Sickness seems to be all around right about now. In fact, I was even plagued with fever and a horrendous chest cold this week, so I thought it was a good time to talk about staying healthy.
In my opinion, the one thing most groups do wrong... actually, most singers do wrong... actually, most people do wrong is push themselves to the point of becoming unhealthy both mentally and physically and just plain old don't take care of themselves. Well, to that I say: YOU ARE NOT SUPERMAN!
It's cold outside and everybody is sneezing and coughing and generally being walking petri dishes of sick. So, it's your job to protect yourself. While you can wash your hands a million times and tell your coughing best friend to not visit you for a week, that's just not enough. You have to make sure you're eating right and getting the vitamins you need, constantly hydrating your body, keeping warm, and getting enough sleep.
But above all, don't stress you or your singers out!!! Stress is the gateway to sickness. Let's be honest, you're probably balancing 349979379 things in your life on top of your singing obligations. So it's the week of the big show and you're running from place to place, probably grabbing whatever you can get on the nearest dollar menu (sugar-filled soft drink included), getting home late, attempting to finish whatever you possibly can before you absolutely pass out, and wake up at 8 AM to do it all over again. Riiiiiiiight... stop that.
What you're actually doing is depriving your body of the vitamins and minerals it needs, disrupting your metabolism and that, combined with your lack of sleep, has now forced your body to run completely on adrenaline. Add dehydration and you have now become the number one candidate for becoming sick. On top of that, running around like a chicken without a head does not constitute exercise and you have those Big Macs you've been eating for lunch for the last 5 days just sitting in you. So, what's your body's response to toxins (read: anything bad for you including that last trip to the BK Lounge)?
Yea...it's not pretty. So why push yourself to this point? Or even better, why push your singers to this point? I know that (at least in the collegiate world) there are far too many times obsessive amounts of ridiculously long and late rehearsals are scheduled the week of a show or competition. Well, I have two thoughts on that. A) If you're still learning music the week of the show, you should probably just not sing it and figure out how to do a better job of learning enough music next time. B) You have now forced all of the members of your group to run the gauntlet of illness. Will they get sick? Who knows. But it sure seems like you're asking for it.
Recap: Make sure you're eating well, bundling up so your body can focus on fighting infection rather than retaining heat, drinking lots and lots of water, and get plenty of sleep and downtime to not stress yourself out!
But what if you already have the cold and performance day is coming up? A) Act fast. B) Help the mucus.
Remember that your body produces mucus in order to flush toxins out, it's a good thing. So while over the counter medicines like anti-histamines and decongestants will take away the congestion, they inhibit your body's natural healing process. They will also dry out your body's mucus membranes (like your vocal folds) and can cause you to lose your voice. So you should really just be drinking more water and natural juices to help the mucus flush everything out and/or taking supplements to replenish any vitamins that are depleted from being sick. (Vitamins C and B complex are the first to go.)
All of that water is also going to help make sure the mucus doesn't get to your lungs and prevent coughing. Other things to do is inhale steam. (Please don't burn yourself...or blame me, if you do). A good hot shower usually works pretty well to loosen the congestion and will actually soothe your vocal folds. I'm also a huge fan of a Netty Pot to help get any congestion stuck in your nasal and sinus passage ways. As a victim of chronic sinusitis, I have sworn on one for years and seriously don't think I could live without it. Another trick (that is far cheaper) is to hold a warm, damp washcloth over your nose and mouth for a couple minutes while taking some good deep breaths.
Of course teas, honey, and other soothers may take the edge off soar muscles, but won't necessarily aid in the healing of your vocal folds. Now, if you turn to cough drops, make sure you get the right ones. Mentholated or cough drops that boast "Vapor-action" may help clear your sinuses but are quite drying. And if they say they're medicated or have an oral anesthetic...STAY AWAY! Letting you talk through your pain will almost definitely cause more damage. I would suggest buying herbal/lemon cough drops or cough drops that also have vitamin supplements like Vitamin C (as I already said), echinecea (to help out your immune system), and zinc (to overall help your body fight infection). Try Halls Defense (R) in Harvest Cherry.
Finally, be gentle on your vocal cords. Do not use them excessively and try to avoid talking, yelling, and loud singing. However, very light and soft humming is a good way to loosen your voice in preparation for your big show. Make sure you get plenty of sleep leading up to it, but day of, don't spend all day sleeping. Wake up, take a hot shower, and get your body moving.
Don't forget to listen to your body. If day of it's telling you that you shouldn't be singing, don't. It's that easy. And music directors, never ever ever push your singers if they're sick! Just let them relax and maybe observe rehearsals (if they're not going to infect everybody). Day of, you have to respect their decision to sing or not.
So, put down your Whopper and go grab an apple and a water bottle. Oh and take a nap later!
Until the Journey continues...