Mind Matters – how subconscious anxiety can affect the voice

I am a holistic vocal coach. What does this really mean? It means that I address the singer or speaker not as a machine made of parts that need to function better, but as a whole physical, emotional and spiritual being. I trained as a singer and as a vocal coach at the Royal Academy of Music under some of the UK’s best tutors so, of course, I address the technical and physiological aspects of the voice.

Singers who come to me want to belt higher, sing with more power and use different qualities of voice to suit varying styles of music. These things can’t be achieved without a sound and solid knowledge of technique.

However, what I have found over the years is that technique alone is not enough. I also trained as a holistic medicine practitioner and my in-depth training included muscle testing analysis, nutrition, acupressure, lymphatic massage, gentle structural manipulations, specialist counselling skills and various forms of energetic and vibrational medicine.

My knowledge in these areas has proved invaluable in my work as a vocal coach and, as time goes on, I realise more and more that clients require a deeper approach to their vocal education.

What I have found is that by addressing the emotions and the subconscious aspects of using the voice, my clients get much quicker, longer-lasting results. Let me give you an example. One client, a dancer who started with me six months ago, came for a consultation wanting to generally improve her singing voice so she could apply for more musical theatre roles. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. This young woman could not stand up and sing for more than 30 seconds without bursting into tears.

On the surface, she was confident, articulate and intelligent, and possessed a lovely-sounding voice. She was highly-skilled as a dancer and highly-valued in her industry, having worked for a number of years in the UK and internationally but, when it came to singing, something was not working for her.

I have found the most powerful way to get someone to sing better is to help them develop a strong, secure sense that what they have to offer is valuable and worthwhile. What often holds a performer back is the belief that nobody wants to hear what they have to offer, but this is just a thought. The seed of the thought was probably first planted by a primary carer, family member, friend or teacher and then confirmed by the situations we create for ourselves as our future unfolds. We constantly confirm those thoughts to ourselves and develop belief systems that, really, are just illusions. It’s not a situation, person or thing that causes us stress and anxiety, but our thoughts about them. If we can change the thoughts we have about something, we can change the stress surrounding it.

So, let’s just think of emotions as energy. The body is an electrical circuit. Our brains are constantly firing electrical signals to the muscles and organs so they can function – just think about what you feel when you get an electric shock from a car door, an escalator or even another person’s touch. In fact, the human body has enough electricity in it at any one time to power a light bulb.

I’ll briefly explain how the electricity of your body actually works. When resting, your cells have more potassium ions inside and there are more sodium ions outside. Potassium ions are negative, so the inside of a cell has a slightly negative charge. Sodium ions are positive, so the area immediately outside the cell membrane has a positive charge.

However, there isn’t a strong enough charge difference to generate electricity in this resting state. When the body needs to send a message from one point to another it opens the “gate”. When the membrane gate opens, sodium and potassium ions move freely in and out of the cell.

Negatively-charged potassium ions leave the cell, attracted to the positivity outside the membrane and positively-charged sodium ions enter it, moving toward the negative charge. The result is a switch in the concentrations of the two types of ions – and a rapid switch in charge. This flip between positive and negative generates an electrical impulse. This impulse triggers the gate on the next cell to open, creating another charge, and so on. In this way, an electrical impulse moves from a nerve in your stubbed toe to the part of your brain that senses pain. This is also how we tell our heart muscles to contract, how our eyes tell our brain that what they just saw is the word “brain”, and how you are comprehending this article at all. Still with me?

The tricky bit out of the way, how does this relate to singing and emotions and the subconscious? Put simply, emotions are just electrical impulses.

What do you feel when you get nervous? Increased heart rate, swirling stomach, heavy breathing, sweaty palms? What do you feel when you get stressed? Tense jaw, tight abdomen, racing brain, increased heart rate? These are all physical symptoms that begin as a reactive thought, transform into an electrical signal, and are transmitted to the muscles and organs and impact them. Imagine the cumulative result of all these elements on the ability to sing optimally. Nightmare, right?

So, what was happening with the singer to whom I was referring earlier? Whatever subconscious belief she had about herself and what she had to offer as a singer was totally “blowing” her electrical circuit. Her crying was the consequence of energy that needed to be released.

Thankfully, it is possible to change and retrain the electrical signals in your body. Thanks to the wonder of traditional Chinese medicine, knowledge of the meridian energy pathways and cutting-edge research in this area, we are able to tap into the energetic and electrical systems of the body and help it to prevent, release or redirect these signals. This means we can calm them down or even prevent them from occurring in the first place when we do not need them. This not only has miraculous results with stress, anxiety and panic attacks but also with fears, phobias, negative thought patterns and addictions.

So, in my practice, I will, like a detective, question and dig for the root cause of a negative thought pattern, decipher where the emotional electrical energy is getting stuck in the body and work to “redirect” it with various gentle-but-powerful techniques such as meridian and chakra balancing, Eye Rotation Subconscious Release Technique and Emotional Meridian Tapping Technique among others. The result is the release of negative thought patterns and behaviours by the subconscious, freeing the singer to fully believe in what it is they have to offer. The work can often take a few sessions, but the results me and my clients have seen is nothing short of miraculous. I believe this is the future of teaching and hope to see many more coaches getting involved in this powerful way of working.

You may also be interested to know that the client mentioned in this article now auditions confidently and has landed jobs as a lead singer.

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Gary is a Therapist and Coach for performing artists. He specialises in treating singers so they can overcome nerves, performance anxiety and stage fright so that they can own their talent, do what they love while loving doing it. He is a certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Emotional Freedom Coach. He has had a 20-year career as a professional singer in musical theatre, classical and pop music, overcame panic attacks and stage fright himself and has been treating singers with anxiety for 10 years.