Tag Archives: Mental Health

Battling the Holiday Blues

The holiday season should be a joyful time, but instead, many find themselves struggling. This is especially true in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which so many musicians have faced the loss of loved ones, a lack of work, and long periods of isolation. Here are a few ways to weather the holiday storm this year.

Acknowledge Negative Emotions

There’s been a tremendous amount of loss over the last two years. Regardless of the cause, the absence of a cherished loved one can make the holidays a difficult time. It’s important to realize that there’s no “right” way to feel after a loss. It’s natural to feel guilty for enjoying yourself without your loved one, or to be angry at them for leaving you behind. And you’re not ruining anyone’s holiday by admitting that you miss that person. Talking about your feelings can help you to put them into perspective. Consider seeking out a grief support group if you’re uncomfortable sharing with family or friends.

Life changes and financial constraints might also leave you missing out on beloved traditions like traveling to see family, buying gifts, or hosting a get-together. If that’s the case, try creating a new tradition for yourself. Spend a few holiday hours volunteering or enlist the help of friends to collect donations for a local food pantry. There are no rules about what a holiday should look like. Do what makes you happy and reminds you of the true meaning of the season.

Stick to a Routine

Staying as close as you can to your usual routine will help you to feel less overwhelmed by the demands of the season. In addition to keeping a regular sleep schedule and exercising, think about the other daily rituals that bring you peace and help you to recharge. Plan for these in advance, even going so far as to add them to your calendar. Carving out time to read, listen to music, nap, or call a good friend can all be invaluable forms of self-care.

Perhaps the most important ritual to maintain during this time is to keep making music. It’s not always easy to feel creative when life gets complicated, but studies have shown that playing an instrument, as well as songwriting, results in the release of the “feel good” hormone dopamine. This in turn leads to an increased ability to cope with stress and regulate emotions, as well as heighten one’s overall mood. Making music may also help to alleviate some of the physical symptoms associated with anxiety, such as lowering blood pressure.

Take Care of Your Physical Health

Exercise is one of the first things to be put on the back burner when the season gets busy, but that’s exactly when it’s needed the most. Exercise is known to improve mood, increase energy, and reduce stress. It’s also a good way to mitigate the effects of fatty, sugary holiday foods.

When you’re feeling anxious or depressed, it can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise. Research has shown that listening to upbeat, fast-paced music not only makes exercise more enjoyable but can motivate people to work out for longer periods of time. Physical activity doesn’t need to be a workout; try taking a brisk walk outdoors several times a week, or dancing to your favorite tunes while doing housework or preparing meals.

Holiday activities tend to interfere with sleep schedules, as well. Getting regular, quality sleep is essential to supporting overall mental health. Whenever possible, try to go to bed and wake up about the same time every day. Avoid eating large meals too close to bedtime and limit your alcohol consumption. The CDC also recommends sleeping in a room free of electronic distractions like a television or cell phone.

Prioritize Healthy Connections

The holidays are a challenge for those whose family relationships are strained. If being with your family feels like more of a chore than a joy, it’s okay to set boundaries. Stay at a hotel instead of with relatives, turn down invitations, and limit the time you spend with people who make you uncomfortable. Try to avoid topics of conversation that will lead to an argument, and don’t be afraid to excuse yourself if you need to.

Focus instead on the people in your life who support you. Reach out to your friends. Take the opportunity to reconnect with someone you lost touch with during the pandemic. Plan a friends-only holiday gathering or schedule a group phone or video call. Most importantly, resist the urge to stay secluded at home. Get out into the world, even if it’s just to run a few errands or visit your favorite coffee shop. Having brief, friendly conversations with people, or just exchanging smiles, can lift your spirits and help you feel less alone.

If you’re having difficulty this holiday season, visit https://www.afm.org/what-we-are-doing/covid-19-and-mental-health for information on mental health resources available to you.

mental health

Advice for Taking Care of Your Mental Health as a Musician

by Roz Bruce, Guest Contributor

When you’re a musician, be it in a rock band, jazz ensemble, or a classical orchestra, it’s likely you have a schedule that’s tough on your body and your mind. Even if you’re not a full-time musician, those late nights and the fast-food meals can take their toll.

