Life After Music School - Your Health


A musician's health is something I feel many don't discuss, or do with little emphasis. The understanding that dedicating yourself to your craft will eventually result in achieving your goal and validating your personal sacrifices, is true. But letting your body and mind go to waste while pursuing your craft is a shoddy way to ensure you can enjoy your success later. Before going any further, it should be said I am not a licensed psychiatrist or therapist; these are just my insights and life experiences that may help you avoid, or at least recognize, when you're in negative health spaces.

Let’s first tackle the physical aspect of being a musician. I'll be the first to admit I am not a stunning specimen of the human physique. I have not been stellar at keeping myself in decent physical health. I have things I try to start but the habits don't stick. About to try and start a body weight regimen and try to get healthy again. Physical exercise is needed for our bodies if not to just make us tired so we sleep better (because musicians never experience insomnia. *eye roll*).So find something you like to do, be it running, bicycling, swimming, strength training, find a physical activity to activate endorphins and your metabolism.

Now for the elephant in the middle of the room.

The mental health of a musician is extremely important, and hard to maintain. The wear and tear of constantly being asked to do work for inadequate compensation takes its toll. Working in less than ideal working conditions is rough. Gigs not starting on time or not ending on time not only messes with your actual schedule but takes a toll on how you value yourself. Many pursue music because they want their music to make people's lives better. The irony is many of those same musicians are hurting even more on the inside. I'm going to break mental health into four sections:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Insomnia

  • Substance Abuse

Anxiety

Yes, our dear friend anxiety, takes many forms in both short term and long term situations. Be it a recital you're presenting, or an audition you're taking, anxiety will be there. You want to do well, but you don't know how you'll perform with the stress and nerves, and oh look at that shiny ball in the road...My point is, anxiety will be there—you can't hide from it. What you can do is conquer your fear of it and tell it to take a hike. Some people can do this easily, while for others it is extremely difficult. Take one step at a time, introduce odd elements and try to figure out what is causing the anxiety. If you can remove it, great! If you can't remove it, look for opportunities to find out how to live with it. When my nerves kick in, I just remember to breath in from my nose and exhale through the mouth. It doesn't remove the nerves, but it helps bring your heart rate under control so you can focus on the task at hand. I don’t have much more to offer to help with your anxiety (but a counselor or therapist would.) I somehow deduced very early that if I wanted to be a musician being on stage in front of tons of people is part of the gig. Rather, find ways to enjoy the show instead of dreading each moment (Yes, yes I know, easier said than done.)

Depression

Where to start? Depression is a debilitating mood disorder. Sometimes you know you're depressed and can act on it to improve the situation; other times you don't even realize until days later. Instead of speaking in general I'll just tell you how my depression effects me on a daily basis. If I have to go out and teach or play I generally will be fine. I get to make music and that always makes the apathy go away. On days I don't have anything, I need to make my own structure, and I am successful to varying degrees. The routine I laid out in the Maintaining Your Craft blog post is designed to keep me active and to not just lay in bed doing nothing, traveling down whatever scroll hole I have discovered on my tablet. What does this all have to do with depression? There are going to be days you don't want to move and get out of bed. You have to tell your brain to f#@% off and get up, and go out and do something. Do not let your mind trap you. Find something to do (dishes, go for a walk, warm up your instrument) and I'll bet you will be better for the day. Just my two cents on depression.

Insomnia

Working as a musician can result in an odd sleep schedule. Insomnia can result from this (which can also be induced from depression and anxiety.) When I catch myself in a bad sleeping cycle, I try to break it with natural remedies, or an over the counter sleep aid (non habit forming.) This can help reset my sleep schedule and ensure I have a full night’s sleep. It's important to maintain a regular sleep schedule as that helps fight off anxiety and depression.

Substance Abuse

Congrats, we've now reached the topic that causes & temporarily suspends mental anguish! Look, substances that alter your mind (nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, hard drugs) temporarily suspend and can make the world feel okay. But once you come down, you're still at square one having made zero progress (if not regressed a step or two.) Substances effect people in different ways. For every example society has of functioning alcoholics, potheads and other substance abusers,there are exponentially more examples of how substances ruined others lives. Working in the music industry, you will be offered all sorts of substances. Be careful and make wise choices. Please don't become another member of the 27 Club.

These are just my experiences with these topics. Really this blog post is about acknowledging that we all go through these problems, and its nice to know you're not the only one out there. Keep on trucking and know that there is a tomorrow. Please, if you suspect you're experiencing any of these mental difficulties, seek professional help and not scour the internet for self help advice and think you can do it on your own.

#LifeAfterMusicSchool #musicianshealth #mentalhealth #physicalhealth #depression #anxiety

Follow

©2020 by C.L. Behrens. Photos by Christopher M. Howard www.cmhoward.com