Every profession has its own challenges, stressors, and potential for burnout. Those who work in the music industry struggle with their unique challenges and risks which can have grave consequences. According to a recent study by the Music Industry Research Association (MIRA) musicians working in the music industry experience higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts and substance use than the average American. They are also more likely to experience low moods, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating and negative feelings about themselves.
This breaks my heart. A thriving artistic community is valuable to our culture and the whole of society. We need to support the artistic community and change the current dialogue to shift towards talking about mental, physical and emotional wellbeing as a priority. Without the livelihood and wellbeing of musicians, the world is stark and colorless.
There are plenty of factors that contribute to musicians experiencing higher levels of stress. For example, the line between your personal life and work is often blurred. Your workspace may be a recording studio, inside a music venue or a tour bus and your free time and work hours constantly cross over. But it’s also what makes your work interesting and exciting, as no two days are ever the same. However, the glorification of “the hustle” and not stopping at any cost, even for sleep has grave consequences for the overall wellbeing of an artist. I often see how this mentality is worn as a badge of honor, that you are getting so much session work that you don’t have time for anything else. This reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine, who is touring as a session guitarist for a huge pop star. He drops her name in every conversation with everyone he encounters then follows up with how exhausted he is, how he’s working so much. I feel for him. He does look exhausted. But he looks more than exhausted, he looks terribly unhealthy.
Music Industry Work Hours
With it comes the expectation and norm that you are to work until 2 or 4am in the studio, if creative juices are flowing, we are rolling. For sure. I’ve done this many times as a recording artist and I understand it. But what is important to implement if you’re working 16-hour days well until the morning hours, is balance, rest and self-care. A tired brain has a limited capacity for creative output.
Don’t wait til it’s too late. Often times, it isn’t until you get really sick or something breaks that you realize you need to make some big changes. For some it is tragically too late. It’s human nature not to think about preventability until something’s gone very wrong – but that is a dangerous road to go down.
With technology, we are expected to be plugged in and available for all the people in our lives at all times. There is no shut down switch for rebooting and recuperation. Somehow we’ve acclimated to this and it’s become an excuse that “this is just the world we live in now.” But all of this is a personal daily choice that can take up space within our emotional or mental bandwidth.
Work balance and boundaries
A balanced approach to work and life = healthy, working mindset.
• Having a routine can help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, even if it’s just during a small part of your day, such as your morning.
• Regular exercise, eating healthy and cutting down on alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and will magnify negative symptoms and low moods.
• Psychotherapy: Anxiety and depression do not have any quick fix solutions and can often return over time. Instead of symptom management and putting on a band-aid on your issues: go work through the deeper wounds that are holding you back from being present to your life. You deserve to heal.
The first step in dealing with stress is being able to recognize and identify what may be causing it.
• Look at the correlation between events or activities and your feelings. Are you able to eliminate certain things in your surrounding environment that aren’t serving you? Or restructure your time?
• Take a close look at your responsibilities and drop tasks that aren’t urgent or important.
• Free time: This is the part many in the music industry have trouble with: scheduling in free time or a relaxing activity. Your body and mind need time to recover from high-pressure, stress, and long working hours.
• Examine your coping mechanisms. Replace unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy ones- temporary relaxants such as smoking, drinking, and drugs will actually be magnifying your overall stress and mental being.
• Be active, sleep more, eat well- 3 hugely important lifestyle choices that are well worth sticking too and which will give you more energy to create.
• Learn to say “no” – know your limits and stick to them. Being there for everything, often means being there for nothing truly important.
• When others make unreasonable demands on you, communicate your feelings. This is your part of the equation: stand up for yourself or no one else will.
• Identify the things that are within your control and things that are not. Let go of what you cannot.
• The things that are out of your control: You have the power to choose how you want to respond to everything, how others respond to you has everything to do with them and nothing to do with you.
• Identify unhelpful thinking patterns that are causing you distress. Are you being critical, negative, harsh towards yourself? Remember, thoughts are not factual, they are fictional stories told to cope with a current situation. Check yourself by employing facts to challenge your negative thought patterns and beliefs.
• Keep track of good feedback and small success on the daily. When you receive a compliment, positive feedback, or accomplish something, no matter how small, write it down. Shifting from negative thinking to positive thinking takes effort and work, because it’s taken years to perfect negative thinking.
I know how challenging working in the music industry can be. My hope is that people will get the help that they need before it’s too late. A healthy mindset and balanced life will not only give you a higher quality of life, but also help you thrive creatively and yield higher productivity in the long run.
–Ana Kashefi is a musician, songwriter and Associate Marriage and Family Therapist based in Los Angeles, CA. For more information contact: email@example.com