Winter voice care tips and advice for vocal recovery after a cold or congestion.
We asked spoken voice coach, podcaster and voiceover artist, Nic Redman, for her top tips for caring for your voice during the cold season and what we can be doing to look after our voices this winter.
Kristyn Coutts: Hello and welcome to a bonus mini-episode of The Spotlight Podcast.
As winter has us in its full grip, we’ve heard lots of comments from our members about how they’re struggling to shake the remnants of bugs and colds from their voices.
We thought we’d ask vocal coach and podcaster – Nic Redman – to share her top tips for caring for your voice during the cold season and what you can be doing to look after your voice
Nic’s kindly recorded 10 minutes of advice about how you can take care of your voice over winter so without further ado, here she is…
Nic Redman: Hello there. Happy winter. My name is Nic Redman. I’m a spoken voice coach, a podcaster and a voiceover artist – so essentially a massive voice geek! And yes, that is a cool thing to be.
Spotlight asked me if I would blather on a wee bit about vocal health for the winter season. They sent me a few questions and here are my answers. I hope you find them useful.
What can we be doing to look after our voices in the winter season?
One of the main things I think is really important is ultimately to look after your voice, you have to know it. You have to know what the trends and tendencies of your vocal health are generally. So notice it and pay attention to it day to day throughout the whole year and then seasonally when things change, whether it’s hay fever or the winter season, you’ll be able to tell if there’s something that feels a little bit off.
So where do you feel tension in your voice on one particular day? Are you more phlegmy in the winter for some reason? That’s a nice word, isn’t it? Or do you find yourself getting a bit more tired quickly in the winter? If you know your voice, then you’ll be able to tackle whatever it is that’s happening that doesn’t feel quite right, much more accurately and quickly.
I like to suggest to people when they’re getting to know their voice just to keep a little journal or a diary and then if you find yourself with a little bit more phlegm or clearing your throat a bit or additional vocal tension or anything like that, you can have a look in your journal and see if you’ve done anything slightly more vigorous the day before. Did you have a cheeky wee night out because it’s Christmas? Or is something in your diet affecting you a little bit? So get to know your voice number one.
Then next thing is hydration. Speak to any voice geek and they’ll tell you to always stay hydrated. Remember that it doesn’t have to be boring ol’ water if that doesn’t float your boat, you can drink anything as long as it’s wet. All fluids count towards your overall systemic hydration. So just get them in there.
Depending on your lifestyle, somewhere between 1.5 and two litres of wet stuff should suffice each day. If you do more exercise, you might need a wee bit more.
And remember, your diet counts too. So up to about 30% of your hydration systemically can come from food. So make sure that you’re having lots of fruit and veg and nice fresh foods.
- Get to know your voice.
- Hydrate as much as you can.
- Always be looking at your warm-up.
Make sure you’ve got a really specific warm-up for your voice and your vocal requirements. 5 – 15 minutes pre-performance or pre-recording or pre-audition or self-tape, whatever it is that just gets the body going, the breath connected, the vocal folds vibrating nice and easy and the articulators released.
What preventative steps could we take to protect our voices in the winter?
This may seem really obvious, but keep warm. Like physically, literally warm. Get a hat on, get a big scarf, get two scarves, get a polar neck, vests, and tights under your jeans.
If it’s cold, you need to keep warm. It’s really good for our bodies in the winter to make sure that we’re keeping that heat up and great for your voice as well.
I really feel a difference if I make sure I’m keeping my neck nice and warm. It may be psychosomatic, but it seems to work for me. It’s certainly comforting, which makes my head relax about looking after my voice, which is important because voice is a holistic practice.
Next thing is a good diet. I’m not saying you have to not have all the good naughty stuff at Christmas! Just make sure you’re tempering it by still having lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, three meals a day, and all that kind of thing. There is a little bit of a tendency at Christmas time to eat quite rich foods. See if you can stop eating about three hours before you lie down and go to bed, just to try and prevent any symptoms of reflux.
The next thing is rest. Winter is typically a time for hibernation, it gets dark, it’s cold, and it’s a bit grim. So if your body wants to rest, just make sure you get lots of sleep. Cheeky little naps every now and again. I’ve always been a big fan of a nap.
Hydrate, again! I won’t go on about it, but make sure you do.
And this may seem silly but warm up before you go to the Christmas party. I don’t know about you, but I love having a bit of a boogie at Christmas and seeing my pals and going out and having fun. If you know you’re gonna be chatting to loads of people and maybe having a few wee drinks and maybe singing some Christmas karaoke or getting a bit excited and having a late night, do wee warm up. Five minutes of some lip trills, some vocal track stretching, some body stretching. Honestly, it makes a huge difference. And then you can drag your mates into the toilets to have a wee lip trill with you intermittently throughout the evening. What better way to bond?
