Keeping The Mind Healthy

Wednesday March 2, 2016

“The mind can hurt as much as the body.” – Marcel (Anthony Oseyemi) from the Movie Hector And The Search for Happiness.

Yesterday I overheard a crowd of Doctoral Candidates discussing the woes of the dreaded COMPS! It’s no secret that as a music major, one can endure great amounts of stress due to obligations. In the past five years, I have seen streams of majors come and go. It always made me sad to see someone with tremendous talent buckle from the pressure. Keeping your mind healthy should be as much of  priority as the body. Those who have successfully obtained degree(s) from Music institutions that have seemingly come out unscathed share some similar traits.

Managing The Chaos
Chaos (n) – a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.”

The personal investment in your degree as a music major comes with time obligations rarely seen in any other field of study. As a musician we are often told to play in every ensemble we can to grow as musicians. Often, young musicians will take on several ensembles in each semester. In addition to ensemble obligations, there is the course work, private lessons, practice, a job, recitals, and any other number of extracurricular activities. Quite simply put, your life can very quickly turn into pure chaos.

Get a planner! One of the most important things a musician must do is to obtain and actively use a day planner. At first, filling out your daily schedule and obligations can seem tedious and unnecessary. After a few weeks into the semester, chaos starts consume your life. Being organized and detailed is going to take a great amount of stress away from your life.  I suggest young folks use a physical book in addition to their digital devices.  The connection of the hand to paper will stick in your memory longer than using just a phone or tablet. Some days are just worse than others and will require you to plan every hour of the day.

Here is an example from my freshman year of college:

6:00 a.m. – Wake up/Get Ready
7:00-8:50 a.m. – Work
9:00 a.m. – Theory I – Items due: HW #1, WB #3-5
10:00 a.m. – Lesson –  Wurm #5, Neurda 1st mvmt, Ex 127?
11:00 a.m. – English Comp I – pp. 90-150 Items due: Reflection Journal
12:00 p.m. – Practice/Lunch
1:00-5 p.m. – Ens./Master Class/Etc.
6:00-8:00p.m. – Homework for English, Dinner, Power Nap??(Hah!)
9:00 p.m. –  Load in Gig at OKC Country Club
10:00 p.m. – 1:00am – Gig/Load Out
1:45 a.m. – Arrive Home, Collapse in fetal position, sleep, rinse, repeat.(okay…I added this last one today! 😉 )

Days like that can be an absolute killer, and frankly without my planner I would have fallen apart. Having no doubt of when and where you need to be, what needs to be done, and how much time you have is paramount! The more you know about your day will help eliminate the helpless feeling of being utterly overwhelmed. The key here is to stay on top of your planner, fill it out every day.

Take Time For Yourself

Keeping up with obligations is difficult, and giving 100% of yourself to everything is doubly so! We all have hobbies that we love, make sure to take time to give yourself those precious moments to blow off steam. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Learn to say “no” to some things.  The amount of requests you will have to play for free, for “exposure”, for fun…they’ll start to add up. There must be moments when you simply say no, for your own mental health.  Finding the right way turn down these moments is an acquired skill. After all, you still want people to call you for gigs. Always be polite when declining, sometimes it’s just as easy as saying “Thank you, but I am booked at x-date x-time. Please feel free to call me again in the future, I would love to work with you!” This allows you to stop from over booking yourself. The more there is on your plate, the harder it’s going to be to swallow it all. Running yourself ragged will only be a disservice to yourself and the others who are depending on you to bring the goods!

Build a Healthy Relationship With Your Studio

Part of making it through the mental war-zone that college can be is having healthy relationships with your peers.  Everyone is in it together, and having some close trusty allies as a support network is so important.  The stronger these bonds are, the more likelihood there is going to be someone there to help you stand back up when you fall down.  You’ll be able to return the favor some day too. These years in college can be some of the most rewarding and challenging times in your development, don’t do it alone! Make an effort, even if only once in a while, to have some time away from the trumpet with your studio mates. Clear your mind and be happy! If anyone is going to understand your plight, it’s the people doing the same things you are. These relationships will carry on well past college. I recently ran into a musician I developed a relationship with over 12 years ago, the gig-exchange flow is real.

Closing Thoughts

It’s important to remain unrelentingly positive, even in the face of dark times.  There will be moments of despair, moments of fear, moments of joy, and you’ll endure them all. The journey we take in becoming a professional in our field can take a tremendous toll on the collective psyche.  When entering a room, be the person that lights it up, never the dark cloud that brings others down.  You will often find, the more other people like you the easier this can be.  If you’re struggling, don’t bottle it up! There is no shame in seeking help, it will only serve to make you stronger, happier, and more focused than ever.