How Wearing Masks Affects Your Vocal Health – Episode 8

How Wearing Masks Affects Your Vocal Health

In these challenging times, unprecedented event, whatever you want to call it, it's not very common to go out and meet people anymore. So when we do, there are rules to abide by, protocols we should follow, and generally, for my own peace of mind and safety, I've been keeping my family's bubble very small. But life goes on and you make choices for when it's best to head out. And first of all thank you for doing so. For keeping yourself and those around you safe. Keeping distant and wearing masks.

Recently, I went for a rare in-person meeting. I was a little nervous, not with the meeting itself, but with having more than two or three people in the same room. It's gotten to a point now where the pandemic has re-wired my brain to know that two to three people in a room is a lot. Definitely a weird world we are living in, but this is the way my brain has now worked itself out. So we decided to have the meeting outside and everyone would wear a mask. Perfect! I was cool with that.

However, when you wear a mask, that changes your voice. It shifts how you speak to be more animated, to speak louder through your mask. Because we were outside on a busy street, there was loud traffic rumbling by and everyone was more spread out for social distancing, so everyone's voice needed to project louder, so we could all be heard.

In fact, I'm going to put my mask on now, so you can hear the difference.

Recording a podcast episode with a mask on. Definitely weird. It's a first time for everything.

Mine is two layers of densely woven cotton fabric that I sewed myself. It's hard to breathe in, hard to talk in recording a podcast. So that's going to take away from my voice first with the mask on my face. I can already tell that I am already trying to speak a lot louder than I normally would. I don't have enough breath. Not because I feel claustrophobic, but it's harder to breathe in fresh air, oxygen, into my lungs because of the mask. If you don't have enough breath, your vocal cords can't work. Vocal cords need air in order to work, so it's definitely harder to breathe while I have a mask on. There's no voice without your breath. So having to breathe more heavily changes the way I speak. Then, of course, there's the fact that I have these two layers of fabric in front of my mouth. Muffling the vibrations coming out of my mouth. The full richness of my voice is blocked and I need to speak louder to be heard more clearly, even to myself recording this podcast!

Lastly, in order to still convey the same emotions and passion in my voice, I need to be more animated in my body, my facial expressions, and also my voice. All this comes into play and my brain actually gets more tired because, as I said before this is not normal. Your brain is processing much more information than it normally would, without a mask on with a regular conversation, so it's more taxing on your brain cells.

OK, even with that short period of recording with my mask on, I'm done. Time to take it off and get some water.

Recording a podcast with a mask on is definitely something new, definitely tricky. So think back to when you had to wear your mask for longer periods. Longer than what I did. Now this meeting I had was only about an hour and my voice was hoarse and dry. I totally forgot to bring my water bottle with me! But even with the water, it wouldn't have helped in that situation with my mask on.

Think of any form of exercise that you do. If you want to lift weights, but you don't do it very often, I bet you can't start lifting over 100lbs just like that. And if you could, you're probably straining your back, arms, legs, neck, face, all of your body to make happen. And if you continue to work out this way, your body is going to fight back with a pulled muscle, herniated disc, back spasms or worse. It's all the same with your voice.

Everyone has a natural range that they speak in. Most people are monotone and speak in a very limited range. So when we are all wearing masks and needing to speak louder to be heard, we are straining muscles that are not under normal circumstances. Yes, none of 2020 has been very normal.

So I want you to be more aware of your voice in your daily life. Most people don't think about their voice until something is wrong or they lose it. As a Podcaster, your voice is your instrument. Without, you can't have a podcast! Plain and simple. So know that what you do with your voice on a daily basis is very very important.

Know how long you'll be speaking behind a mask. Schedule in rest time for your voice. And when I say rest time, I mean stop talking. Not just stop talking loudly with your mask on. I mean stop talking. Going back to that exercise analogy, if you have strained a leg muscle, will you still go on a run? No, you'll probably sit at home, put your feet up, and care for it with ice or heat until it gets better and then go for your run again. Same for your voice. Your vocal cords need to rest. Oh and don't think that whispering will help. Whispering is actually more harmful to your voice than talking loudly. All that extra air and pressure and air passing through your cords, all that whispering, dries them out, but we can get into the details of that on another episode.

So as a Podcaster, what are you doing on a daily basis for the health of your voice? Think about how often you use it and if you treat it like a muscle, like an exercise, when are you planning on a rest? Aside from when you're actually asleep. Well, sometimes people talk in their sleep, so maybe you're not resting your voice there either. Thinking of the work that you do when you're recording, if you batch recordings, so recording multiple episodes back to back, you need to plan in breaks to rest your voice. Your vocal cords are part of a very complex system of muscles and like any other muscle in your body, it needs recovery time.

And water. I will do another episode in the future about what to drink or eat or not drink or eat for your voice, but know that your vocal health all comes down to water. As Podcasters using your voice all the time, we need to be drinking almost 2 litres every day (that's about half a gallon every day) because the water needs to get in your system first. It's actually not touching your vocal cords. The water you are drinking, if you take a sip now, it does nothing for your voice. If you are already dehydrated, the water that you drink right now goes to your vital organs first to keep you alive. That's what's the water is for, we're mostly water our bodies. It will go to those vital organs first before it ever decides to hydrate your vocal cords. If there's any water left after your vital organs, it will then go to the other parts including your vocal cords. Your vocal cords isn't high on the priority list to keep you alive. But we'll get off that soapbox for now.

So back to this episode about how wearing a mask affects your vocal health. There's so much more strain in our voices these days and wearing a mask is a big part of it. I've noticed it myself that my voice is more strained at the end of the day outside with a mask on. But we need to keep wearing our masks, for the time being, so be aware of your voice and what it's doing. Check-in with yourself after every conversation to see if you need to stop talking and rest the most important instrument you have for podcasting; your voice.

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