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Voices of Protest – 5 Tips For Preventing Voice Misuse During Civic Action (Updated)

The weekend is upon us which means that many people are heading back out to protest. Here is an update to my post in April 2017 with a few tactics for maintaining voice health while you are out there. Be safe!

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho — Voice abuse has got to go!  

Our current reality seems to be one where protests are once again normal weekend activities. Add to this a new daily regimen of phone calls to elected officials and the constant onslaught of more information about policing, our government, and the pandemic. Some it is quite painful.

The potential for vocal fatigue caused by misuse and intense emotion is high.   We have all abused our voices at some point or another. For most of us, the first indication of trouble is hoarseness and/or laryngitis. In truth, our voices are typically warning us that there is an issue well in advance of that.  

What is vocal misuse?

Any behavior or occurrence that strains or injures the vocal folds. This may include excessive talking, throat clearing, coughing, inhaling irritants, smoking, screaming, or yelling. Speaking too loudly or at an abnormally high or low pitch. Speaking over other sounds such as in a noisy room or outdoors. Speaking with tension (during emotional conditions such as anger, frustration, or sadness). Speaking while constricting the airway such as when holding a phone between your jaw and shoulder, or compressing the neck.  

Some of us haven’t protested in many years. When I was doing this decades ago, losing one’s voice at a protest or a rally was a badge of honor. The frequency of protest in our modern reality makes this level of vocal abuse impossible to sustain. With Saturday’s protest crowd looking a lot like Monday’s product development meeting happening over Zoom, most of us can’t indulge in losing our voices for the street cred.  

Why should you care?  

Beyond the very simple fact that most of us need a voice to do our work, it is simply not practical to damage your primary method of communication. Also, the voice is second only to your face in how people recognize you as you. You owe it to yourself to know how to care for it, develop it fully, and help it recover when it is tired.  

What can be done?  

The keys to avoiding voice misuse are planning and awareness.

Protests, Marches, and Demonstrations  

These common forms of activism have the most potential to cross quickly from vocal misuse to actual abuse resulting in real vocal damage. The events are typically long (multiple hours), many are held outdoors and can involve chanting, shouting, and singing in alternating states of loud. At this moment, much of that is happening through face masks which cause many to push their voices even harder. That this behavior is damaging is not surprising as the results of the voice misuse are evident before the event has ended. What you may not know is that you can help yourself avoid real damage and still enjoy letting your voice be heard.  

How do I protect my voice?  

First of all, your general vocal health requires you to think about and prepare for the event at least a couple of days beforehand.  

  • Rest   You should try to get a full night’s rest in the 2-3 nights preceding the event to make sure your body is in the best shape possible to adapt.  
  • Drink water, eat well   Likewise, you should focus on getting the best nutrients in your diet and hydrating well (8-9 glasses of water per day) in the days leading up to the event.  
  • Pack well   Make sure you are carrying water, a snack, throat lozenges (I’ve listed some good options below), and hydrating snacks. Cucumber, pineapple, and green apple are particularly good for the voice. Avoid roasted nuts as small particles can cause coughing and add more stress on a high voice use day. If you are packing snack bars wash them down with plenty of water.   Many protests prohibit backpacks so you may need to plan another form of carrying — check the rules for your event.
  • Have a voice strategy   Warm up your voice lightly before you leave the house/hotel. Get online and find some easy voice warmups. You will find several on my FB page.     Bring a megaphone of your own. Make one out of paper if you don’t have an electric one. You can even make several and pass them out to help others. Here is a link: Construction Paper Megaphone.   Bring a sign. Design a cool (easy to carry) sign so that you can let your message be “heard” without having to shout it.   Take breaks. Regular breaks every 10-15 for 5 minutes at a time will go a long way. Use your sign, get some water, and let the group carry the message without you for a bit. Importantly, take a break whenever you feel your voice getting tired for 5-10 minutes.   BREATHE. Whether you are chanting or singing songs take good breaths in every pause. If you are out of breath from marching try to slow the breath down and take a voice break.  
  • Remember: If you can hear yourself you are too loud It is unlikely in these environments that your own voice is bouncing back to you. If you can hear yourself clearly, you are definitely using too much voice.
  • Recover   After the festivities, get some real food and drink at least two glasses of water before you even think of drinking anything else.   Cool Down. Once, you return home you will need to cool down. See the warmup post for an easy cool-down.   Rest the voice. If your strategies were successful you are likely only slightly fatigued so just resting (in other words stop talking) the voice for a few hours should be enough to start the recovery process.   Listen to your body. If you are feeling intense discomfort in the throat and/or speaking after vocal rest, especially if you have slept and still feel voice fatigue, you might need a little more care.  

What to do if you still have hoarseness and/or laryngitis?  

In many cases, your symptoms will resolve themselves with continued rest however if you feel pain or localized discomfort you should contact your doctor’s office. There are specialized massage therapies and applied vocal exercises that can help get your voice back but you should rule out actual vocal damage before you see a voice-use specialist.   So that is all for this segment. Now get out there and let your voice be heard (safely).  

Recommended Throat Lozenges

  • Thayers Slippery Elm Lozenges
  • Grether’s Black Currant Pastilles
  • Pine Bros Softish Throat Drops
  • Luden’s Sugarfree Throat Drops
  • Wedderspoon’s Maruka Honey Drops

In general, just avoid drops with menthol or eucalyptus when you are using your voice.  They are fine while you are resting.

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