How to deal, when you’re feeling’ ill… and the show must go on.
3 of my favorite tips and tricks to bring my best to the stage when I’m not feeling my best.
1. Be Self-Aware: Pay attention to the signs…
You know that feeling before you get like a day or two before sickliness sets in? That tired feeling, dry-scratchy throat, weak voice and maybe drainage or congestion. Maybe you haven’t gotten good sleep and you’re experiencing some vocal fatigue. Maybe you went to a sporting event and yelled or stayed up too late chatting it up and wore out your voice. Maybe you drank something that dehydrated you and you forgot to replenish. Whatever the cause, pay attention to the signs your body is sending out earlier vs later. If you do and it’s not show time yet, you can restore some energy and strength before it’s too late! If you ignore the signs, they’ll eventually make sure you pay attention by bringing you down!
2. What to do if the signs of coming sickly doom are present…
Step 1: Hydrate. Everyone knows this, but we still aren’t doing it well or consistently. Water is your friend so drink it up. Keep a bottle with you at all times.
2 of my favorite “feel Better” drinks are…
Hot Tea: I like many varieties, but the antioxidants, lower caffeine dose than most coffee (so less drying) and soothing warmth of tea always gives me a little boost.
Warm 100% Juice Apple Cider: I make mine with 100% Apple juice filling about 3/4 of a coffee mug with apple juice and the remaining 1/4 of the cup with 100% pure squeezed orange juice. Then I sprinkle in a good dose of cinnamon, stir together and heat. It’s a yummy drink! It does have natural sugars of course, but it also has lots of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, B6, Calcium, Potassium, and is a natural anti-inflammatory. So not only does it boost energy, but it soothes and calms inflamed vocal cords and replenishes needed nutrients if you are lacking. This is my Go-To save me drink! It really helps!
Step 2: Shut up and Sleep!
It’s hard for a talker like me to shut up, I have to work at it really hard, but it’s vitally important to healing. Even better, if you have the time and you aren’t on stage in half an hour… get some good shut-eye. It’s incredible what even a couple of good hours of extra rest can do to help restore your body. Be sure you hydrate well before nodding off because that can help your body do it’s best recovery work. If you find yourself between shows, waiting for the next call back, or between church services without time to sleep and tempted to spend your time talking… don’t. Find a quiet place where you can sip your warm drink and rest your voice. The worse thing you can do is continue talking and wearing out already fatigued, swollen vocal cords. You’ll just further damage them and set yourself up for a less than pitch perfect performance.
Step 3: Meds are sometimes necessary… but not my first go -to. Here’s what I use if needed and in moderation.
Let’s face it, sometimes you simply don’t have time to fully recover before you need to go on. Sometimes there’s not a replacement and maybe you aren’t sick enough to back out of your commitment, but aren’t feeling well enough to bring 100%. If I’ve hydrated, done my best to shut up and get whatever sleep I can, I’ve warmed- up vocally and physically (if you are cold, you’ll be more tense with more air constriction so if it’s like 63 degrees where you sing, wear something warm), then my next defense is just 200 mg of Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory. It will reduce swelling which is what you need if you have a worn out voice. DO NOT TAKE Tylenol for an inflamed throat. Tylenol is an acetaminophen- it doesn’t reduce swelling or inflammation, so although it may help with the pain temporarily, you can cause more damage singing while taking tylenol because the inflammation and swelling are still there, you just aren’t feeling the pain as you further damage your cords. Tylenol is great for a headache or fever… not for your throat. I am not a proponent of getting into a habit of taking meds at the first sign of an issue, I think it’s better to try and heal the source first, but sometimes we need a little help and for vocalists, you need to reduce swelling to reduce your chances of vocal damage when you are singing with less than healthy cords. The other medicine would be something for allergies or congestion if you are dealing with drainage or congestion. Those two things can contribute greatly to inflammation of your vocal cords so talk to your doctor about the best solution for that. I will say, be careful with De-Congestion meds because they likely dry you out and you need hydrated cords for best performance.
3. It’s ok to Bow Out… it might be someone else’s time to shine. Some questions to ask yourself to determine if it is indeed time to bow out!
1. Am I contagious? If you are going to get everyone else sick, that’s just rude, stay home and recover if at all possible. At your earliest opportunity get your replacement or reschedule your audition, whatever you have to do if you are running a fever and hacking all over the place or throwing up.
2. Is there someone ready, willing and able to take my place who can execute at a higher level than I can in my illness? Sometimes this isn’t an option, but if it is, you will show the other person you believe in them, you aren’t so insecure that you can’t take a day off and let someone else shine and that you know your limits. It gives people permission to heal and recover when they need to as well so that everyone is able to bring their best.
3. Is this a once in a lifetime opportunity or not? I mean, if it’s literally the Super Bowl and you are getting to perform, you pretty much do whatever you have to to make it happen. I mean it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and you can get back into bed after the show. Taking into consideration of course, if you can even execute. You may need to change the key, improvise the melody or change the set altogether to accommodate your likely limited range during illness. On the other hand, if it’ something you’ll likely have another chance or many more chances to do.. like your gig down at the local coffee shop.. or leading a song instead of letting someone else have a chance for your weekly worship service.. You gotta weigh the pros and cons. If you over sing with damaged cords, you might lose your voice altogether and be out for a couple weeks instead of a day. This part is up to you, and it’s always hard taking a break from something you love, so you just gotta weigh this one out and check your motives.