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There is absolutely nothing in this world more important than your mental health. In this industry, especially, so many of us are hard-wired to take care of everyone before ourselves, to hustle like someone is trying to take away our dreams, and stop at nothing and go go go until we get what we want.
The problem with this mentality is that it not only breeds an environment in which we’re too hard on ourselves, our body, and our minds, but it creates a level of frustration, fear, and doubt in which we sometimes get so lost that we can’t see the way out.
We feel worthless, useless, untalented, and not worthy of the prize we so desperately seek until we find ourselves questioning, “What’s the point?” In those dark times, we tend to either give up on our dreams or worse: We give up on ourselves.
I could write a whole separate article about the unrealistic demands, pressures, and set-up of this industry, but today, I want to talk to you about how to manage those doubts, fears, and awful anxieties and to take care of yourself amidst all the upheaval this industry throws at us. Because you are strong enough, and you can do this, and you are capable.
Here are five things to keep in mind in regards to your own mental health and making sure you’re taking care of yourself along with your music.
Take Control of Your Choices
When things start to feel too heavy, “everything is a choice” becomes my mantra. When I’m drowning in deadlines, juggling my calendar, stuck in a frame of mind that has me wondering why I’m doing this at all, I remind myself that I’m in control of my decisions.
I made the choice to be in this line of work, to speak with this person, to live in this city, to go to this show, etc. And if I want to, I can change the choices I’m making. I can get out of the music industry, I can move to a new city, I can choose not to go to that show if it’s 11pm on a Tuesday night and I don’t feel like it.
I’m not saying it’s always easy, but I think we can become so consumed by what we “should” do or feel we have to do to get ahead that we forget that we’re in charge of our own lives and that if something is no longer serving us, we can let it go.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “A Meditation on Artistic Sacrifice”
Break Negative Patterns
I know there are certain circumstances in which terrible things happen to us and we have no choice in the matter — by all means, I would never tell anyone how to handle their grief. When the dust has settled over any situation, however, I would remind you that even in the worst times, we’re still free to choose our thoughts, and our thoughts drive our mood, our behavior, our everything.
This is one I have struggled with the most in my own life, as I have a tendency to fill my mind with negative self-talk — believe me, this is a hard habit to break! But know that you can break it. Whenever you feel that negative thought entering your mind, choose to let it go, to not even finish saying it to yourself.
Just let it go.
When you’re stuck in a pattern you can’t get out of a “funk,” as we might say, break it. Force yourself to get out of the house and go for a walk, listen to a podcast, watch a show, play with your dog. It might very well feel like a forced effort for a long time, but I promise you that you will begin to feel better and that those activities, those breaks in your negative patterns, will lead to positive changes. So much of this is in forcing your mind to re-direct and training it to focus on something else.
Take a Time Out
We all need a vacation from time to time. This could be a proper getaway or simply taking two days off in the middle of the week to do nothing but veg out. Having that time to yourself where you turn your brain off and just force it to relax is key.
The first six-and-a-half years I worked in this industry, I was on 24/7. I worked seven days a week, holidays, nights, weekends, everything. I was a machine. But you know where that got me? Severely burnt out to the point that it’s been a year and a half since I decided to stop working nights and weekends, and I’m still not fully recovered.
Look, I’m a huge advocate of working hard, but I’m also an advocate of working smart, and while a certain amount of hustle is necessary to make your mark, we don’t need to work quite as hard as we think we do, especially if it’s causing us mental and physical exhaustion and anguish. Nothing is worth that.
Remember, work hard, but work smart, and listen to your body. The cool thing about our bodies is that they’ll never lie to us. You can’t BS your body. If you have a headache every day, or migraines twice a week, there’s a reason. If you’re exhausted all the time, there’s a reason. Your body will always guide you towards what’s working and what’s not.
Confide in Someone You Trust
Whether this is a close friend, a family member, or a therapist, find someone you trust and talk to them about what’s going on. Personally, I’ve found a combination of all three helps depending on what exactly it is I need at that moment. That being said, I’m an advocate for therapy and the impact it can have on a person’s life. It’s changed mine more than once.
I know there’s a stigma attached to therapy, however, the idea that somehow seeking help from a professional makes us weak is absurd. We hire professionals for all kinds of services we need help with — fixing our plumbing, rewiring our house, fixing our cars — so why should hiring an expert to help us get our brain to a healthy, happy place be any different?
Whoever you choose to talk to, just talk to someone. We’re not meant to be alone in our struggles, and although finding the right words might be hard in the moment, opening up and allowing in outside help can really be life-changing.
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Make Time for Play
Isn’t it funny how, as children, play comes so naturally to us and, as adults, we practically avoid it? It’s like the more we play, have fun, and leave our responsibilities behind, even for a few measly hours, we’re wrenched with guilt. How crazy is that something so pure and necessary has been branded as frivolous and lazy?
We need play in our lives. This isn’t just my own philosophy, either. Scientific study after scientific study that show the benefits of play on our relationships, career, and mood. When we play, not only does it relieve stress and improve our brain function, but it boosts creativity, opens our minds, improves our relationships, and gives us back the energy we’ve been craving. Simply put: We can’t afford not to make time for play.
Mental health is a serious issue that affects one in four people (that’s over 450 million people), and musicians are three times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Those numbers are staggering, and they tell you that you are not alone. If you’re struggling, I urge you to speak to someone you trust. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or via an online chat.
If ever you feel stuck or don’t know where to turn, you can always reach out to me (anonymously if you prefer). I’m always there to listen. And if you think you know somebody that is going through mental health issues, grief, or strife, read our article about addressing a mental health cause through song.