Advice for Musicians during the Pandemic : Part 2, Self care and mental health
Updated: Jun 3, 2021
The situation created by the current pandemic can be extremely difficult on one’s mental health. Not only are we facing financial challenges (see our previous post for financial advice), but social distancing can also have a serious impact on our emotional well-being.
Although we know this situation will eventually come to an end, it’s not possible to know exactly when that will be, the uncertainty of which is another source of stress. It’s important that we take care of ourselves in the present moment, and to find a way to adjust to this new reality while it lasts.
To make this period easier, here are some recommendations :
1. As much as possible, practice a healthy lifestyle
Keep a daily routine to avoid putting your life on hold. Follow the same routine you would if you were working : wake up at the same time each day, take a shower, and get dressed. It is very important to prioritize sleep, and enough of it, as much as possible.
When practicing, know that it may be difficult to play without dwelling on what you have lost. Acknowledge this and make room for it, and also notice what there might be new room for now, if you suddenly have quite a lot of time on your hands. For example, try turning to the fundamentals: open your old method books and take time to explore new ideas. Dr. Renée-Paule Gauthier has a JOYFUL PRACTICE CHALLENGE where she gives prompts to find creativity, mindfulness, and joy in your practice.
Eat healthy and be creative with your pantry. Get inspired by Bon Appétit’s Guide to Cooking at Home in the Time of Coronavirus.
Exercise and get your body moving! Here are some videos that our staff have enjoyed at home:
It’s important to recognize that the current situation is scary and anxiety-provoking. Our brains are wired by evolution to respond to threat with a fight-or-flight response, which feels particularly futile in a pandemic, where the best thing you can do is stay home. That can make choosing healthy habits difficult. If the above list feels overwhelming, know that it’s enough to start with just getting out of bed, or just playing your instrument for 5 minutes, or just taking a short walk around the block.
2. Be prepared
Fear is a response that mobilizes our bodies to take action. There is not a lot of action to be taken in a pandemic, but one thing you can do is to be prepared and have the basics like food, water, and medication. By not over-preparing and hoarding supplies, you are helping your neighbours as well - and by having all the basics you need for yourself and/or your family for a period of two weeks, you are doing the best thing you can do for yourself and family.
However, please note that even if you take all the precautions recommended, there is always some risk. Understanding that there is no such thing as total “zero risk” can help reduce your anxiety, especially for the perfectionists among us.
3. Stay connected
Use social media and video calling apps (Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangout, etc.) to stay in touch with your friends and family.
“Don’t quarantine yourself from social contact, just physical contact. Keeping in touch with friends and families benefits everyone and is a crucial part of self-care.” - Jeff Fant, AgriLife Extension’s disaster assessment and recovery agent for District 7, San Angelo
Communicate your emotions to a friend or a spouse and rely on each other by using a buddy system. Be a friend and reach out to people, especially those who may be more vulnerable in this situation: people with pre-existing mental health challenges, people living alone, or people needing to be in quarantine because of pre-existing medical issues. Offer your help and your support, listen, and be kind. Do not hesitate to reach out for help and accept help when it is offered.
4. Stay informed - but not overly informed
The situation is evolving fast and staying informed is a good idea. However, being glued to your phone and keeping the news constantly on can be highly anxiety inducing. Choose one or a couple reliable sources, such as from your government's public health authority and/or a news outlet you trust. Avoid sharing information on social media that you cannot prove.
Noises and extra stimuli contribute to anxiety and affect concentration. Therefore, try to do one thing at a time and consult one communication device at a time. (e.g. Listening to the news or radio while working.)
5. Practice gratitude
Keeping a gratitude journal is a good healthy habit in general. If this is too involved for you, just take a minute or two everyday and think about what you can be grateful about. It can be as simple as “I’m grateful to have made a beautiful sound on my open strings” or more in depth as “I’m grateful to live in an era where we have technology to keep us connected”.
Remember that gratitude can live side-by-side with fear and anxiety. By making room for both to exist simultaneously, you are telling your body and your brain that its fight-or-flight response doesn’t need to also fight for your attention - which can diminish the severity of the response and help make room for things like gratitude.
6. Unwind and have fun
Return to your old hobbies (watercolouring, video games, dancing, reading, etc.)! If you are fortunate enough to live with someone, get your board games out! Even if you live alone, there are many online board game platforms that can be used in conjunction with a video chatting platform among friends and family. (e.g. Playing Cards Online)
Music can be a source of consolation and safety in times of anxiety. Many ensembles and artists are offering free digital access to their audio and video archives. (e.g. The Berliner Philharmoniker's Digital Concert Hall) Let yourself listen to music that brings joy or a sense of familiarity.
Even with all of the above measures taken, it’s inevitable that this will be a difficult time for musicians, whose livelihood is inextricable from social contact, connection, and the sharing of the live arts with one another. Whether your response is to dive more furiously into work, practicing and composing and teaching online, or to take a step back and focus on the basics of self-care and managing your emotions day-by-day, your response is valid. It may be helpful to remind yourself that this is an interruption, not an end. When we do finally get to the other side of this time, our collective appetite for direct connection and the sharing of music together will be enormous - and artists will be here to joyfully meet that need, both for ourselves and audiences.