D.I.Y.

Mental health tips for touring musicians

Being on the road can add a lot of strain on a musician’s well-being. So here are a few helpful self-care practices to bring with you on your next tour.

by Carla Malrowe from Bandzoogle

There is a time for work and there is a time for resting your body and your brain. This is true, but working unusual hours in unusually harsh conditions could burn you out far before reaching that point of rest – and that is the problem many touring musicians are facing today.  

Burnout is a real risk in all professions, however, touring encompasses a unique set of circumstances that heightens this risk significantly.  The conditions that tour-life demands take their toll on even the most sound-minded musicians. If you relate, you are not alone.

Woman plays keyboard and sings into a mic while drummer sits at drum kit behind her

Placing the problem in plain sight

The industry is acknowledging this problem… Struggling musicians on tour, we see you! 

We see you perform every day, in various cities worldwide, for more than three months without taking a single day off. We see the disorientation caused by anti-social working hours and days blurring into nights. We see the emotional instability caused by pre-performance panic, adrenaline highs on stage, and post-performance blues. We see you getting stuck inside your own head while isolating in tour buses. We see the loneliness. We see the unmanageability.

It is now more clear than ever that touring circumstances could very easily trigger mental health issues such as exhaustion, anxiety and depression. It can even ramp up addiction issues or result in self-harm. However, there is hope. By building awareness around the risks, we can find ways to keep our minds safe. We can shift our thinking into healthy spaces through simple actions, and we can maintain stability through dedication to those actions. Let’s explore the steps we can take towards developing and maintaining good mental health on the road.

A weekly online therapist appointment

The power of verbalizing your thoughts and feelings to another human being is without parallel. That is why therapy sessions are first on my list. The rollercoaster of emotions triggered by tour-life can be worked through, successfully. Therapy helps you assess the challenges you are facing, learn healthy methods of coping with them, and ultimately gain the tools you need to make good decisions. The pandemic has normalized online appointments, thus, an hour a week for an online session with a therapist is possible at any time and from any location.

With battling musicians raising their voices, globally, and the concerns for the industry becoming breaking news, some have taken courageous steps out of true compassion to provide psychological help for musicians. Organizations such as Music Minds Matter (MMM) and Music Helps provide therapy to struggling musicians, specifically. These would be good places to start looking for a fitting therapist.

Training your brain to become present

Your mind, running riot in the past and the future, is actually harmful to you. Internal dialogues such as, “If only I didn’t break that string!” or “What if the turn out is terrible!” are depleting your emotional resources as you are investing energy into trying to change what cannot be changed, and control what cannot be controlled. When you live in the present moment, things become manageable, comprehensible, and enjoyable. To teach your brain to be present, invest time into meditation.

Meditation is a way to train your brain to become more focused on and aware of the present, and the practice of daily meditation is easy enough to manage on tour. Simply take a few minutes every day. Meditating before you go on stage is particularly precious for your mental health. That is because it reminds you to be present and being present on stage allows you to really focus and enjoy every moment. 

Check-ins with your support network 

Staying connected to your support network on tour is crucial to combat loneliness and depression. Pick up the phone and call someone daily to check in. Speaking with someone you love, regularly, about turbulent feelings gives you an opportunity to share your load, and thereby lighten it. Tip: when you don’t feel like talking, chances are that you really need it. 

Since support goes both ways, you need to be willing to offer a keen ear and caring words in return. Staying interested and invested in the lives of your friends and family members not only helps build relationships, but it keeps you humble.

Prioritizing self-care

Therapy, meditation and check-ins will not help you if you are neglecting your system. You absolutely have to treat your body with respect and compassion, therefore: avoid toxins, opt for nourishing foods, drink supplements, stay hydrated, go for a run around the block or roll your yoga mat out on the floor for a quick session. Most importantly… SLEEP!  Even if you go to bed very late every night, make sure you get your 6-8 hours in. 

PS: A foolproof recipe for a breakdown is a diet of alcohol night after night. Alcohol is a depressant, and the same goes for drugs: what goes up, must come down.

Standing up for yourself to sustain your efforts

It’s easy to start your tour with ambitions of staying connected and mentally safe – it’s a whole other ball game to maintain it when those around you don’t exactly appreciate what you are trying to achieve. This is where boundaries come in: self-determined rules to protect your mental, emotional and physical well-being.

Boundaries define how you want to be treated by others. It’s about voicing your needs and not allowing others to disrespect them. A big part of setting boundaries is learning how to say ”No”.  

“No, I cannot perform five concerts a day.” 

“No, I cannot operate on only 2 hours of sleep.”

“No, a daily diet of hot dogs and alcohol will not work for me.” 

“No, I need these five minutes for myself.”

Being assertive and insisting on time and space to safeguard your health on tour could literally save you from burnout. Easier said than done?

Therapy, meditation, check-ins, self-care and setting boundaries are five simple actions to incorporate into your on-the-road routine. Starting and sticking to them can change the way you’ve been pursuing your on-the-road career completely. And yes… easier said than done, but once done, I assure you, things will get easier. 

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Carla Malrowe is an avid alternative songwriter and vocalist from South Africa, currently residing in The Netherlands. Check out her electro-industrial project, Psycoco’s single “Stay Awake.” Malrowe’s music is a haunting juxtaposition of electronic and analogue sounds with lyrics that explore a post-apocalyptic conflict between love and loss. Her solo EP, ‘The petals and sand’ is set to be released later this year.

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