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Chronic Challenges = Chronic Stress

I have some questions to ask you.  Are you finding you don’t have the breath support you had previously?  Have you been troubled by back pain, indigestion, rashes, infections, insomnia?  Are you more irritable? No, this is not a medical form to complete.  It’s a look at chronic stress that can be behind any of these problems, and more.  Plus, it may be affecting your voice.

Right now we’re entering a stage in which our bodies may be showing physical signs of the emotions stress that has been unrelenting for over twenty-six months.  And that stress is ramping up again as the war in the Ukraine continues, the Supreme Court is challenged, and new variants of the virus are on the horizon.  With these challenges, more stress is created.

I had a reporter tell me she can’t seem to get through a full night’s sleep without waking up and not being able to get back to sleep.  She is noticing her energy level in stand-ups is slipping.

An anchor who had omicron finds her breathing has not rebounded as rapidly as he wishes.  And the list goes on.

This is truly a time to double down on taking steps to alleviate stress and take care of yourself. I’ve written lots of posts on these topics, and I’ll call some to your attention now.

Sleeping at least seven hours a night will increase your ability to concentrate and help you stay well. There are lots of steps you can take to accomplish this.  Check out this post, which reviews them.

Eating gives you the energy to stay focused and keep going under pressure. Some simple changes in diet will accomplish this.  Read what one network correspondent eats to stay at his best

And the one thing you can do that may help your voice the most is to improve your breathing.  We all know COVID hits the respiratory tract hard, so make some simple breathing exercises like the ones in this post part of your day to keep your breathing the best it can be.

Breathing exercises are not the only form of exercise that helps combat stress.  Don’t forget that physical exercise is a great stress-buster. Take a look at this post to see why.

Finally, find some time to relax focusing on the positive things in your life and in nature.  There’s a good technique in this post. This has been proven to combat stress.

 

 

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Get Serious About Breath Support

I’ve written many posts for broadcasters and voice over artists on breathing, but a review is always helpful, especially during these trying times.  (Some of you broadcast students at the University of Massachusetts may also benefit from this information.)

Breathing is the energy for speech.  Not having good breath support is like driving a car with watered down gasoline.  It won’t take you very far.  Good breath support means you can control your exhalation.

Control will allow you to talk for a long time on one breath of air and also use that air to indicate emotional changes, and rate and volume variations.  Breath support also prevents trailing off at the ends of your sentences, which can lead to the dreaded glottal fry (click here for more on glottal fry).

Let’s begin with a very simplified look at how the lungs work when we breathe.  First, the lungs can’t move themselves.  They are moved by the muscles around them.  The main muscle is the diaphragm that forms the floor the lungs sit on.  The diaphragm and the abdominal muscles allow us to control the release of air as we exhale.

But it takes some skill and training to be able to get that abdominal control of the breath.  Let’s look at some hardcore exercises that will help create that support.

First, the basic exercise I love for building breath support is to take a deep abdominal-diaphragmatic breath (if you aren’t familiar with this type of breathing, click here for my video that has a full explanation), and then on one exhalation count out loud as high as you can.  You should be able to count to at least fifteen.  If you can (or can’t) keep doing this exercise and try to add a number each day.  Over time you should be able to get to twenty-five seconds or higher on one breath.

One thing that can sabotage your breath support is for air to escape when it shouldn’t, like before you begin to speak or when you pause.  Try this exercise:  Inhale using abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing.  Now, using your pulse as a guide (find this by putting your index and middle fingers on your wrist below your thumb), count out loud for five pulse beats.  After five, pause for a beat, and then continue to ten, pause, and count to fifteen.  You should be able to do this on one breath of air.  If you can’t, pay close attention to see if you’re exhaling before you begin or at the pauses.

Make these exercises part of your week so that your breath support stays strong.  For the best delivery, get serious about breath support!

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Prepare For What’s Coming

As 2022 begins, I’m sure you were hoping, as was I, that things would return to “normal.”  But reading this quotation made me rethink that: “We’re not going to get to a point where it’s 2019 again,” (Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security). So here are some thoughts for you broadcasters and voiceover artists on how to move into the unknown.

