Singing and STRESS: What To Do About It

Jaime Babbitt discusses The effects of stress on the singing voice.
The effects of stress on the singing voice.
Whether you are in isolation – or coming out of it – former Disney coach Jaime Babbitt has your back.

Show of hands: who’s been an extra-special brand of anxious lately? (Stops typing, eats more Reese’s Peanut Butter Minis, raises both hands…) 

What with the whole world being different and all…who can blame us? We are dealing with unique types of grief, best explained in this well-worth-reading article from the Harvard Business Review.

Stress, Singers & Chocolate…

Many of us are apresently living in quarantine/sheltering in place, or just beginning to come out now. Both situations are stress inducing; while in quarantine, we’re isolated, lonely, working less (or not at all) and unable to see too far into the future. If we’re coming out of quarantine, we still may be feeling all those things, plus we may be feeling more freaked out being exposed to other people, etc. 

Now more than ever, we need tools to develop mindfulness and self-soothing behaviors that don’t include ingesting chocolate. Not that this is a stretch for you to believe singing is a wonderful stress-releaser; we know this via various studies. Singing raises endorphins, lowers heart rates, opens neural pathways so our memory banks remain strong, etc. But, dear readers, what about stress and how it impacts us vocalists and our voices? I haven’t found any studies about that. However, we’d better know the monster so we can disarm the monster, n’est-ce pas?

Stress and the Voice

Let’s face it, being stressed can happen when we feel all the things we feel. You’re getting married? You’re getting divorced? You’re too fat? You’re too thin? You have too much money? You don’t have enough money? Guess what: you’re probably stressed! (Okay, the ‘thin’ and ‘too much money’ parts I have problems with, but for argument’s sake let’s run with it…) My point is: stress is not just reserved for when the world is in crisis. 

Nonetheless, your body perceives stress as ‘danger is imminent/here’ and as a result, various things happen within our bodies/nervous systems. Our central nervous system helps us control (voluntarily) parts of our apparatus responsible for singing, talking, etc. We also have an autonomic nervous system that controls all the inside stuff: heartbeat, saliva production, etc. 

Singing Under Stress: What to Do About It

We’ve all experienced the feelings of fear, distress and threat. Well, here’s what can happen – and what to do:

  • We breathe more quickly and in a shallower manner – if we do that and try to sing, that pretty much kiboshes any chance we have of holding solid notes. If you’re anxious about your current situation, this may describe how you feel. If you’ve been sick, you may not even be able to take full, satisfying breaths yet. So, all of you: you’ll have to get back to singing slowly, starting with deep breathing exercises that will help you get back to your former strength and stamina levels. Shallow breathing means the muscles you’ve known and loved in your belly don’t get to properly support you and you wind up breathing high up into your chest, with shoulders (perhaps) rising. I highly recommend doing what I call 4-7-8 breathing: inhale through the nose for 4, hold for 7 and release through nose (or mouth) for 8. Very relaxing; don’t drive and do this!
  • Muscles in your neck, tongue and shoulders get verrrry tight – It’s a singer’s nightmare, having to deal with pain during your favorite activity.  If you feel tension in life, it stands to reason you can feel tension in your larynx. How many of us have gotten laryngitis before a big gig, show of hands? Mine’s up, too, so you’re in good company. Know that you can mitigate the effects stress has on your singing voice by learning how to keep your body limber and stretched…even if you feel emotionally taxed. Here’s a wonderful video I use a LOT; it’s a technique called myofascial release:

Fascia refers to bands of connective tissue that stabilize, attach to and separate muscles and organs, etc. Myofascial Release uses pressure to loosen and lengthen constricted fascia. It breaks down internal scar tissue between muscles,    helping to allow for freer and less restricted movement. You see, letting the body take the lead can be very cathartic; you   can’t always think your way out of stress. As I always say, “Free your a** and your mind will follow!”

  • Dry mouth and throat – This is an obvious presentation of fear, and one that can be a source of lots of further stress and discomfort. Staying hydrated can be a pain during garden-variety stressful times….how can we keep on top of it when there’s so much else on our minds? Well, the good news is: you may have more time on your hands right now, so it should be a lot easier to monitor your fluid intake, yes? You can also keep in mind some wonderful hydrators besides water: Smartwater (or any alkaline water with electrolytes), Pedialyte (for super-dehyrated folks), Gatorade (yeah, I know, lotsa sugar. Try G2, which has less…), coconut water (the best!) and, good old watermelon, which quenches your thirst and tastes divine. Avoid coffee, tea and soda, but this you know!
  • Insomnia. Get your sleep habits on the right track, however you can. Insomnia can take your voice out quicker than you can say, “Oops, that note isn’t happening today!” During this time, I say: by any means necessary, and I do mean any means. If you need some pharmaceutical help, talk to your doctor; if you prefer, use on-the-market products like CBD oil, melatonin or this product, which I love. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any new protocol:

Help from an Old Saying

I don’t know how much this will help, but I really like to remember this old saying during hard times: Everything always works out in the end. If it’s not worked out yet, it’s not the end.  So don’t give up, and don’t let stress give you any further reasons to give up, either. You’ve worked too hard on your voice to let that happen!


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