Wintertime holds a wonderful energy of rest, restoration, and inward reflection as we recover from the past year and prepare for the spring and the vibrant energy it brings. However, it can also bring with it fear: fear of illness, fear of missed work, and if you’re an entrepreneur or rely on your voice for work, this can have a significant impact on your financial wellbeing as well as your physical wellbeing.
Over the years, I have picked up many natural ways to protect, heal, and healthfully use the voice when ill. Pharmaceuticals can be helpful in acute cases, but they are often very drying and have other negative side effects for the delicate tissues of the vocal folds (aka vocal cords). Natural advice and remedies from Western herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and folk medicine are shared here to help with common illnesses. Please keep in mind, I am not a doctor or certified herbalist, so it is best to consult a trained herbalist or TCM practitioner to get the best medicine for your particular illness.
According to Chinese medicine, illnesses often enter the body through the back of the neck and upper back area, especially during late fall and winter when that area of the body is susceptible to the cold. Even if you live in moderate climate, wear a scarf or cardigan that protects your neck and upper back from drafts and the cold. Additionally, all the neck and upper back muscles connect up to the muscles of the voice, so keeping warm reduces unnecessary tension that could negatively affect your voice.
Keep it warm
Avoid cold water and drink warm liquids that are at least room temperature. Cold tenses up muscles, and warm loosens them; The vocal cords are actually delicate muscles in the throat, so warm liquids will keep the vocal cords from getting too tight or tense, avoiding vocal strain. Loose vocal cords also means more efficient use of your voice, meaning you’ll expend less energy.
Everyone’s body composition is different, but if you know which foods create congestion in your body, keep them to a minimum at this time of year (dairy is a common one). If you have environmental allergies, do you best to manage them and take preventative measure, such as wearing an allergy mask (such as a Vogmask) when you may be exposed to allergens. Less congestion means less susceptibility to illness. If you tend to struggle with congestion on a regular basis, I highly recommend seeing a Chinese medicine practitioner and/or an allergist to determine the best course of action for you—I’ve personally been helped by both.
Boost immune system
There are many herbs and supplements to help the immune system, but my personal favorites are homemade Elderberry Syrup and homemade Fire Cider (you can google recipes for both, but keep in mind that Fire Cider takes 4-6 weeks to infuse). If you tend towards illness in winter, preventative acupuncture is very helpful as well.
Sleep is THE most important thing you can do for your health. Make sure you’re giving your body (and your voice!) the rest it needs.
Our bodies are hydrated from the inside out, so drink plenty of water and healthy liquids. If you have a hard time drinking water, try gentle and supportive herbal teas (chamomile, hibiscus, and nettle, for example). Avoid liquids that can cause dehydration or are diuretic in nature. If your airways are dry despite hydration, a humidifier is also beneficial and can counteract the dry winter air.
When You’re Sick
Even if you’re not sure that you’re sick, if you start to feel any symptoms, start taking higher doses of Elderberry and/or Fire Cider (or your supplement of choice) immediately. Be more mindful of the nutrition in the foods you eat. Make sure you get plenty of rest.
Keep it warm
Notice a theme? There’s a reason we immediately think of soup and tea as “get better” foods. Warm, nutritious food and drink does a lot to restore the body. Broth-based soups, tea with honey, congee (a nutritious Chinese porridge), oatmeal, etc. are all great options when you’re sick and aren’t harsh on the throat. For the common cold, avoid dairy and rich foods as they can create more phlegm.
Be kind to your voice
Rest your voice as much as you can. Try to drink water or tea instead of coughing or clearing your throat. Coughing and clearing your throat is rough on the vocal cords and can cause them to become inflamed. Consistent, long-term coughing and clearing of the throat can eventually cause damage to the vocal cords. If your voice starts to feel like it’s headed towards laryngitis, avoid talking as much as possible. If you do lose your voice, don’t try to push it. Let it rest and heal.
Drink plenty of fluids (soup counts!). Saline rinses or sprays can be very helpful in clearing out mucus and helping with post-nasal drip. Try to rinse 3 times a day. Dehydration can lead to higher levels of congestion and sinus pressure.
Rest as often as you can and sleep when you need to.
If you need to practice for a performance, speech, or presentation, practice without using your voice. Mouth the words to a speech or scene (hearing tone and phrasing in your mind) instead of speaking the words. Hear the music in your mind and act as if you’re singing without engaging your vocal cords. Practice breathing/singing techniques on non-vocalized consonants, like S (F, T, and P can also work, depending on the exercise).
When you need to talk
Breathe deeply and speak strongly in your normal voice, even if your voice doesn’t “cooperate”. Avoid compensating because pushing to make your voice louder will only serve to cause strain and hurt your voice, or possibly cause you to lose your voice. Whispering can also cause strain since it adds tension, or hurt your voice due to the excess air passing through that can dry out the vocal cords.
Things to avoid:
Anything overly drying. Peppermint tea, high amounts of caffeine, overuse of decongestants, etc. can be so drying your body will overcompensate with more congestion.
Ultimately, we all get sick at some point or another. These tips and tools can help prevent that from happening, especially if you tend to be prone towards catching colds and other illnesses. Often what breaks the camel’s back is that we push ourselves to do more and more and more, instead of listening to our bodies telling us to take a step back. So, listen to what your body is telling you. Trust your gut instinct to go to bed early instead of finishing that project or binge-watching Netflix to wind down. Give yourself space to rest BEFORE getting sick. This enables your body to do what it naturally wants to do. And if you sense that there’s an underlying spiritual component that is creating a negative pattern of illness or fatigue, give yourself the space to do the healing work necessary. So many of us have wounds related to our self-expression and that can manifest into a pattern of illness.
If you desire support to do that, I am here for you!