How are you feeling with the weather turning and all the back to school germs? As it's cold and flu season, on top of COVID, so what are we to do as Podcasters? With my kiddo starting school, so does the start of a bigger spread of the usual cold and flu symptoms. She got a very mild stuffy nose and sore throat and even passed on that stuffy nose to me, which made me tired from not sleeping very well and the podcast was put at the bottom of the list. Surprise, surprise. Priorities, right?
Around this time of year, Podcasters ask what can do they to improve their voice while sick? Will taking cough drops or drinking lemon or fancy throat calming teas actually work? Sure, sure you can! But none of those things are going to make your voice any better or even cure you of the common cold in an instant when you want to get behind the mic. And here's why, let's take a look at the technical aspects of our voice.
I'm usually not very "science-y" so I'm going to break it down simply for all of us. Your throat has two tubes. One for air and breathing that goes to your lungs and one for food and liquids that go to your stomach. Food and drinks will never be able to go down the breathing tube otherwise, we'd choke. And where do your vocal cords live? In the air and breathing tube. So if you think about it, any fancy throat teas we drink or honey that we take to "soothe" our throats, doesn't actually work. None of these items will ever touch your vocal cords to ease any swelling or remove any phlegm when we are sick. There's no immediate miracle cure for your throat!
OK, so what about water? Water as I mentioned in episode 8 "How Wearing Masks Affects Your Vocal Health" is good for your body. We all know this. But for the immediate need of a dry or scratchy throat when are sick and you want to get behind the microphone, it doesn't actually provide any immediate relief or hydration of our vocal cords. Water goes first to our vital organs and other things that need to keep us alive and then if there's any water left, it'll go to the smaller parts of your body like your vocal cords. So ideally, you're drinking water every single day to fully hydrate your body and not only when you feel thirsty. Because at that point, your voice is going to pay for it. When you're thirsty, your vocal cords are also dry and will have extra friction when speaking creating that hoarse, cracking, sore feeling in your throat. Do you know what else helps with easing this friction? Phlegm.
Yeah, believe it or not, phlegm is a good thing! Phlegm is made up of water and we need a thin layer of it to coat our vocal cords much like oil in a car. The oil lubricates the engine parts, so things run smoothly. Same with phlegm and mucus. Without it, you wouldn't have a voice. But the problem is, especially when we are sick, is the excessive production of this sticky gunky stuff that gets in your way of speaking clearly. So we start coughing and trying to clear our throats more than we should, forcing too much pressure on our vocal cords and making them work overtime.
Here's a trick to clearing your throat, more for when you're not hacking up a lung coughing. If you feel that frog in your throat and need to clear it away, try swallowing instead! The act of swallowing will move the phlegm down and away from your vocal cords. So first, we need to loosen the phlegm and we do this by exhaling with a bit of force, and then tucking your chin down and swallow hard. That tightness in your throat is what is pushing down the phlegm away from your cords. If you need a vehicle to help you with this, this is a reason why people drink water. It's the act of swallowing that water that clears the mucus away from your cords, not the water itself as I mentioned earlier. Now I do have to admit, I'm not always doing this and still clearing my throat with a gentle throat clearing, but being aware of this technique of swallowing and using it from time to time will be a drastic improvement for your voice.
If however, you are at a point that your throat is so scratchy and sore that you're whispering, stop. Stop, stop, stop, using your voice. Stop speaking. Don't even whisper as it can make it worse, forcing extra air through your vocal cords! When your throat is at this point of being so scratchy and sore, it's your body telling you to rest. I'm going to go back to the athlete analogy. If you've sprained your ankle, will you keep running or go for long walks? No! You'll rest it until it's better. Same for your voice. If you keep talking, you might lose it.
I've seen it happen time and time again when I was in radio. Announcers will push through, but what they're doing is actually making it worse and potentially having been forced to stop speaking altogether because their voice disappeared one day. I remember when a co-worker of mine ended up using a pad of paper and pen to talk to us when he couldn't email or text. He was forced to stay away from the mic and sit around doing other things at a desk instead, not much fun for someone who loves to use their voice.
Don't push your way through to push out another episode. Take the time off, reschedule any interviews, and put the mic down. When you're ready to come back, you can tell your listeners why you were away and they'll still be there waiting for you, or maybe, not even notice that you missed a week. If you still feel the need to podcast, there are soooooo many other tasks you can be doing for your show instead of getting behind the microphone. Promoting your past episodes that might be relevant right now, starting online conversations with your community (typing of course, not speaking to rest your voice), write show notes, intros or a bio for an upcoming guest, or edit episodes you've already recorded. Podcasting is not only about getting behind the mic and hitting that record button. Take this time, if you have the energy, take a look at the other aspects of your show and see what you can tweak or lightly work on. Or better yet, I'd take a brain break and not be in front of a screen at all.
Anytime I'm sick, I'd rather be a bowl full of jelly and lay on the couch to conserve my mental energy. I still go and make a warm cup of tea as I find it's the ritual itself of making that cup of tea that is comforting, but I know that the tea won't magically fix my throat to get behind the mic right away. So if it's the process that makes you feel better, then, by all means, go ahead, make that tea with lemon, toss in a throat drop to soothe everything, because I'm also all about comfort. In fact, my nose is getting stuffy again, so I'm signing off, going to grab my knitting and rest. Take care! Stay well!