Stress Busting for Musicians by Irene Lock
An excerpt from a book of the same name
The act of performing or playing music is highly involved and the potential for stress and tension is immense. Simply operating a musical instrument or singing is itself a multifaceted and complex activity, where we often ask our bodies to contort or work in unnatural ways. Additionally our minds have to be clear to allow a full range of artistic, musical and interpretive thoughts. And on top of that there are the pressures and anxieties of public performance, competitions, auditions or exams.
This book is the result of a long journey back to health from M.E. or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. At the start of my journey I was physically unable to stand and play or to teach without my body letting me down in some way, due to the stress and tension these activities caused me. My hands would shake uncontrollably, my legs would feel they did not belong to me and my breath control and technique were at the least unreliable, at the worst, nonexistent. I seemed to be sapped of all of my energies. An impossible situation for a clarinet player and woodwind teacher. I have learnt during my journey back to health that when stressed the brain stops working in the most efficient way, we have to use different strategies to access our learning, making it more stressful and at the same time some muscles actually switch off. This causes other muscles to do the opposite and overreact, working overtime leading to changes in posture. The body’s balances are upset and the symptoms of stress kick in; tension in muscles leads to aches and pains, sweating, shaking, dry mouth, lack of concentration, memory loss, to name just a few. Also I was starving my mind of the necessary ‘food’ it needed to work efficiently. All of this led to a breakdown in the system allowing viruses to run rampant, which I found more and more difficult to recover from.
I have learnt that by simply giving my brain and body the help it needs to work effectively, through the use of the exercises in this book, I can perform and work at an intensity which lets my body get on with the job without draining it of all of its resources. I hope this book will help you to do the same. It will help you to put all of your energies into making and enjoying music whatever instrument you play; it will enable you to work at your optimum level.
There are two types of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is the positive; how a child feels when anticipating a birthday or Christmas for example. Distress is the musicians’ biggest enemy. It can seriously affect our love of and ability to perform music, our very lifeblood. This is when stress becomes negative and rules our thinking and actions. These exercises are in three cumulative parts. They will help you to deal in a positive way with any stressful situation be it past, present or future. They can be done well in advance or just before a performance, examination or audition. They can also be done during a concert interval or afterwards to de-stress the situation. Many musicians have been down the beta-blocker or alcohol route to conquer nerves or stress. Unfortunately this only buries the symptoms, storing up more stress for the future. Remember what it feels like when things don’t go well and then having to play the same thing on another occasion, be it piece, scale or exercise? These stressful memories become a reflex action and we do not use the front, thinking part of our brains, but instead we rely on the automatic reactive thinking from the more primitive parts of our brains. The following exercises turn this remembered stress into a memory, which the body can file away, allowing it to concentrate on the new performance, examination or audition, by using our conscious mind.
Emotional Stress Release Points
If the stress you are dealing with is particularly traumatic, start by setting up a “safe place”, real or imaginary, where you feel happy and stress free. Go to the safe place as often as you feel necessary, to take time out from the following process.
These points are on your forehead, where we would have had horns. Your forehead has a slight bump or eminence at this spot, directly above your eyes and midway between your eyebrows and hairline. Place the index and middle finger of each hand on each of these points. This brings you back into the thinking, reasoning front part of your brain, away from the fight or flight instinct part, which is where we go when we are stressed. Use a very light pressure, as if you were touching your eyeball.
Think about your stressful situation. Give the stressful feeling a score out of ten. Zero being no stress and ten being maximum stress. Keep thinking about the stressful situation; gradually the score will go down. If the score reaches zero, or your mind starts to wander you have successfully turned the stress into a memory the brain can file safely away. If the score gets stuck continue with the next exercise.
These points are neurovascular holding points, which were discovered in the 1930s by Terrence Bennett, a chiropractor. Dr George Goodheart, also a chiropractor, did further work on them in the 1960s and 1970s. When we react negatively to stress, lots of chemical, emotional and physical changes happen very quickly in our bodies, known as the fight or flight syndrome. We are being controlled by reflex actions instead of our conscious minds. A red angry face or draining away of colour when we are scared are examples of these changes. Touching the Emotional Stress Release points allows us to send messages via the nervous system to the vascular or blood system, opening up the capillary networks to bring us back to our reasoning, thinking part of our brains. When we recall the situation in the future it will not take us into the reflex reaction. The past, present or future view of the stressful situation has changed.
© Queen’s Temple Publications
Stress Busting for Musicians is published by Queen's Temple Publications and available from www.qtpublications.co.uk