Wintertime can be divided into two halves: the period leading up to and including the holidays, then the anguishing period of waiting for spring to finally rescue us from the doldrums. It is this latter half that really tests our immune systems. It seems as though right around now, February, everyone we know has some kind of cold.
Upper respiratory illnesses can be disastrous for singers. It can quickly ruin our plans to head into the studio, play a show, or even keep up with our practice schedule. My students often ask me this time of year, what they can do when the ubiquitous "winter cold" strikes. Here's a short list of some of my favorite comforts, remedies and preventatives:
- Sleep, Hydration and Relaxation. It's what our parents told us, but as adults it still bears reminding. It can take a great deal of effort to set aside our responsibilities to co-workers, children, clients, spouses and the world at large, but even a temporary leave of absence on some of your duties can make a big difference. Try to set aside a moment to read a book in the bathtub. Turn your phone off and tell your family to give you an hour. Stress and fatigue will lengthen your illness, and often cause it. Hasten your recovery by taking some "me-time."
- Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol. I love a cup of coffee in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening, but these stimulants not only compromise your already taxed immune system, but they dehydrate your mucus membranes. It is imperative to keep your sinus cavities, and their silia which help move the illness out of your body, hydrated. Below are some suggestions for alternatives to your favorite grown-up treats.
- Throat Coat Tea. This tea is delicious and it does exactly as the name advertises - it coats your throat. It includes naturally soothing ingredients such as licorice root and marshmallow root, which become viscous when steeped. I drink this when I am well too!
- Homemade Chai. Sure, you can buy some chai at a coffee shop, or get those flavored tea bags at the store, but this is not the real deal. My husband learned to make chai from an Indian family he played music with in Texas. He grates fresh ginger into the boiling water, and this makes all the difference. Ginger is not only an immune booster, but it is a natural stimulant. Combined with the gentle tasting black tea, this will keep you feeling awake and energized without the come down effect of coffee. I switched completely to chai while I was pregnant and did not get sick once! Here is the recipe my husband uses:
- Boil half a pot of water, add freshly grated ginger (peeled or not is up to you) and freshly ground cardamon pods including the husks (loosely crush them in a mortar, just enough to open the pods)
- You can add ground black pepper, white pepper, cloves, cinnamon, mint or other spices if they sound good to you and you have them in house. The basic recipe is plenty delicious on it's own but the above spices have their own medicinal properties as well.
- Add a few Tbsp of loose leaf black tea (amount depends upon your taste), we like to buy Mamri tea from the Indian market because it tastes great, but we've used Lipton in a pinch.
- After boiling for 5 minutes or so, reduce heat to low and fill the rest of the pot with milk. Stir frequently to prevent scalding.
- Strain into cups.
- Add a sweetener of your choice, or none at all.
- Heat on low equal parts chicken broth (homemade is best!) and coconut milk.
- Add fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro.
- *It is very important that you use either boiled water or distilled water because tap water has some microscopic bacteria that can cause serious harm via the mucus membrane if not killed through treatment. Information from the CDC can be found here.