"One of the worst things that can happen during your show’s Hell Week is getting sick."
"One of the worst things that can happen during your show’s Hell Week is getting sick."
(courtesy of Microsoft Office Images)
Hello, folks! I hope you've been getting more rest lately than I have. I'm still pledging Delta Kappa Alpha, my school's coed, pre-professional cinema fraternity (see my article on networking), but I'm in the final stretch. Many organizations would call it Hell Week (we call it "Trial by Fire")—the crunch time where everything must get done, sleep is scarce and scattered, and people bond together through the stress of it all.

Our "Trial by Fire" week is reminding me a lot of the "Hell Week" we go through when putting on a show. The long nights of working your tail off and crawling into bed exhausted, but knowing it will all be worth it when you look back and think those were some of the best times.

BUT. One of the worst things that can happen during your show's Hell Week is getting sick. It all starts with that tickle in your throat or a runny nose. Then the warning signs get clearer; a cough, fatigue, and (worst of all) loss of voice. How can you keep yourself healthy when sleep deprived and stressed out?

1) Manage the crap out of your time
I'm literally talking planning in bathroom breaks here. Using whatever calendar you like, plan out each hour you have when you're not in class or rehearsal. Then STICK WITH IT. Plan in breaks so you don't get burned out and get off schedule anyways! Between class, rehearsal, and schoolwork, there's hardly time to breathe, especially if you fill in those extra minutes with Facebook and Tumblr. Just accept that you'll have limited access to social media and BE GOOD! There are services you can download for free that you can use to self-limit your access to certain websites (the one I use is Self Control).

2) Eat healthily
Yes, it's SO much easier to swing by Wendy's or 5 Guys during dinner break. But not only will fast food slow you down, it lacks a lot of vital nutrients you need to keep your energy going for long periods of time. You'll get back from dinner break wanting to take a nap, not run the opening number for the 18th time. Make sure to get lots of vegetables and fruits in, which have natural sugars and vitamins that will keep you going! And don't forget the snacks—much better to maintain feelings of hunger than to go from starving to eating a huge meal.

3) Sleep
One of those "Well yeah, I WISH!" things, I know. But when you're not in class or in rehearsal, napping needs to be your #1 priority. When you sleep, your body has time to relax, heal, and unwind. I've learned the hard way this past weekend; when you're sleep deprived, not only do you function on a much lower level, but you're NOT fun to be around. Better to skip the socializing with your roommates and get that extra hour of sleep. You'd probably end up being a grump in the morning anyways.

4) A few tips for vocal health
Here's a list of tips I've found over the years that have kept me from seriously damaging my voice:
• Talk quietly, DON'T WHISPER. Whispering puts more strain on the vocal cords, which get squeezed together more tightly to produce sound without volume. Instead, talk in a soft voice.
• Don't eat spicy foods or anything that will give you acid in your stomach.
• My miracle juice: hot water with as much honey and lemon as possible. I have a friend who puts a dash of cayenne pepper in there if her nose is stuffy—clears it right up!
• Spend as much time alone as possible. If you're with people, you will talk and tire out your voice. Seems extreme, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
• WATER WATER WATER. As a past instructor so delicately put it, "Pee clear."

And here's the kicker that will send most people running for the hills:

5) AVOID CAFFEINE (unless absolutely necessary)
Ack! See? Even I'm addicted! Chugging lattes and energy drinks during hell week sure does keep you going, but at what cost? Not only does it wreak havoc on your nervous system, but caffeine seriously dehydrates you, causing hoarse voices to become even rougher with scratchy vocal chords. If you can't resist, drink a ton of water to make up for it!

As we come into this last month of school, remember, when your health comes first, everything will seem MUCH more manageable. Stay happy and healthy everyone!