozy afghan or blanket is also so nice. Hey, you do what you can!
What are some of your faves for dealing with the blahs?