First, the beginning of another year is a good time to look back and assess what has worked for you during the pandemic.  Perhaps you found more time to exercise or relax.  Maybe you reevaluated whether your career is going in the direction you want it to.  Make a list of what worked, and let it be a guide for the coming year.

Secondly, make an attempt not to compare the life you’re leading now to what used to be a normal life for you.  Our lives may never be as predictable as they once were.  Travel for pleasure may have to be planned based on the changes happening in our country and other countries.  Schools and businesses may have to go into remote mode as events occur.  And we may be wearing masks for certain situations for some time to come.

Scientists are telling us that more viruses will emerge because of global warming and deforestation.  One thing that can be helpful is to think in terms of preparing for viruses just as we prepare for other events like hurricanes, blizzards, and forest fires.

You reporters know how helpful Go Bags can be so why not create a “Sickness Go Bag?”  Put things in it to help you if you’re suddenly sick and must isolate.  Include a good thermometer, masks, acetaminophen for fever, crackers to eat if any meds make you queasy, a gallon of water, maybe some Gatorade or Pedialyte to stay hydrated, lozenges, and any cold meds that work for you. I find having several cans of soup is helpful.  These you can cook or someone can prepare for you. Also, remember to have a charger and a cable for your electronic equipment. And don’t forget any toiletries you might need.  These items can make you more comfortable through the flu, colds, and any new respiratory viruses.

Let’s hope 2022 brings more freedom for us and less illness.  But just in case, be prepared!

 

 

 

 

 

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Working From Home May Harm Your Body and Your Voice

A news article caught my eye last week because it applied directly to the problems broadcasters and voiceover artists face with the new working styles that began when the pandemic started.

The article was in The Washington Post entitled, “Some lesser-known culprits for neck and back pain and what to do about them” (by Stacey Colino, 10/26/21).

In this article Colino explores an area I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about lately. That is that the pandemic has made most of us more sedentary, and that’s resulting in more severe and new onset of pain.

The article points out that this increase in pain has even been proven in a study. The study found 39% of 232 workers in one company who switched to working at home had stronger pain in the lower back and 46% showed more neck pain.

The biggest culprits may sound very familiar:  sitting longer, weight gain, and stress.  These coupled with poor posture create the scenario for more pain.

So what’s the solution to this ramping up of pain?  There are several.

First, move more because this loosens up the hips and lower back.  It also burns calories thus helping us lose those extra “covid” pounds.  Exercising ups your energy just before a broadcast or voiceover session as well.  So the benefits of moving more shouldn’t be ignored.

Moving can be as simple as getting up to walk around the house or newsroom every 30 to 45 minutes, doing some stretches, as well as fitting in a workout at least three times a week.

The other thing to consider about neck and back pain is posture.  The most ergonomically correct posture for working at a desk is pictured above.  Research has found that this posture results in a reduction of fatigue, eye strain, and bodily discomfort, but many of us have ignored this, and have developed “pandemic postures.”

Broadcasters have told me they often spend time working from a couch at home or at a desk that’s doesn’t take ergonomics into account.  Colino’s advice on this situation is to prop your device (or script) up to get it at the correct eye level (see above) in whatever manner  works whether it’s on books, in a stand, or even holding smaller devices up.

What you don’t want to do is slouch and jut your head out or down toward your device while you’re working.  This tenses your neck and shoulders, and these are areas that you don’t want to tense when you’re trying to keep your voice healthy.  For more on this and some helpful exercises, check out this post of mine.

 

 

 

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Fight Pandemic Frustration with 45-Second Breaks

Most of us would love to take a long vacation from the stresses and frustration of the pandemic about now.  I know I would.  But since it looks like we’re back struggling with rising numbers and a nasty variant, what about settling for adding some 45-second breaks in your day to lower stress?

The break I’m proposing can be done anywhere, in your car, at your desk, before you go into the sound booth, or just about anywhere.  It’s a good way to let go of tension throughout the day.  It’s sort of like rebooting your computer when it’s not working at its best.  So let’s look at how these work.