What tips do you have to regain vocal health after a cold or congestion?
There’s nothing worse than having to speak and perform when you’ve got that bunged-up feeling after a cold.
The first thing I would say is, yep, shock horror, hydration! Make sure you’re hydrating to thin out that mucus.
Get steaming or, even better, get a nebuliser, which will mist and 0.9% saline solution, which is really, really good for hydrating the vocal fold source topically. It’s also really nice if you get the mask attachment, breathing in through your nose just to soothe the inside of the sinuses as well. So a nebuliser or a steamer.
I love a bit of facial massage to get the lymphatic drainage system moving again to reduce congestion. So treat yourself to a wee facial or get online on YouTube, on Google ‘lymphatic drainage massage on the face’ and you’ll find some very interesting videos to give your face a wee bit of a poke width.
The next thing is rest, rest, rest, rest as much as you can. Don’t rush back if you need time to recover. I know it’s hard, but take the time to recover. You’ve got responsibilities and it’s much quicker just to stop, take a few days and then come back.
The final thing is you can do your warm-up if you like – if you keep it nice and gentle. Generally what you want to be looking at are stretches to release the vocal tract – particularly if you’ve been coughing lots or you’re feeling a little bit tense in the throat area.
So any kind of tongue release, jaw release, or yawn to release the back of the larynx. And then some semi-occluded vocal tract glides. You can use a straw and bubble in some water if that’s your thing. You can also slide up and down on gentle lip trills. Or something even less energetic like sliding up and down your range on a puffy “Th” or a puffy “V” sound or even just a puffy “wha”, that’ll help the vocal folds find their groove again.
If your voice isn’t on top form, what can you do to help with recovery?
My first tip is – I’m saying this with a complete understanding of the rigours of performing at Christmas (hello to anyone in panto land! Or [to anyone] performing in theatre over Christmas or [as] Santa’s elves, all those seasonal jobs – that we have to take time out to recover. Don’t push it too far.
You’ve got a responsibility to the rest of the cast and the crew, haven’t you? So if you’re ill and you go to work – you’d be incredibly professional cos you know it’s your job and you need to turn up – but you spread your illness to the rest of the crew and the cast, that’s an absolute pain in the bum. So just stop for a bit if you feel like you’re getting ill.
Speak to the people in charge, speak to the people who are relying on you, explain the situation and advocate for yourself and your own vocal health because long term it is the wrong thing to do, to keep pushing through.
In a similar vein: rest, rest, rest. If you are not well, please stop. Lie down. Do things that make you feel happy and relaxed, like watching the television, listening to podcasts, and reading books. Just rest, physically, mentally and emotionally. Look after yourself and rest your voice.
You can still do some semi-occluded glides if you feel like it’s comfortable and you’re not having to push for sound. Rest your voice with the odd little *trills* up and down your vocal range, and the odd little tongue stretch.
And the next little tip – no big surprise – please hydrate for goodness sake! Keep that wet stuff going in. Lots of good vegetables, lots of fruit, lots of soup and decent food. Look after yourself holistically from the inside out.
There is an episode of my podcast called The Voice Coach Podcast available called What to Do if You Lose Your Voice, so that might be worth listening to if you’re in dire straits.
Just rest and give yourself some time if you can. It’s tough. I’ve been there, but it is really worth it long term. You’ve gotta look after yourself.
Okay, that’s it from me. I hope you’re feeling vocally well, good luck out there.
If you’d like to join me in January for a bit of voice fun, I’m doing three masterclasses from the 11th to the 13th of January, casually titled Vocally Free for 2023 – I’m so proud of that – I’ll be online in Zoom with a group of lovely voice curious people, taking you through some steps to become aware of your voice and give you a few new exercises to play with. And then also on the third day, I’ll give you some interesting ideas and tips on how to help you build the habit of looking after your voice day-to-day nice and easily. So it’s about habit-building and scheduling warm-ups into your day. It’s gonna be great fun. There’s gonna be some prizes along the way as well. And I’d love to have you there. If you go to nicola redmond.com/voice-masterclass-2023, you can sign up there. I look forward to seeing you there.
Thanks for listening. Stay hydrated!
Kristyn Coutts: Thanks to Nic for her great advice and thanks to you for listening. We’ll be back with new episodes of The Spotlight podcast very soon.
Photo credit: bymuratdeniz / iStock