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For many people, listening to music or playing an instrument is a way of dealing with problems and can help improve mental health. However, many musicians struggle with mental illness, which in some cases ends in tragedy.

As a songwriter and musician, I know how easy it can be to let your health slip when you’re gigging, touring, or even just heavily involved in a creative process. I remember, in the early days of my songwriting, sacrificing sleep, food, and relationships as I allowed myself to be possessed by the creative process that would end up taking its toll on my mental well-being as I suffered depression and anxiety. Later albums, which I recorded more healthily, were undoubtedly better as well as more enjoyable to create.

It’s so important to look after your mental health as a musician; it’s what helps you create, interpret, play, and enjoy music. Here is some advice for how you can help to take care of yourself both at home and on the road.

Take Some Time for You

This one is the hardest to stick to for musicians. You rehearse, prepare, play, get home tired, sleep in the next day, or go to work and repeat. It can be so exhausting and draining. You need to remember that music is a gift and you’ll burn out if you only ever give, give, give.

Take some time to do things that have no purpose other than for yourself. Read a book, have a bath, do whatever you enjoy, but do it just for you. This is an essential aspect of mental wellness. Two books that I have found particularly enjoyable and helpful are Destination Happiness: 12 Simple Principles That Will Change Your Life, by Mark Reklau, and The Little Book of Self Care, by Mel Noakes.

Take some time for yourself, by yourself. You’ll thank yourself.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

This really is a psychological one. Performing makes you sensitive. Yes, even you, tough guy. After you’ve performed, you’re much more likely to see the potential negatives in anything anyone says to you. Didn’t they like the songs? They hate us. Or if nobody says anything, oh my gosh! The worst. They were all embarrassed. They thought we were awful.

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Then the next band goes on, and everyone is cheering *because they know them*… and you’re thinking, “Nobody did that for us … we must have been terrible.”

When reflecting on your performance, reflect on your performance. What did you do well? What could have gone better? How? Comparing yourself to other bands or performers will never lead you to anything helpful or insightful.

Eat and Drink

It sounds so obvious, but this is a big one. We need to eat to stay alive, right? But when you have to be at a venue at 4:30 p.m., sound check at 6 p.m., play at 8:30 p.m., leave the gig at 11 p.m., where’s the time for food? It’s really worth taking some food with you to a gig. Look after your body and your mind will flourish. Just get past the uncool-ness of it and prepare a packed lunch. Alternatively, try getting a healthy meal at least some of the time, rather than burgers every time you’re gigging. It’s so much better for your mood.

It’s also easy to forget to hydrate yourself when you’re out and about. Performing takes a lot of energy, and it’s not unusual to sweat when you’re on stage. This makes you more dehydrated. Make sure to keep water flowing. It hydrates your brain as well as your body, and you’ll find your mood improving as a result. Best of all, water is free.

Reach Out

If you do find yourself struggling, don’t forget that help is out there. The worst thing you can do is to keep stuff bottled up inside. Try speaking to someone close to you and getting that fear, anxiety, anger, or whatever off your chest. If you don’t have health insurance, you can get free help and look for mental health resources online. For example, the SIMS Foundation in Texas helps to provide musicians with mental health resources, as does the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic. In Canada, the Canadian Mental Health Association has a presence in more than 330 communities across every province and one territory. You should also save your state’s mental health crisis line, just in case you need it.

Roz Bruce is a professional musician, songwriter, and teacher based in Nottingham, UK. She has personal experience with depression and anxiety and has a commitment to helping others in mental distress. www.guitaristroz.com.

Charity Fights Mental Health Problems Among Musicians

A study published by the charity group Help Musicians UK looked at mental health within the music community. The research was driven by 26 in-depth interviews with musicians drawn from a pool of more than 2,000 respondents to the Can Music Make You Sick academic study. Among the contributing factors to musician mental health problems were money worries, poor working conditions, bullying, insecurity, and isolation from friends and family. Those issues are compounded by the reluctance of musicians to discuss problems due to fear of losing work.

Help Musicians UK made three policy recommendations to help address mental health crisis among musicians:

  • To embed discussion of mental health awareness in music education and promote wider understanding in the industry.
  • To create a code of best practice to demonstrate an organization’s awareness of mental health issues in the industry.
  • To ensure that mental health support services for the music community are both affordable and accessible.