As I go about my day-to-day my professionally-trained ear notices people’s voices. Not surprising as I was a speech and language therapist before and now as a hypnotherapist my voice is essential for my job. Happily, however, I use (and teach) self-hypnosis for relaxation as stress is often a component of voice issues. The vocal tract and voice need care in the same way our teeth do but, as it’s not something that’s taught, it’s much neglected! Hence with winter infections approaching I thought I’d share general voice care tips.
The medical term is “vocal hygiene” meaning voice care. We mis-use our voice when we over-use it and abuse it when we use it in a harmful way such as raising our voice without adapting (eg shouting over back-ground noise/music or speaking too quickly/gruffly when stressed). It can lead to damage on our vocal folds - better known as our vocal cords. Warning! Once damaged it is typically tricky and effortful to repair them so read on and put best foot forward …
What to do:
Ensure you breathe well - an incorrect breathing pattern is common. Breathing is the basis of speaking: we add voice (a pitch from the vocal cords) and shape our exhaled breath into speech unconsciously.
Look after yourself - eat healthily and exercise. Avoid lifting heavy weights/straining and grunting though!
Adopt a good sleep routine - see my previous blog on sleep hygiene tips.
Plan for relaxation - stress leads to vocal strain. Add self-hypnosis/yoga/meditation to your routine.
Sip plenty of fluids throughout the day. 8 glasses of water is a common recommendation. In addition some sites suggest sugar free sweets and chewing gum.
Gargle with tepid water especially if you use an asthma inhaler.
Inhale the steam when showering or give yourself a facial steam.
What to avoid:
Talking - the vocal cords can vibrate millions of times each day - rest them in the same way you’d rest a strained wrist or ankle! 10 minutes silence here and there? If possible email/text instead.
Irritants - eg smoking, chemical sprays, perfumes can be triggers/cause coughing.
Talking loudly - a quiet voice (but not whispering) reduces damage to the vocal cords. See below about how to adapt yourself and the environment to reduce harm.
Clearing the throat (ie h-hmm) traumatises the vocal cords - sip water instead or swallow hard.
What else? Adapt yourself/the environment:
Be consistent in using strategies to control back-ground noise. For example silence the class using a non-voice method (eg hand raise/clap/whistle) before giving an instruction or turn down the music/TV before speaking. Avoid speaking on noisy public transport/streets.
Be close to whomever you are speaking - avoid calling out eg to children upstairs or signal to the person/group to come closer before you give an instruction.
Learn to project your voice with correct technique - you need a good lungful of air for starters.
Buy a headset microphone to aid projection of your voice especially if you teach yoga/sports/dance in a large area. Use it consistently.
Phone users - use a headset instead of hand held phone to help with posture and strain.
Be aware that vocal tract problems (eg nodules/polyps) are more likely to be triggered when you have a throat infection, are tired or below par. Take particular care at these times.
Give yourself some TLC and increase fluid intake - warm honey and lemon is soothing.
If you suffer from gastric reflux, use an extra pillow, avoid spicy food and eating late at night. Gut acids can track up to the throat causing irritation - it’s commonly found in people presenting with a voice problem. See your pharmacist/GP to consider the cause.
Steam inhalation and gargling - webmd.com recommends a ¼ teaspoon of salt in a mug of warm boiled water.
Be aware that use of throat lozenges can ease symptoms but the numbing may cause you to be less careful. Also that many cold/other medications have a drying effect on the vocal cords so sip plenty of water throughout the day.
Remember, the voice is an excellent indicator of our underlying health so it is important to get things checked out with your GP if the voice problem has lasted more than 2 weeks especially if you have not suffered a triggering infection. Do not overlook hoarseness/croaking, breathing difficulties, voice pitch drop, a breathy voice, a voice that tires easily (eg starts the sentence fine but sounds weak by the end) or cannot be made louder.
I can help you with breathing tips or hypnotherapy for reducing stress, relaxation, sleep, improving your public speaking or other. Please do not hesitate to get in touch by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 075 548 54321. I am motivated to help improve your health and well-being at an affordable price!
Summit Life Coaching Ltd with NLP and Hypnotherapy. Working to the ethics and standards of the ICF and BSCH.
Please do not copy without permission.
References: - various NHS and other Vocal Hygiene internet posts:
https://www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk/resources/patient-information/therapies/slt/voice-how-to-look-after-it.pdf (To be updated in 2019)
Tips for teenagers (updated 2018):