Something that is rarely addressed in the workplace, professional training, and the hiring process are the demands that a job can put on your voice. If you’re someone who depends on a consistent, special, or appealing voice quality as a necessary resource for the daily duties of your professional life, you may have experienced what coming up against your vocal limitations feels like firsthand--hoarseness, fatigue, difficulty making sound, that lump in your throat sensation, tight muscles--all of these can create major discomfort for you on the job and make you simultaneously less effective and more exhausted from having to push through.
A series of studies conducted in 2014 estimated that 82% of people in occupations considered to be “professional voice users” such as teachers, salespeople, and physicians, have experienced some kind of voice problem during their career. Furthermore, it found that those who experienced a prolonged voice problem were often forced to seek alternative employment when their symptoms did not improve. The study also noted that almost none of the participants had received any kind of voice education or voice care instruction as part of their job training or studies.
(This is why I do what I do! Voice education and on-the-job voice training should be industry standards in fields that rely on people’s voices as the primary mode of conducting business. Why have we not caught onto this yet?!?)
This is the first installment of my Voice Pro Care blog series, where I’ll be covering ten different ways to start caring for your voice, and what to do if you’re experiencing a voice issue that just isn’t going away. So what are some things that you can do to support your voice’s sustainability and well-being and ensure you can continue to show up feeling ready to meet your job’s vocal demands?
***Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and strongly advise seeking out professional medical help if you are experiencing voice problems or other new symptoms that last longer than 2 weeks. While voice resources like this one can support your healing, it is important to get a proper assessment and diagnosis as changes in the voice can be related to other underlying health issues.
Strategy#1: Track your voice cues and symptoms
The first step in caring for your voice is to notice when it feels good and when it doesn’t. What cues does your voice send when it is fatigued? What helps your voice feel better? Does your voice take a long time to get going in the morning? Is your voice hoarse or scratchy at the end of the day? How much water are you drinking? How does lack of sleep affect your voice? Start to make a habit of checking in with how your voice feels and keep a log of any symptoms and connections you notice.
Strategy #2: Know when and how to rest your voice
Your vocal cords are made of supple, soft tissue and they vibrate against each other hundreds of times per second to create the sound of your voice. Studies show that even after fifteen minutes of normal conversation there are signs of wear and tear on the vocal cord tissue. However, it has also been shown that resting your voice for short periods of time (or as we voice geeks say "taking a vocal nap") allows for tissue repair and resilience.
Scheduling time in your day-to-day work routine to rest your voice completely and advocating for this vocal downtime especially when you are experiencing a vocal issue may be the single most important step you can take for the longevity of your voice and career.
Strategy #3 : Learn how the voice works and what affects it
There are a lot of moving parts that go into making your voice sound the way it does. In this future post, we are going to pop open the engine hood, take a peak around and really get to know the different components and systems that make our voice go. Spending some time learning vocal anatomy, mechanics and function can illuminate what affects the way you speak and what areas may be helpful to focus on to support the healthy function of your voice.
Strategy #5: Befriend your nervous system
Our voice functions best when we are feeling good as we speak, and us feeling good has a lot to do with our autonomic nervous system, which is the part of our nervous system that functions well below the level of our awareness.
If you experience chronic stress or frantic energy when you speak or on the contrary feelings of being numb, shut down, or frozen (both of which are very common experiences, you're not alone, my friend!), you may benefit from learning more about how the nervous system influences our physiology, behavior, voice, thoughts, and ability to listen and connect.
This piece of the puzzle was a key component in healing my own voice when I was diagnosed with nodules in 2017, and I am enthusiastic about its potential to help others who may struggle on this front.
Strategy #5: How is your gut doing?
Your vocal anatomy is part of our digestive tract, so there’s no escaping the fact that acid reflux and other stomach issues will play out on the voice. For this week of the Voice Pro Care blog series, we will explore how the health of your gut affects the way your voice feels and functions.
***This topic is definitely one to explore with your health care provider if you are experiencing chronic acid reflux or other gastrointestinal issues.
Strategy #6: Pay attention to your spinal alignment
Have you ever heard of the Alexander Technique? It was developed by a Shakespearean actor from Australia, Frederick Matthias Alexander, who developed chronic laryngitis. Rest would only temporarily improve his vocal burnout, and everytime he performed his symptoms worsened. Then, through a process of self-observation, he realized he was tensing muscles in his neck and pulling his head slightly back and down when he spoke. With patience and persistence, he taught himself a method to avoid this compression while he performed and his symptoms greatly improved. He would go on to teach it to many others improving chronic pain symptoms, vocal quality, and breathing issues.
So what about you? Where is your spine when you speak? What muscles and parts of you engage and tense when you’re voicing?
Strategy #7: Check your airflow
The breath is the power and vehicle of the voice. Activities and exercises that strengthen and stretch the muscles of the breath will greatly improve your voice quality and stamina over time.
There are many different ways to breathe, and there is a way of using the breath that supports the voice in efficiency, vibrancy, and clarity. Sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing, “breath support” is one of those topics you will google and get thousands of results, and many of them will contradict each other! It is an oft debated topic in the Land of Voice, so I will take a deep dive into some great resources and exercises on “breath support” and hopefully clear up some confusion you may have around how to breathe when you speak.
Strategy #8: Well-timed, consistent hydration
Your voice relies on hydration for a smooth and comfortable speaking experience. Staying well hydrated and making sure to drink plenty of nourishing fluids early and throughout the day will protect your voice from some of the daily wear and tear of speaking.
Strategy #9: Move more and often
Your voice is part of your body and benefits from how you take care of your whole person. Small bits of gentle movement sprinkled throughout your day can help reduce stress and support your overall wellbeing.
We will explore some mini practices like bilateral movement, gentle head and neck stretches, and moving the spine in different directions. Bonus points if you use this time to have a little vocal nap and talk to no one! (Where my vocal introverts at?)
Strategy #10: Learn and use a simple vocal warm-up
I know it is hard to imagine fitting anything else into your already packed day. But with a dose of that patience and persistence Mr. Alexander had, getting yourself into a vocal warm-up habit will be well worth it.
We will go over some valuable voice practices that are great to have in your toolbox to use before you speak, ones that will set your voice up for efficient and easy functioning for the whole workday. We will also go over practices that support voices through moments of fatigue, stress, and strain. Who knows, maybe a voice practice will give you incredible results too?
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I created Heartspark Voice as a platform to provide voice education, resources, and learning opportunities for people in search of answers regarding their voice.
I am continually adding new content and resources to my website and instruction, and also take requests if there is a particular voice-related topic you’re curious about.