These 24-second breaks are basically deep breathing breaks.  Most of us restrict our breathing during the day without even noticing it.  Instead of taking deep, relaxing breaths like we would when going to sleep, we move our breathing into the upper chest, which automatically makes it shallower.  For a demonstration of this, watch this short video of mine: https://onlinevoicecoaching.com/?p=209

Now that you know a bit about abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing, try this short exercise right now.  Slowly count from one to four, while taking a deep inhalation, engaging the stomach so the diaphragm is working.  Once you reach four, exhale beginning at four and continue until you reach one again (if you begin to feel any dizziness, make the breaths slower.)   Are you feeling more relaxed?  Doing this only four times can help, but aim for 45 seconds if it feels comfortable.

If you want to add to the relaxation, close your eyes if you’re in a place where you can, and do the exercise above, imagining something you love, like a person, pet, pretty flowers, waves on the ocean, etc., while you do it.  This helps your brain slow down and really works to lessen tension.

For really tense situations, I count the inhalation/exhalation in a different way.  This breathing comes from a Yoga breathing exercise in which you inhale to the count of four, hold your inhalation to the count of four, and exhale to the count of six.  These breaths have been shown to lower blood pressure temporarily and provide a deep relaxation.

So when you just wish this whole pandemic thing would disappear, and we could all get back to our normal lives, take 45 seconds to step into a calmer space.  Add these throughout the day for not just a better hour but a better day.

 

 

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Eight Tips to Beat This Summer’s Excessive Heat

This summer is breaking records for high temperatures.  Heat can be hard on your voice and your body.  You can sound parched and look wilted on camera.  If you want to sound great and look polished, try these eight tips.  I’ve provided links to some of my other blog posts if you want to read more, but here’s a list for a quick reminder:

1.  Most important, keep your vocal tract moist by drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of decaffeinated, nonalcoholic fluid a day (for more on fluid intake check out this post).

2.  If you have allergies or get a summer cold, limit throat clearing and coughing.  Did you read this post on the dangers of coughing?

3.  Use SPF 30 or higher sun cream every day and reapply it every few hours.  And if you’re outside much of the day, wear SPF clothing (you can actually make your clothes sun proof with Rit Sun Guard). Be sure an include a hat or cap to wear (not during on-camera work unless approved by your news director).

4. Be careful not to yell in noisy environments such as outdoor sporting events or clubs.  Yelling can permanently harm your voice.

5.  Keep up an exercise program, but if you’re exercising outside and it’s hot, do it early in the morning or late in the evening.  Why exercise?  It helps develop good breathing, but it does much more.  Check this out.

6.  Get at least seven hours of sleep each night for good vocal energy.  That’s the minimum that doctors recommend.  Go for more when you can.  And remember that computers and tablets emit blue light that mimics sunlight and can keep you awake.  Dim them down at least an hour before bedtime.

7.  The heat can burn off lots of energy. Ramp up your protein intake for better overall energy and great vocal energy.  This blog post explains why and how.

7.  Practice abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing to decrease tension in the laryngeal area. (Check my video or my book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK, if you’re unclear on what this type of breathing is like.)

8.

aaaaBSGCoverSMALL copy 2Want more tips like these?  Ck out Broadcaster’s Survival Guide.  It’s only $4.99 and loaded with voice and lifestyle tips!

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Do You Hear Yourself? Resonance Is Confusing: Part II

If you love the sound of your recorded voice, this blog post is not for you, but I bet most of you broadcasters and voiceover artists still cringe when you hear your voices.

Recently I read an interesting article on this topic that I’ve blogged about in the past (click here to read Part I of this article).  This new article explores both the resonance issue of why most of us hate our recorded voices and the psychological issue.  Check it out.

Why do we hate the sound of our own voices? by Dr. Neel Bhatt, University of Washington

As a surgeon who specializes in treating patients with voice problems, I routinely record my patients speaking. For me, these recordings are incredibly valuable. They allow me to track slight changes in their voices from visit to visit, and it helps confirm whether surgery or voice therapy led to improvements.

