Navigating Menopause: Celebrating Your Changing Voice
Posted Friday, March 19th 2021 by Kristy Bissell
Kristy Bissell, Voice Teacher Associate
“Today is just an off day for me.”
“That must be mucus”
“I didn’t get enough sleep.”
These are some frequent comments I have heard in the voice studio from women experiencing change, unbeknownst to them that there is something more at play than just your average singer woes. Then there are the sadder and more destructive statements:
“My voice is just gone, and I am never getting it back.”
“There’s no point in even trying.”
“No one is going to want to listen to me now.”
“I should have used it more and now it’s gone for good. I give up.”
Do any of these comments sound familiar? Whether you want to believe it or not, the latter words have significant power and can stop us from pursuing our passion, hobby, or even career forever. The serious problem I am beginning to see is that we are now involved in our own fall. Gender inequality has been around since the beginning of time, it still persists, and some of us have learned to embody this for ourselves. It is our job to help ourselves and other women know that this does not have to entangle, harm, and own us. We hold up half the sky; our bodies and voices are needed. To be clear, you are needed. Make no mistake. It is my honest and true belief that it is not over for you despite your age. Your voice may be experiencing change and it may feel like this is the end of the road, but this does not have to be the narrative you keep. We should actively work towards accepting this and every change. After reading, I hope there will be a good sense of where to begin as well as provide actions to reduce stress and shame from whatever cycle of life you may be in.
A wonderful book was published last month: “Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause, and Beyond” by: Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman, and Cate Frazier-Neely. This book has opened my mind to so much that I should have already known as a 31-year-old woman. How is it that I can know so much about my instrument as a singer and yet so little about what my make up is as a biological woman? But, it is best that I begin with forgiving myself of the information that I did not know, like I will encourage you to do as well. Forgive yourself and move towards a positive light. Also, for all women that read this that were not biologically born a woman, please know that not having experienced any of these changes does not make you any less of a woman. We love you and support you as the beautiful woman you are and choose to be. Now let us move on to educate ourselves of what we have experienced and will/could experience. Afterall, a woman’s life cycle is beautiful and sacred and thus should be celebrated.
Here are the common hormonal phases a woman often experiences:
A fascinating detail to be known is that “The relationship between hormones and the voice has been known since the 8th and 9th centuries, but only as it affected male vocal development. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the effect of hormones on the female voice was considered in scholarly articles.” It is even common practice to assume that your western doctor will not know that the menopausal progression can cause changes in the speaking and singing voice. Educate yourself so that you can stand up for yourself in the doctor’s office.
My first bit of advice is proper practice scheduling. Taking voice lessons is probably the number one way to keep yourself on track. However, if you cannot afford that financially or because of time constraints, below is a list of activities to try at home.
1. Vocal Exercises
Let us discuss the vocal folds for a moment. “The internal, microscopic structure of the folds plays a significant role in sound production; they are composed of discreet layers of varying density and viscosity, which allows the inner and outer portions to move independently.”
What does that mean for the folds when our hormones shift with time? We must counteract this change with an array of vocal exercises that can keep those layers of the vocal folds malleable. Here are some helpful and gentle exercise examples to try: Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercises (SOVT) in general, Hums, Sirens, Lip Trills, Messa di Voce, etc. Rebecca Mosley-Morgan did a significant 6-year study worth looking into. Through her research she was able to see improved respiratory function and vocal range, and increased power and stamina. They also had improved evenness of tone and sang with less effort. Rebecca had her participants working at 20-minute increments which might be a nice place for you to start.
How much exercising should you do though? No one knows you better than yourself; trust your gut when to stop. When in doubt though, always consult with a voice teacher and they will be able to evaluate your specific needs.
2. Physical Activity/Practice
“Move it or lose it” is a common phrase I’ve found to be mainly true for voice users. Let’s discuss the reversibility principle from the Sport’s Science world. The idea of the reversibility principle is that the athlete (that’s you, singer!) can lose the effect of training if you stop the practicing. In general, it is important to take care of your whole self as a singer and as a general human. If you feel mentally drained, take the time to address that and be kind to yourself. If you have something that you need to take care of physically? Take care of it because you deserve it and it will make you a better singer. We will be providing additional information on the reversibility principle in future articles.
When we are premenopausal our bodies are made up of about 60-70% water but after menopause it drops down to about 55% water; That is significant. Estrogen makes it easier for our tissue to retain moisture. As the levels of our hormones lower, so does our body’s moisture. Simply drinking more water can improve brain function, improve skin, hair, and nail health better, reduce urinary urgency and bladder irritation, relieve nausea and hot flashes, reduce the intensity and frequency of headaches, and ease menopause cramps.
