Winter can be absolutely disastrous for a singer. If the change of season and cold night air isn’t enough, the strike of the flu can leave you and your voice in pretty bad shape. The fatigue that follows can also be really rough and it can take over a month to get your voice all the way back. There are lots of ways to work your way through but these are my top ten. Hope they help!
1. The silent treatment – It sounds crazy but I have been known to take entire days off speaking when I’m sick, communicating through mime and my iPad. But really and truly – avoid talking and singing as much as possible. Rest your voice. If you are really sick and the gig can be postponed it may be worth considering. Singing on a damaged voice is a huge no no and can do some permanent damage.
2. Don’t cough– So this is a hard one. And coughing is sometimes an important part of bringing infection up out of your lungs. But as much as it can move that phlegm up and out it can really put your cords through their paces. The velocity of air pushing through already inflamed vocal cords can be really damaging. As much as possible try to employ that ab strength and limit your coughing. Don’t audibly clear your throat. And even be aware of raspy breathing. The less audible the better.
3. Count those Zzz’s– Sleep is your best friend in this scenario. When you are sick you need more sleep than usual. So at the very least get your normal nights rest, preferably more. Avoid staying out late if you don’t need to. Get straight home after events. The more sleep you get the faster you will get past this.
4. Stay hydrated– Water will be your saving grace. You don’t want to be dry right now even though the mucus is everywhere. If you normally go for 2L – try 2.5. If you are normally shocking with getting your fluids in be really mindful of it. It will help reduce your raspiness and coughing and keep the tissues of your mouth and throat protected. Keeping up your fluids can also help flush away bacteria as they thrive when your saliva is depleted.
5. Warm it up– Foods that are warm and soft like cooked veggies and chicken or flavoured soup are fantastic. And heated drinks especially tea are amazing. I like to put a little manuka honey and lemon in a herbal ginger tea. Not coffee or black tea though because caffeine is a real drying force. Similarly avoid alcohol and energy drinks.
6. Keep it clean – Get rid of all the ickiness you can. This means physically removing it from your teeth and tongue (yes your dentist has a reason for telling you to floss) and thinking about cleaning out your sinuses with a saline rinse. If you do not already have a neti-pot then get one. I love love love mine. They sound really gross because you essentially pour salt water in one nostril and it comes out the other. But they really are incredible. Always be careful to clean them properly and use fresh water as you don’t want to add to your bacterial problem.
7. Get in the vitamins– It’s no secret that good nutrition is essential to healthy living. This is certainly no exception. I always grab some probiotics and vitamin C coming into the flu season to boost my body’s defences. I try to avoid medicated decongestants especially directly before singing as they can be quite drying and I always steer clear of anything that may numb the area and allow me to push harder than I should and do damage. Garlic is always a good one too.
8. Wrap up– take this opportunity to show off your scarf collection. Keep your shirts high in the neck and generally keep your upper body warm without overheating. It tends to discourage coughing and keeps the muscles relaxed. Think about getting a massage or finding some time to do some deep breathing or meditation. Loosening and warming up those upper body muscles will help getting things back in working order.
9. Steam– Hot showers and personal steamers or vaporisers. I have a portable steamer that I take with me to events when I am not in the best vocal shape. The steam instantly relieves the dehydration and tightness and generally helps settle down the area. Inhaling steam can also really help to get the sinuses clear. Just always be mindful not to scold yourself.
10. Gentle hum– As you start to get better you can start to introduce a gentle hum. The vibration will start to loosen the mucus of your cords and sinuses. A lip trill can also be quite good here. If you absolutely must sing while you are sick always have a really good warm up first being very gentle on yourself. The last thing you want to do is damage your voice further while it is already fatigued.
So there’s my top ten tips for surviving flu season. May you get through winter without needing them!