I’m going to talk right to my actors with this one. But take note - if you’re not an actor, that doesn’t mean you don’t belong here. Plenty of self-aware, voice-curious people can swim in the acting pond no problem.
Here we go...
The idea of self care gets thrown around a lot. My insta is fuuulll of it. Feeling burnt out? It’s time for self care! No time for self care? Then you need self care now more than ever! Take a shower, put on clean clothes, have a cup of tea. Relax!
Ever notice that nothing makes you tense up quite as much as being told you need to relax? And that tensing up makes lots of things lack flow - including your voice. Especially when these endless pandemic groundhog days got you heading straight to the computer to make yet another self-tape with barely any transition. Pretty weird for an embodied work/ collaborative kind of person.
The thing about stress (and you definitely know this already) is that it’s not a one-time thing. That cup of tea may give us a few moments of relief, but it doesn’t make the stress go away. Heck, even when we finish the task or escape the conditions that have been causing us stress, the feelings don’t all vanish at once.
Ever finish a project or get through a stressful tech rehearsal weekend and still find you can’t settle down? The stress cycle roars on.
I’ve been reading the Nagoski sisters’ book Burnout and have a few thoughts to share so far. The book talks about the stress cycle and how we’re conditioned to expect that achieving a goal will relieve stress, even though that’s not always the case.
The Secret to Stress Release
According to the Nagoskis and many other researchers, the feelings of stress need to be processed physically (and I’d add vocally) as well as mentally/emotionally. Think of it as stress release, rather than relief.
Stress doesn’t magically go away. It’s not always enough to take a few quiet minutes for yourself and tell your mind that the worst is over. Even if you can just “carry on”, that doesn’t mean you should. Very often you need to find a physical/vocal outlet too. This could be:
Exercise/Movement - This could be anything that feels right. Take a walk outside. Do some yoga or dance it out. No time or space for any of that? Tune into your body, and move in the way it’s asking to be moved. Swing your arms in place or walk vigorously around the room.
Breathing - deep breathing helps regulate the nervous system and relieves stress. Even just a few deep breaths can take the edge off.
Positive Social Interaction - Even micro interactions like a quick text or social media message go a long way. Better yet if you can hear someone’s voice or see them face to face—from a safe distance of course.
Laughter - I can barely begin to describe the many benefits of laughter. It centers your breathing, it relieves tension, it boosts serotonin in your brain, and it’s the best kind of contagious for the stressed out people around you
Affection - this can take so many forms. A kind word. A fist bump. A gift or doing a favour for a friend. Affection connects us with others in a way that very little else does.
Big emotions - We’re taught to suppress negative emotions from a very early age. But letting them out is one of the best stress relievers there is, provided you do it in a safe way. Cry, shout, squeal, laugh. Don’t worry about looking silly. Ignore the people who tell you it will get better. Feel what you want to feel and let it into the world.
Create something - The creative process can be a huge outlet for so many of the things already on this list. From finding channels for big emotions, to enjoying positive interactions with others, creating something—whether it’s a piece of theatre, a short dance, or even an online play reading—can be an amazing way to bring all the stress release pieces together.
How to Use Voice Work for Stress Release
Throw a rock on the internet and you’ll hit a dozen articles about self care. So why are we talking about it here? Because building a voice practice is a rock solid way to incorporate many of the key elements of stress release, and build your acting chops at the same time.
Embodied voice work hits all the points above. Don’t believe me? Here’s how:
Exercise - Movement is a critical part of voice work. We shimmy, we roll. Linklater voice work is as much about the body as the voice, and much of the movement we incorporate is based on modified yoga poses. Moving your whole body releases stress and your natural voice at the same time.
Breathing - Holding our breath is extra loaded these days. In the work I teach, we tune into our breath to sensitize our awareness and get in touch with our feelings; and we train our voices to ride out on the breath, while staying transparent to that essential, central, place. We do this by letting go of tense abdominals, letting our shoulder blades slide down our backs, and letting go on the outgoing breath. Each breath can let go of stress and tension while bringing us into the present moment (key for actors, and so helpful for lay people too).
Voicing - An actor's voice needs to express truthfully the immediacy of the moment. And oh there’s a LOT that needs expressing right now. Expressing the truth of the moment takes courage and practice. And if you’re not practicing TO express it, then you’re unconsciously practicing not to.
Positive Social Interaction - Everything I teach is about creating authentic connection. From the way we speak and the sounds we make to the way we make clear eye contact with the people we’re speaking to, voice work is all about connection. We hold space for this in online spaces too. Our zoom rooms and FB lives are some of the most supportive spaces around.
Laughter - Laughter integrates so many of the parts of speech. Our breath, our mouths, our throats. If we can connect with deep authentic laughter, we can use the same connection to free our natural speaking voice.
Affection - Expressing affection is a two-way street. People need to believe your love language is sincere. Learning to share emotion authentically is so important for it to be felt by the recipient.
Big emotions - Let it out! What’s a voice practice if not a safe space to explore all the emotions—good, bad and everything in between? Carefully guided to channel it all into the work, there’s room for all feelings in voice work.
Create something - Voice work leaves creative expression splattered all over the place. We speak, we laugh, but we also draw and write and speak text. It’s an interactive creative collaborative process from beginning to end.
Your Voice is You. Take Care of Your Voice and Yourself at the Same Time
Long story short, voice work is self care. By creating a practice, you have a stress release outlet that you can tap into anytime. If you’re ready to start building that practice, come check out the Freedom in 5 mini-course. Five minutes a day for five days is all you need to start releasing stress and taking better care of yourself. Sign up now to receive the first course email.