“There comes a time when it is no longer wise to focus on and keep trying to do what you can’t do any longer, and better to turn your attention to enjoying what you can do… focus on adapting to what’s happening in the present rather than resisting the changes and living in the past.” It can be hard to shift a mindset. This step can be one of the hardest things to do. If you always sang higher music on the staff and then one day you couldn’t reach as high as you once could, that can certainly make you feel bad about yourself. Make a playlist of all the amazing, lower voices out there that you enjoy listening to. Journal on all the qualities you hear in their tone quality. I am also a major advocate of changing the key when you need to, and there should be no shame in this. Many women, like Joan Baez, have done these exact same things, and people admire them for it. Just know you are not alone.
One of my favorite quotes is from the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, “When you’re feeling helpless, help someone.” There is also a prayer from “A Course in Miracles” by Helen Schucman that I think holds true to this notion.
(Please insert whatever pronoun you feel comfortable with if “Him” makes you uncomfortable in anyway):
“I am here to only to be truly helpful. I am here to represent Him who sent me. I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do, because He who sent me will direct me. I am content to wherever He wishes, knowing He goes there with me. I will be healed as I let Him teach me to heal.”
When you feel yourself turning inward and it isn’t serving you, try to find a friend who may be feeling helpless like yourself. Some examples of community for a singer like yourself could be choir, virtual singer groups (contact me if you can’t find any in your area – I have one for you!), women’s book clubs, friends, family, and community theatres.
6. Hormonal Replacement Therapy
The benefits to Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) cannot be denied. The research is slowly becoming expansive, and it is important to consider. If you have extreme or unbearable hot flashes, which affect around 25% of the women population in the menopause stages, it is something to strongly consider. According to the Los Angeles Times, women on HRT live, on average, several years longer than those not taking it. It is also commonly understood that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women; HRT can decrease your risk from 30% to even 50%. Another upside to HRT is you can cut your risk for hip fractures in half. Hip fractures are just as much of a killer as breast cancer in women. Lastly, it can reduce your risks of dementia. With all of these benefits in mind, it is important to consult with your doctor as well as family and friends if HRT is right for you. Ask around and see if anyone close to you has taken HRT. A lot of women still feel uncomfortable and apologetic talking about this life cycle so the courage to start the conversation can really help yourself and others.
7. Alternative Healing Methods
As musicians, I think we can find ourselves more apt to trying out-of-the-ordinary healing opportunities because we are more open creatures at our core. I don’t want to leave any stone unturned, so I hope this list will help for anyone that has tried it “all” and still has not found relief. The list is another finding from “Singing through Change.”
- Holistic and Integrative medicine
- Tai Chi and qigong
- Meditation and mantras
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Cranio-sacral therapy
- Massage and myofascial release
- Alexander technique
- Feldenkrais Method
- Structural body work such as Rolfing and Bowen Technique
- Chiropractic care
- Somatic experiencing therapy
- Brainspotting and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Expressive arts therapy
- Sound therapy
- Chakra healing
Remember that it is a gift to be alive and to take air into your lungs. I think after 2020 we all can sit back and find gratitude in this important but often under-appreciated activity. You have a unique beauty inside and out and we hope you share it! You are not alone in your challenge of accepting yourself. It’s going to be an everyday battle but there are so many women out there that are feeling the exact same way as you. You are not done yet. If you need additional resources or a listening ear, we are here for you!
1 Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman, and Cate Frazier-Neely, Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause, and Beyond, (Suquamish, WA: Studiobos Media, 2021), 1
2 Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman, and Cate Frazier-Neely, Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause, and Beyond, (Suquamish, WA: Studiobos Media, 2021), 7
3 Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman, and Cate Frazier-Neely, Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause, and Beyond, (Suquamish, WA: Studiobos Media, 2021), 16
4 Scott McCoy, Your Voice: An Inside View, (Gahanna, Ohio, 2019), 151
5 Rebecca Mosley Morgan. “Mature Female Singers: Teaching Tips and Myths.” By isingmag. Isingmag. October 22, 2019. Available: https://www.isingmag.com/how-t...
6 Sharon Perry,(2021) “Menopause and Dehydration: drink more water”, (Online). Available: https://gennev.com/education/m... (March, 2021)
7 Martha How, A User’s Manual for the Aging Voice (Devon, UK: Compton Publishing, 2019) 152, 149
8 Avrum Bluming and Carol Tavris, 2019, “Op-Ed: Once and for all: Hormone replacement is good for women”, (Online). Available: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-bluming-tavris-hormone-replacement-therapy-20190131-story.html (March, 2021)
9 Peralta, Jessica, 2018, “Can Estrogen Help Protect Women Against Dementia?”, (Online). Available: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/can-estrogen-protect-women-against-dementia (March, 2021)
10 Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman, and Cate Frazier-Neely, Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause, and Beyond, (Suquamish, WA: Studiobos Media, 2021), 98
Kristy Bissell is a Voice Teacher Associate at New York Vocal Coaching, specializing in Contemporary Commercial Music styles such as Pop, Rock, Musical Theatre, and R&B. She holds a Master's of Music in Vocal Pedagogy with a focus on Contemporary Commercial Music (CCM) from Shenandoah University, and a Bachelor's degree in Music Theatre with a Voice Minor from Seton Hill University.
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