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Speech 101
Stress and Your Voice
| Monday, 05.07.2018, 10:00 AM |   (39439 views)

Stress and Your Voice

By Ginny Kopf

Got stress? Yeah, I know you do. Stress contributes to glitches in your overall vocal performance. When we’re feeling great, our voice simply sounds better.

When we warm up to get ourselves to that wonderful balance between relaxed but energized, we’re taking back the control. We’re not settling for not feeling so good. There won’t be any “bad days” if we take this control. When we tune up our technique, including taming our mind, we make the most of our God-given instrument. And we grow. The breathing and tone exercises, the vocal gymnastics and scales get you as close to possible to 100% for that day—and not just physically/vocally, but also mentally and emotionally. It get us “in the now,” gets our “head in the game.” And it helps us shed any tension or thoughts that are holding back our best performance. Stress from thinking about things outside of the character’s thoughts puts us in the past (mulling over past failures, regrets, arguments, bitterness) or the future (worrying, doubting ourselves) rather than the present.

Your throat “wears” stress, and it can take a beating if you’re a stressful person. And aren’t we, as actors and singers, often high strung and sensitive by nature, teetering between vanity and self-doubt? It’s often what makes us great at feeling the depth of emotions for the characters we play.

Stress can make you sick, truly sick—a sore throat, cold, flu, allergy or asthma flair-up, stomach distress. No, it’s not “all in your head.” There really are symptoms. But I hate to tell you, your thoughts contribute to it, and your thoughts can keep you sick. In my private practice as a vocal coach, I’ve encountered numerous clients who get sick right before the big audition or show. It is a real illness, but there is a tie-in with their self-talk. I do a fair amount of life counseling in my practice. I advise them about when to see a doctor and what they can do on their own, as self-therapy, or what over-the-counter medicines they should take. But we do talk a bit about what they are thinking.

You’ve heard of the fear of failure? Well, there is also a fear of success! We sabotage ourselves. We get sick. Sorry to call some of you on the carpet, but by getting sick, now you have an excuse not to go to that audition. Or you have an excuse as to why you weren’t your very best. You can say, “I’m sick, that’s why I wasn’t that good.” I myself opened every show in college with laryngitis (with no other symptoms), and this pattern stopped once I realized what was going on. I believe that once we recognize that we are sabotaging ourselves, we quit falling into that pattern of losing our voices.

How you FEEL—about your voice, about your performance, about your part in your ongoing vocal health—manifests itself in the way your voice performs. Olympic athletes know how incredibly powerful their thoughts are in becoming a winner. Training the psychological aspect of their sport is as vital as training the physiological body. Taming the mind, emotions, and spirit takes as much (if not more) discipline and sacrifice as the physical training. We all know someone (maybe it’s you!) who has sabotaged their own career by their thoughts. They have the talent, but can’t seem to advance because of their negative self-talk. Shelves are full of books on success that address our positive thinking: the Walt Disney “if you can dream it, you can do it,” frame of mind. Or my favorite, “Success means getting your ‘but’ out of the way.” (Ben Franklin’s quote, as I recall.)

Well, “stinkin’ thinkin” has a lot to do with whether your voice heals and whether it will last through a rigorous schedule coming up. Insightful doctors will testify that their patients’ attitude had a lot to do with their recovery time. Hope is powerful. And self-therapy is empowering. Being able to stay vocally healthy without resorting to drugs is very empowering. (I repeat from the last article, that in some cases you absolutely must use antibiotics, pills, even have surgery.) The key is finding an amazing ENT—one that specializes in the professional singer or actor. We have several here in Orlando I recommend, who work with many of our Disney and Universal Studios performers.) And, in turn, they recommend me for vocal coaching.

So, when your voice is tired and hurting and won’t perform adequately, do all the babying of your voice as you can. Just knowing you’re doing all you can to get healthy will help you get healthy! Do a lot of the self-therapy tools I’ve suggested in previous articles, so you a have a sense of empowerment. You’ll heal faster if you feel you’re in control. Don’t be a victim and give in to the illness. Fight it. Tell your voice, “You ain’t the boss of me!”

Even when you are on full vocal rest you don’t have to feel you are just waiting it out. You can always make yourself feel better, (and do it using natural methods). For over 28 years, Ginny has given private lessons, taught college courses and workshops in voice, singing, accent reduction, public speaking, and dialects, and has authored The Dialect Handbook, and Accent Reduction for Professional American Speech CD set. Ginny can be reached at


On Vocal Rest, Yet Still Growing! by Ginny Kopf

I’ve actually given a number of lessons that are completely “silent.” The student doesn’t utter a word. They are on vocal rest. But instead of not doing anything, it empowers them to know they can still work on a lot of things! When you continue to work on your craft, you’ll heal faster, because of hope and optimism. Here are some things you can do without vocalizing:

*Work on your breath control. There is a years’ worth of exercises just on this.

*You can still work on articulation by mouthing the words.

*Do all kinds of yoga-like stretches to release physical and emotional tension. Work especially on your trouble spots: your neck, your jaw, your face, your shoulders. If you’re feeling up to it, dance! Just move and sway with the music. No head-banging, just free dance! Keep your neck really loose and soft.

*You can do massages of your vocal mechanism. Lightly rub around your voice box/larynx, massage up under your chin (that’s the base of the tongue). Massage your jaw. I rub the back of my throat (the soft palate) with my tongue, as a nice massage.

*Memorize lines. Get better at memorization.

*Work on your concentration for your acting, through listening to those relaxation tapes (with restful music, ocean or nature sounds, or some have a person leading you through guided imagery.) Rest your mind. Truly rest it.

*Fill your mind with learning. Listen to music, watch films and TV, and study up on the “greats” in this wonderful field. Read some biographies of famous actors and find out how they found success. Read plays and build up your knowledge of theatre literature.

*If you do watch TV and films, just be careful about what you’re watching, because your throat may still be constricting! There are thousands of tiny muscles surrounding your larynx and vocal cords, and they easily tighten up when you are stressed. Though you aren’t vocalizing, you may still be wearing out your throat as it tightens and releases during an action-packed, violent, or scary movie. Best to watch amusing comedies (but not the laugh-out-loud type). It’s proven by science that laughter helps CURE us, because it releases the chemicals that make us joyous. So, by all means, be happy!

*Avoid stressful situations as best you can. If you’ve pushed your voice at work all day and then come home to a very stressful environment, with disputes or anger, or fear and intimidation, or yelling at the kids, then you are continuing to damage your voice. Even if you aren’t yelling, you’re still constricting your throat and that is just as bad as yelling. I had one client who allowed herself a time of vocal rest after a hard vocal day: she went to a café and relaxed and read a magazine for about an hour, before she went home to her stressful home.

*Of course, you’ve let the answer machine pick up your calls. But put the phone on mute or your throat will tighten up. And please, avoid the stress of answering emails. Set time aside AFTER you’ve rested to answer all those pesky calls.

These techniques will not only help you advance in your training, it will give you the hope and optimism you need to heal. Sitting around worrying about whether your voice is going to come back is killing your chances of healing. Take charge of your ongoing vocal health.


For more tips, advice, private training, info on classes in Central Florida, contact Ginny Kopf, at For over30years, Ginny has given private lessons, taught college courses and workshops in voice, singing, accent reduction, public speaking, and dialects, and has authored The Dialect Handbook, and Accent Reduction for Professional American Speech


Ginny Knopf

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