Yet I’m surprised by how difficult these sessions can be for my patients. Many become visibly uncomfortable upon hearing their voice played back to them.

“Do I really sound like that?” they wonder, wincing.

(Yes, you do.)

Some become so unsettled they refuse outright to listen to the recording – much less go over the subtle changes I want to highlight.

The discomfort we have over hearing our voices in audio recordings is probably due to a mix of physiology and psychology.

For one, the sound from an audio recording is transmitted differently to your brain than the sound generated when you speak.

When listening to a recording of your voice, the sound travels through the air and into your ears – what’s referred to as “air conduction.” The sound energy vibrates the ear drum and small ear bones. These bones then transmit the sound vibrations to the cochlea, which stimulates nerve axons that send the auditory signal to the brain.

However, when you speak, the sound from your voice reaches the inner ear in a different way. While some of the sound is transmitted through air conduction, much of the sound is internally conducted directly through your skull bones. When you hear your own voice when you speak, it’s due to a blend of both external and internal conduction, and internal bone conduction appears to boost the lower frequencies.

For this reason, people generally perceive their voice as deeper and richer when they speak. The recorded voice, in comparison, can sound thinner and higher pitched, which many find cringeworthy.

There’s a second reason hearing a recording of your voice can be so disconcerting. It really is a new voice – one that exposes a difference between your self-perception and reality. Because your voice is unique and an important component of self-identity, this mismatch can be jarring. Suddenly you realize other people have been hearing something else all along.

Even though we may actually sound more like our recorded voice to others, I think the reason so many of us squirm upon hearing it is not that the recorded voice is necessarily worse than our perceived voice. Instead, we’re simply more used to hearing ourselves sound a certain way.

A study published in 2005 had patients with voice problems rate their own voices when presented with recordings of them. They also had clinicians rate the voices. The researchers found that patients, across the board, tended to more negatively rate the quality of their recorded voice compared with the objective assessments of clinicians.

So if the voice in your head castigates the voice coming out of a recording device, it’s probably your inner critic overreacting – and you’re judging yourself a bit too harshly.The Conversation

Neel Bhatt, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology, UW Medicine, University of Washington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

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Breathe Your Way to a Better Voice and Lower Stress

I’ve written many blog posts and articles on breathing, but I want to show you how proper breathing has a side effect that’s especially important right now.  Proper breathing actually lowers stress.  Simply by practicing good breathing you have a powerful weapon against the stress of the last 14 months.

What makes deep breathing so effective?  Deep breathing brings more oxygen into your body with the least amount of effort.  Right off the bat when you take a well-placed, deep breath, you’ve relaxed your body because you’re not asking it to work harder than it needs to.  You also bring in more oxygen, and this has a positive effect on your brain, your energy level, your digestion, and your immunity.

So why do we do we breathe incorrectly?  I think it’s a combination of training and stress in our bodies.  The training happens because whether you’re a male or female, society shows you images of people with tight abs.  In order to get that look, we may hold our stomachs in when we breathe.  Add stress to it, and our breathing moves up to the control of the muscles in the upper chest and neck. These are not the strong, ten pound’s worth of muscles like the diaphragm and intercostal muscles that help us breathe correctly.  They are the weaker upper chest muscles like the clavicular muscles and the neck muscles.

Let’s try it and see if the difference is clear to you.  Stand up and hold your hands against your body so your fingers touch at their tips right above your navel.  Now breathe by expanding your stomach so that your fingers pull apart when you take air into your body.  This type of breathing I call abdominal-diaphragmatic.

To feel upper chest breathing, press your hands against your stomach so that they hold your stomach in.  Now breathe in such a way that your shoulders rise as you inhale.  This method will get some air into your body, but not nearly as much as the deeper breathing. Plus, you’re using muscles in your neck, which can have a detrimental effect on your vocal pitch.  Not what you want if you’re an on-air professional.

