Posted: Aug 3, 2022
**Guest post initially featured on functionalcentral.co.uk.
"There’s a lot that we can all do in order to support our mental health. Let’s explore some of these actions now.
It’s easy to let thoughts come and go without really questioning them. But not all our thoughts are helpful or rational. Even the simple act of taking time to recognise when your thoughts are negative or irrational can help.
You can go one step further by reframing them. This means that as well as actively noticing your unhelpful thoughts, you then go on to turn them into something more useful. The new thought doesn’t have to be positive; it just needs to put your feelings into perspective. For example, “I performed terribly today” can be turned into “I’m going to rehearse the difficult part of the performance before we go on stage tomorrow.”
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and not too overwhelmed by what’s happening around us. It can help us notice how we’re feeling and what we’re thinking, which in turn can help us gain perspective.
Mindfulness can be practised in different ways, so if one technique doesn’t suit you, there’s always another.
You can use an app or video online as guidance, or just sit quietly and observe your thoughts and feelings as they come and go.
2. Meditating while doing other activities
Yoga is the most common option, as it’s a naturally meditative practice, but you can incorporate meditation into other types of movement or activity, including playing an instrument. Focusing your attention on what you’re doing often allows you to be fully present.
3. Taking pauses throughout the day
Whether it’s some time to gather yourself before you start your day, or a moment to reflect before you go to bed, taking a few minutes to be in the moment can create a sense of calm.
Find a comfortable seat
Cross your legs (if you’re on the floor or a meditation cushion), or make sure your feet are firmly on the floor (if you’re sitting on a chair).
Sit up straight
But not unnaturally straight – you should feel comfortable, not stiff. Place your hands in your lap or on the tops of your legs.
Lower your gaze or close your eyes
Which you choose is entirely down to personal preference.
Observe your breath as it goes in and out
Don’t try to breathe in a specific way. Your mind may wander, but don’t judge yourself if this happens. Instead, just notice your thoughts and feelings, then refocus on your breath.
Whether you’re practising or performing, there are ways to be mindful when you play an instrument.
Remove any distractions, if possible. Then start by warming up, easing yourself into it. The exercises you do will vary depending on the instrument you play.
If you’re working on a piece of music and come to a section you find difficult, you should stop and try to understand why it’s difficult and how you might tackle it, instead of starting from the beginning. Not only does this stop you from practising the beginning many more times than the other sections of the piece, but it’s also an opportunity to really focus and be mindful.
Before and during a performance
It’s natural to feel nervous before a performance. Accept those nerves – they mean you care about what you’re about to do. You may find it helpful to take some deep, calming breaths. Another way to be mindful before performing is to be very deliberate with everything you do. This will stop you from feeling rushed and frantic, and will anchor your mind in the present.
It sounds obvious, but during the performance itself, focus on the conductor or your bandmates and the music. Listen carefully, even when you’re not the one playing. This will help you avoid getting to the end of a show and not remembering quite how you got there.
Never underestimate the power of spending time with people you love and trust, whether that’s friends, family, or a partner. Talking to someone about how you feel can stop feelings of isolation and loneliness. You don’t necessarily need to sit them down for a big conversation (although that can help in some situations). Often the subject will come up naturally. You may even encourage the other person to be more open too.
How we feel physically and how we feel mentally are often linked. Good mental health can positively affect your physical health, and poor mental health can negatively affect it. In fact, around 30% of people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health condition.
Let’s look at the ways you can take care of your physical health.
The importance of sleep can’t be underestimated. Sleep allows our bodies and minds to rest, our brains to function, and our bodies to remain healthy enough to ward off diseases and other illnesses.
If you don’t get enough sleep, you could be vulnerable to:
The NHS notes most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep per night. They recommend going to sleep and waking up at similar times each day.
As a musician, you’re likely to have a different work schedule to the standard 9-5, especially if you’re playing in shows and concerts, or at functions such as weddings. Therefore, it can be difficult to create a bedtime routine. Additionally, playing in front of an audience is likely to increase levels of adrenaline, cortisol, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, all of which make it more difficult to go to sleep. They can increase your heart rate and block melatonin – the sleep hormone.
However, there are things you can do to signal to your brain and body that it’s time for sleep, even if you can’t do them at the same time every night.
Electronic devices emit blue light, which can suppress melatonin production. Put them away at least an hour before you plan to go to sleep, and keep them out of your bedroom altogether if possible.
Have a warm bath or shower
Your body temperature will lower after you get out, which tells the brain it’s time for bed and can even reduce the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep by 10 minutes.
Write everything down
Whether that’s a to-do list for the following day, a list of things you’re grateful for, journal entries using prompts, or just whatever comes into your head, the act of writing it down can clear your mind before bed.
Try stretching or yoga
Gentle movement can relax your muscles.
Read a book or listen to a sleep story
Meditation apps such as Calm and Headspace have relaxing audio available if you don’t want to read.
You may have heard the term “balanced diet.” This simply means eating a variety of food groups, in the right proportions to stay healthy. The NHS recommends:
Drinking at least eight glasses of water per day, more if you’re active or if the weather is warm. Hydration helps us to concentrate, digest our food, and control the temperature of our bodies, as well as with heart health and circulation.
If you’re not keen on plain water, you can add fruit or some no-added-sugar squash, or infuse a tea bag for extra flavour.
On the go? Bring a refillable water bottle with you. There are some varieties with measurements or timings on the side to remind you to drink.
Drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks, can help us to feel more awake. Tea and coffee can be consumed in small doses as part of a balanced diet.
However, it’s important to be aware of the effects caffeine can have on you. It’s a stimulant, meaning it increases activity in the brain and nervous system. In the right dose, this can increase your concentration and energy levels. But consume too much caffeine and you may feel anxious, restless and irritable, as it increases the amount of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone). Between four and five cups per day is considered a moderate amount.
It may be tempting to wind down after a performance by having a drink. But the risk alcohol has towards your health increases if you drink on a regular basis, no matter how little you consume.
If you do drink, the NHS recommends the following to keep your risk low:
The NHS recommends that adults should do some type of exercise every day, either 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise spread throughout the week. How this is broken up is up to you, and can be worked around your routine.
Examples of moderate intensity exercise
Examples of vigorous intensity exercise
You can also incorporate strengthening exercises, such as yoga, pilates, weight lifting, and body-weight exercises like press-ups.
For many musicians, what was once a hobby has become a career. So it’s worth finding other activities that you do solely for fun and relaxation outside of work. These could be physical activities that count towards your weekly activity levels, or something more relaxed like reading or painting. Whatever it is, do it for the joy and let go of the need to be good at something."
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