Taking care of your vocal chords
Being an ALT and having a career that involves speaking loudly all day can be rough on the throat (especially when working in an elementary school!). Even before COVID-19 reared its ugly head, waking up one morning with a hoarse or even completely vanished voice was one of my biggest fears. As cold and flu season rapidly approaches, here are some tips to keep your throat nice and ready for reading tests and pronunciation practices. (Bear in mind that I am not a doctor; this is based purely on experience.)
Step 1- Staying Healthy
While simply blowing out your vocal cords from trying to stay audible over a noisy class is a very real situation, a sore throat is more often than not the symptom of your body trying to stop an oncoming cold. Additionally, trying to work through this symptom can cause even longer lasting damage to your voice. As such, the first step into maintaining your vocal cord health is to maintain your health overall.
Naturally, there are the precautions you should be taking anyways in relation to COVID- wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and practicing social distance. On top of that, keeping a regular sleep schedule, eating healthily when possible, and drinking lots of water are good ways to keep your body (and thus your immune system) boosted.
Step 2- Liquids
Drinking plenty of water is pivotal in many aspects. However, as the hot summer months leave for the year, we may start to consume less of it than needed. Remember to stay hydrated regardless of the weather outside. Consuming cold drinks may also be detrimental to your voice if it’s already strained, so drink lots of lukewarm or warm beverages.
A good (and seasonal!) drink to keep your throat in working condition is yuzu tea. You can either get a large jar of yuzu jam that will last you quite a while, or make your own with only some yuzu, a mason jar, sugar, and honey if you so choose. Take a little of the jam and pour some hot water over it to have yourself a soothing and sweet beverage.
Alcohol and coffee can actually dry out your vocal cords, so don’t count these as part of your hydration routine.
Step 3- Gargling
Not only is it good for keeping away viruses, but gargling is also great for swollen vocal cords! Gargle gently with lukewarm or warm (not hot!!!) saltwater before bed to prevent and ease swelling.
Step 4- Cough Drops
Be careful when choosing what cough drops to use. Mint, menthol, and eucalyptus may have a calming effect on a sore throat, but they can dry out vocal cords and cause long-term damage. Anything with honey is also preferable to sugar. Don’t use them in class, though!
Step 5- Warm-ups
Doing light exercises with your neck and shoulders before class can actually help your voice last for longer. Humming will also help to warm-up those muscles. But, however tempting it may be, try to avoid clearing your throat. While it may feel good and may help a hoarse voice sound better for a bit, it can also cause damage.
Step 6- Humidity
Fall and winter in Japan can feel incredibly dry after the humidity of the summer months have passed. Unfortunately, this dryness can have a negative impact on your skin, eyes, and throat. Investing in a humidifier for your room may be a good investment towards optimizing your health and ability to work at your full potential. You don’t even have to shell out thousands of yen for one, either! Most 100 yen shops will have some smaller, compact models that you can keep by your bedside and won’t break the bank, either.
Step 7- Don’t Overdo It
When a class is unruly, it can be tempting to raise your voice. However, shouting will rarely– if ever– be helpful. And not only that, but it will also be very detrimental to your throat very fast. Avoid going over the limit of what your voice was meant to do. Take breaks when you can. If your throat is already starting to feel not in such great shape, see what you can do to avoid pushing yourself too far.
Take care of yourself as the days get colder! Few things are more miserable than trying to lead chants when your voice is gone.