Once you become familiar with abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing, put it to work to let go of stress.  The simple procedure of breathing in to the count of 4, holding your breath to the count of 4, and exhaling to the count of 4, done a few times, immediately brings down your stress level.  Use this anywhere, at work, in your car, at the dentist’s, or in bed.  Just a few deep breaths to this count can work wonders on stress.

I have several other blog posts on breathing that you can find in the handy Categories section on the right side of this page.  And if you want to see me demonstrating abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing just click here and watch a 3-minute videoAnd you will find lots more on breathing and stress control in my two ebooks, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK and BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE.  Just click on the titles to learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

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Speaking Through Masks

As a voice professional I never expected I would be training people to speak through masks, but this past year has been one full of surprises. For reporters in the field masks have been an ongoing challenge. And masks plus social distancing make being heard difficult for all of us at times.

What’s the solution? It’s learning to project your voice well. No matter what type of mask you’re wearing, proper projection of your voice will allow you to be heard.

Vocal projection is how far the sound you create travels when it leaves your mouth.  Projection is not volume.  Projection is the force you give the sound to move it away from you.  It should move like a laser beam, intense and focused.

A good exercise to improve your projection is to hold your open palm about 3 inches from your mouth. Now say the sentence,

“I’m projecting my voice,”

Say this so that you hit your hand with the sound. Next, move your hand out as far as you can with your palm facing your mouth. Say the phrase so that the sound hits your hand in this position. Once you feel you’re projecting your voice to that spot easily, take your hand away. Now pick a point about 6 feet in front of you, and project your voice to there. Once you can project your voice that far, you should have no problem being heard behind your mask. (To watch me demonstrating this, go to this short video you can see here.)

Another point to remember for good projection is to avoid letting the ends of your sentences trail off. Always try and make the last word in your sentence as strong as the first word. Keep good projection in your voice all the way to the end of each sentence.

For more on projection and resonating your voice more efficiently, see Lesson 3 on the MP3 page.  And while you’re there, you can also download Lesson 1 on Keeping a Healthy Voice for free!

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A Tense Body Creates a Tense Voice

The new year of 2021 does not seem to be letting up in the stress we felt all through 2020.  We’ve got new mutations of the virus proliferating, questions about what’s safe to do as the vaccine rolls out, and political tension continuing.  Can all this tension affect your delivery?  It sure can.  Let’s look at how.

There are two areas of the head that harbor lots of tension: the forehead and the neck.

Tension in the forehead is a sign that there’s tension cascading down from there into the jaw and neck. These are places you don’t want it to be.

Wrinkle up your forehead right now and observe how the rest of your head feels. Most likely you will find that your jaw is tenser. If your jaw is tense, it’s going to affect your resonance (the richness and fullness of your voice) as well as your articulation. Want to know more about articulation?  Click here.  To learn more about resonance, click here.

When the tension hits the neck it has the potential to make our pitch rise. Not what you want happening every time you’re in front of a microphone.

The vocal folds (cords) are tiny folds of muscle and ligament in our throats (to watch them at work click here). Adding or reducing tension in the vocal fold area creates our vocal pitch. The greater the tension, the higher the pitch.

I often tell my clients who are television reporters or anchors to watch their work and look at the tendons in their neck. If those tendons look like steel cables, they can be assured that their pitch is elevated.

Want to reduce tension?  Try these simple shoulder rolls: Roll your shoulders, moving both at the same time. Begin by pulling them up toward your ears. From this position, rotate them back so that your shoulder blades are coming together. Now relax them down. Finish by rotating them forward as if trying to make your shoulders touch in front. Continue this rotation 4 times. Change direction and rotate 4 times. This simple exercise done a few times a day will eliminate tension from your upper body.

My new e-book, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, is available for for instant download for only $4.99.  You’ll get great information in it on how to deal with stress and keep your body healthy so you can sound your best!  And don’t be fooled by “broadcaster’s” in the title.  It’s great for voiceover artists, too.  Ck it out on the “Stress Guide” tab above.

 

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