At some point you'll have to get a little obsessed with your health. Depending on your market, you'll likely be forced to encounter MANY people in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces, using equipment that's been biologically abused by other people.
Staying in shape, eating well, getting plenty of rest, these behaviors become important tools in the small business arsenal of the working voice actor. You have to count on your instrument, even when you're not at 100%. The human body can be surprisingly fragile, especially at those times we need to count on it most.
Almost four years ago, during the WGA strike, I had just left the talent agency I was working at. A genius piece of timing on my part, but I was getting some decent freelance work, and we were making ends meet. I can't say for certain if I picked it up from the agency, or if I acquired it from one of the studio gigs I did immediately after, but I somehow managed to come down with a case of whopping cough.
If you've never had whooping cough (Pertussis), I would highly recommend avoiding it if you can. For about five weeks I was racked by coughing fits that would so inflame my throat, that I would often be unable to respirate. Trying to breathe normally would often result in just swallowing air (being redirected to my stomache instead of my lungs), and getting air into my lungs often meant painfully slow, shallow breaths were neccessary. This creates the "Whoooofing" zombie-like sound associated with the name of the disease.
Recovering from the cough also had another consequence, it wrecked my voice.
Where I used to be able to play and shout with my actors all day, after the cough it only took a couple minutes of talking to completely wipe out my ability to speak. My character voices were gone. My chest resonance was gone. My nasal resonance was difficult to find. My voice lost most of its tone, and I was left with an airy facsimile of what I used to have.
I probably rushed my recovery, but I had just become a freelancer, and we needed the cash. It also doesn't help that I had MISERABLE health insurance during that transition. I'm still thankful that the infection was a mild one...
Returning to the present, over the last several days, I've been experiencing something of a return. Traces of my old voice are starting to come back, the vibration in my chest, the buzz in my face when I nail a good tone. I can push the volume a little harder. I can throw a little texture on it.
I really thought these features of my speaking voice were gone forever.
It's exciting, invigorating, and scary all at the same time. I don't want it to leave again. I want to protect it. It's like I got a little piece of my life back. Almost four years later...
So actors, stay healthy, eat well, get plenty of rest, and wash your damn hands.