In some ways, as musicians we have been preparing for pandemic survival all our lives. We are used to living with all manner of stress. There is the constant pressure to perform at an optimal level — a whole topic unto itself — and we are accustomed to living with the realities of job scarcity, economic insecurity, intermittent work, and the social isolation of the practice room. We accept these drawbacks and challenges because making music together is thrilling and deeply satisfying. The unkindest cut of all during this time has been being denied the joy of collaboration with others.
Although there is great hope for a return to our stages over the summer and fall, the pandemic is not over. Chronic stress, obsession with the virus, nightmares, and depression are still plaguing many of us.
In the most recent Classical Musicians Forum, we shared some coping strategies that have helped us over the past year. These suggestions and resources are intended to help you stay healthy in body and mind and find some tranquility as we emerge from this grand pause of our lives.
- Meditation and Mindfulness. There are loads of apps out there, most of them with at least some free content. For a deep dive into the philosophy of meditation beyond daily practice, I particularly like the Waking Up app by Sam Harris (There is a charge, but you can receive a complimentary subscription by request.) The Insight Timer app offers a variety of guided meditations. Close to home, the Actor’s Fund is offering 30-minute meditation sessions from 12-12:30 every weekday through April 16, and performance psychologist Don Greene has been hosting a Q&A session once a month just for musicians (see www.local802afm.org/events for the next session).
- Laughter. This isn’t the time for heavy drama, although if that’s what takes you out of yourself, go for it. I enjoy watching old favorites on demand and of course there are podcasts for every sensibility.
- Travel. Besides live music, personally, this has been the most difficult pleasure of all to forgo. There are virtual tours of nearly every corner of the planet. This is also a great time to brush up on your Italian or French, learn Mandarin and daydream about your next trip.
- Practice…or don’t! If you’ve been having a hard time practicing, you are not alone. With no performances on the horizon, many of us have put the instrument aside, and that’s O.K. Practicing may provide solace to some but may be difficult for others if there is no immediate work on the books. Inspiration and desire will return in good time.
- Keep learning. There’s so much creative content out there, you could spend all day online if you choose. I have heard interesting programs from ASMAC on music prep and arranging, OSHA on environmental health and safety, and the League of American Orchestras discussing the future of our orchestras. Of course, you are welcome to use this time to get more involved with Local 802 through our many offerings.
- Exercise. When my gym closed indefinitely, I noticed a change in my energy level and mood right away. This was a major shock to my routine and had to be remedied. Our guest bedroom is now inhabited by an elliptical machine. Even better, when the weather cooperates, an early morning walk has been a great way to start the day.
- Journaling and Gratitude. Many people find comfort in taking a daily inventory of what they are grateful for every day.
- Random acts of kindness. Universal experiences and shared adversity offer many opportunities to reach out to others. It may be a simple phone call to someone having a hard time, delivering food to a sick friend, or buying coffee for the stranger behind you in line at Starbucks. You will not only make their day, but they might do the same for someone else tomorrow.
- Stay healthy. The pandemic has been disorienting to our minds and bodies. Many of us are struggling with maintaining healthy sleep and eating habits and may be abusing food, alcohol, or drugs. If you are struggling in any of these areas, please reach out to your doctor or to the helpful and knowledgeable people at the Actor’s Fund for guidance.
- Social connection. Isolation and social distancing is challenging long term, even for extreme introverts. Call, email, text, reach out however you can. Social media has lots of drawbacks but if you can find a connection there, use it.
- Take a social media vacation. Clear your mind of what everyone else is saying, thinking, and doing, or pretending to think and do. Other than sharing important work-related messages, I’ve decided to take a break for a month. (O.K., I’ve already cheated, but I’ve cut my screen time a lot.)
Time away from the routine presents opportunities to reset your life, your habits, even your relationships. We will be back to our busy lives soon, and dare I say, we may miss some aspects of this time out. Enjoy it while you can.
If you are in crisis or having suicidal thoughts, please, please seek professional help immediately! The national suicide prevention hotline is 800-273-8255. (For another source of mental health care, the Actors Fund offers free counseling through its Musicians Assistance Program.)