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Sounding Refreshed, Not Stressed: A Guide to Beating Burnout’s Vocal Effects

As fall begins and we enter this new season, we wanted to take a moment to talk about Burnout. The last three years have been filled with lots of discussions about work and how it affects our lives: remote work, work/life balance and lately, burnout. Many of us can look back on the past few years and point out moments or cycles in time (maybe even currently?) when we have experienced burnout.

While many of us may have wrestled with burnout, we want to be sure that we’re not projecting the exhaustion and apathy of burnout in our voices. Especially in roles that are client facing, in sales, or leading a team. As you can imagine, when we’re in a meeting, or at a work or networking event, we want to be sure we’re not sounding like we’re exhausted by our work.

The National Library of Medicine describes burnout as “an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” The more we at Peacock Voices read about the symptoms of burnout, the more we realized how clearly these symptoms can and do manifest in our speaking voices throughout the work day!

Because of this, we decided to take a look and see what people were saying about burnout and voice. A recent study done by the National Institute of Health actually found a correlation between teachers suffering with burnout syndrome and vocal disorders. Why is that? Well, if you are already suffering from abnormal or lower energy, and are using your voice all day, it won’t take long for you to begin using your voice inefficiently, which can eventually lead to vocal issues.

This doesn’t mean that if you are suffering from burnout you will definitely have vocal issues, but it is important to acknowledge the correlation between the two so you can prevent not only the physical repercussions, but the cultural ones as well.

If you are experiencing burnout and want to be sure you’re not projecting it while at work, we thought it might be helpful to look at some vocal characteristics that might suggest exhaustion, detachment, and lack of feeling accomplished:

  • Low energy or dull sound: here you might sense that your words are coming out slowly, that it sounds like you’re just waking up and…can’t…be…bothered to complete a sentence quickly. Perhaps you sound like there is a mute on your voice, or it’s lost the presence or “sparkle” it normally has.

  • Monotone speech pattern: you might find that there’s very little variation in your pitch when you’re feeling burned out.

  • Vocal fry: This occurs when there isn’t enough air pressure for your vocal folds to properly vibrate. What results is a sound that doesn’t have as much presence in the room, isn’t as clear and is more difficult to understand. Research tells us that vocal fry is “rated as significantly less employable, less natural, and requiring greater listener concentration as compared with samples of habitual voice quality.”

  • Low volume: If you can’t be heard, that might suggest a lack of confidence and accomplishment, often associated with burnout.

Now that we know some vocal characteristics that can be associated with burnout, let’s discuss some ways you can shift these around and present your voice so you sound more like your cup is full!

  • High energy: Before a big meeting or pitch, we recommend taking a few moments to ensure you’ve raised your energy! Do a few jumping jacks, or take a moment to practice some lower back breathing. Find some wake up your body which will begin to wake up your voice!

  • Inflection: Inflection is defined as a change in pitch frequency of the voice. Here, we’d suggest playing around with lots of inflection, really aiming for mountains and valleys in your pitch and staying away from those monotone plateaus. Though you may not be feeling enthusiastic yourself, aiming to project that in your voice will help to mask burnout.

  • Vibrant sound: When we think of a vibrant sound, we’re not talking about the vibrato heard from an opera singer, but rather a vibrant, expressive sound. Thinking about a brighter, more forward sound will help give off a sense of excitement.

    • Exercise Tip: Try cackling like a witch with a lot of energy! The exercise activates your forward resonance AND your support system because of the laughter. This helps bring out the sparkle and vibrancy we are looking for. ✨

  • SOVT Exercises: Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract exercises (SOVT) are a great resource for healthy vocal production. These simple exercises work out all the muscles and tissues that make up our larger vocal fold system. They present a nice chance to give your vocal tract a reset, which might help you sound fresh and relaxed.

  • Vocal presence: As you think about all of this, we remind you to emulate the type of sound you’d want to hear from yourself when you are feeling excited, passionate and confident about the work you’re doing. You’ll want to present a warm and inviting sound, with a healthy level of depth and richness that doesn’t sound ‘fake’ or ‘put on’.

We offer all the above not to diminish burnout - which is a very real phenomenon many working individuals have experienced in the past few years (or may encounter at some point down the road.) Taking care of your emotional and mental well-being are vital. Rather, we hope the above thinking provides useful, tangible tools to help ease the burden of burnout on your voice!


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