How can I look after my voice?

How can I look after my voice?

It is vital that teachers look after their voices properly. A voice problem can have significant repercussions for teachers, both in their professional and personal lives.  Voice difficulties can cause sick leave, speech and language therapy management, and surgical intervention, which can prove costly (Mattiske et al 1998). Severe voice problems can also result in a teacher permanently leaving the profession (Mattiske et al 1998). Here are some tips that teachers can incorporate into their daily working life to prevent voice problems.

 

“I am a teacher and use my voice all the  time “ how can I look after my voice?”
Teachers and other professionals who use their voice on a regular basis and for prolonged periods are at a higher risk of voice problems at some point in their career. Voice problems can be because the person uses their voice a lot, and also because of poor voice care.

Speech and language therapists help adults with voice problems and can recommend ways to take care of your voice. You can avoid long term damage to your voice by following recommendations in voice care, and by attending a speech and language therapist when your voice problems persist.

You should contact your GP for a referral to an Ear Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT) and Speech and Language Therapist, if you experience prolonged and recurring hoarseness in the absence of a cold or throat infection and a persistent change in the pitch or quality of your voice.

Vocal problems can be caused by the following:

  • Stress: Stress can result in increased muscle tension in the shoulders and the neck. This in turn has a negative effect on the voice quality.
  • Irritation: Smoking irritates the vocal cords. As the smoke is inhaled, the particles stick to the vocal cords and dry them out and cause irritation.
  • Dehydration: Substances such as caffeine, alcohol and some medications can dry out your throat.
  • Throat clearing and coughing: We do this when there is a foreign substance in our throat; however when we cough or throat clear we are hitting out vocal cords off each other which can cause damage if done regularly.

 

Strategies:

1) Hydration
There is a mucous membrane on our vocal cords which protects them, but can dry out. It is important to keep rehydrating your vocal cords to maintain this mucous membrane. Drink plenty of water and increase your water intake if drinking caffeine. The guideline is for every cup of coffee or serving of alcohol you should drink an extra glass of water. Keep your vocal cords hydrated by keeping the atmosphere hydrated. Try placing a glass of water on the radiator, allowing it to evaporate into the air in the room. Steaming can also rehydrate vocal cords. Place your head over a bowl of steaming water and breathe in. Droplets of water will land on your vocal cords as the moist air passes in. If you feel that you need to clear your throat or cough, take a drink and if you have no water nearby do a hard or strong swallow.
2) Relaxation and Breathing
Breathing is part of the relaxation process. Most of us do not use our full lung capacity – we tend to shallow breathe and just use the top part of our lungs. More effective breathing should be slow and smooth, involving in and out movements of your stomach and not just chest (diaphragmatic breathing). As you become more relaxed, breathing becomes slower and therefore the body does not need to work as hard and you can feel more rested. Try to develop slow and even breathing and concentrate on breathing out until your lungs are empty and then take a slow steady breath in until your lungs are full. Breathing deeply also helps you to project your voice more effectively. When your lungs are not full, you push out the words with a small amount of air.

Diaphragmatic breathing, on the other hand, is very effective:
a) Stand against a wall with your head, shoulders and bottom touching the wall. Place one hand on your midriff and one on your chest.
b) Breathe out to remove as much air as possible from your lungs. Your midriff area should move inwards but the hand on your chest should not move.
c) Now breathe in steadily through your mouth and your midriff area should move outwards. As you breathe out, your lungs reduce in size and your diaphragm moves up and thus your stomach moves in.
d) Repeat this exercise a few times. Once you have got the hang if it, you can take a few diaphragmatic breaths before you begin speaking.
3) Warm up your voice
Just like we warm up our muscles before playing sport, we need to gently stretch the muscles that we use to create voice before talking for long periods of time. Try sliding your voice up and down a scale using a sound such as “mmmm”. Gentle humming and yawning with voice are also useful for warming up your voice.

4) Vocal use
As shouting can damage your voice, you should use a firm voice, and speak clearly and slowly. Try to use different techniques to get attention in a classroom situation such as clapping, or banging on the desk. Rest your voice at regular intervals during the day. Try and plan your day so that you are alternating between speaking and quiet activities. As whispering can strain your voice, try to use a quiet voice instead.
5) Posture
Stand up tall and have your two feet planted firmly on the ground. Try to balance your weight evenly. Try to keep your shoulders and arms relaxed. Sit square in the chair with both feet on the floor and dont hunch over. The above exercises are guidelines to assist with areas of voice care. If you are having difficulties with your voice you should contact a Speech and Language Therapist.

Resources:
INTO information on Voice care for teachers: http://www.into.ie/NI/Teachers/TeacherHealth/VoiceCare/
ASTI voice care: http://www.asti.ie/payand-conditions/conditions-of-work/healthand-safety/voice-care/

If you have any questions about any of the above, please don’t hesitate to contact us.