I have been researching the topic of mental well-being and self-care for over ten years, and I'm excited to share with you some of the unique systems that I've developed to incorporate self-care into your daily life. I'm writing this as a musician to fellow musicians, but these tips and techniques easily translate to anyone, no matter your career or place in life. Read on to learn how to incorporate these self-care techniques into your life in real and practical ways that you can act on starting today!
Effective self-care doesn’t usually happen naturally, but it’s an intentional decision. Once you recognize why self-care is such a necessary part of your well-being, it’s easy to make the decision to incorporate it into your life. To build a personalized self-care plan, you’ll first need to study yourself. As you learn more about yourself, you’ll learn how to take care of your physical health, how to schedule self-care, how to build a list of easy activities for a quick pick-me-up, and how to practice self-care attitudes. Your new self-care plan will help you to thrive in your life by building balance into your life and giving you techniques to recharge.
Why care about self-care?
Is self-care very important? You’d probably agree that it is. However, most people don’t take enough time to care for themselves in the rush of work, family, and other life tasks and activities. Do you? If not, why?
- Is it because it seems selfish?
- Is it because you have too much on your mind and can’t relax?
- Do you simply have much to accomplish?
- Does it feel indulgent and unnecessary?
- Is it because you might look to others like you don’t work hard enough?
- Is it simply off your radar altogether?
- Do you feel like you can’t think about yourself until you get everything done first?
The final reason is the one I struggle with the most. When I’m buried in the middle of a big project, proposing a five-minute break to me would be like suggesting that I take a year-long trip to Bali!
Self-care isn’t about pampering yourself, but it’s actually an essential part of your well-being. Your career goal as a musician or singer is to put out a great product for your clients, and guess what? You’re the product! Just like one would ensure that their professional racehorse is in top condition for each race, or like a race car driver maintains their car in perfect working condition, you need to keep your whole self in optimal working condition for your musical performances. To develop your product (yourself), you need to nurture not only your ability to make music, but your total well-being, including your body, mind, emotions, thoughts, and spirit. When you use healthy self-care habits you’ll notice endless benefits and you’ll be able to keep your passion, energy, enthusiasm, and body healthy for the long run.
You’re a unique individual, and self-care isn’t a one size fits all kind of deal. To make a personal self-care plan, you need to be student of yourself. This is best done when you’re less busy since it will initially take more time, but it’s never too late to get started. To be a student of yourself, take notes on how you respond physically, mentally, and emotionally to different things. Strong reactions of any type are clear messages from your body that you should pay attention to. When you have strong reactions, allow yourself to calm down or process the information at first if needed. Then, make a note how you felt and what was going on at the time, including possible triggers. It’s helpful to keep a journal to record these. One beneficial exercise is to perform a self-evaluation at the end of each day. What was my best moment? What was my worst moment? Why?
After several weeks of noting the messages that your body is giving you, you’ll probably start to notice some trends, and these can help you to make better life decisions and to create goals.
Once you’ve identified what’s triggering strong reactions in yourself, you can choose to:
- Learn from it
- Reduce it
- Increase it
- Change it
- Face it
- Avoid it
- Work through it
- Embrace it
Whatever you do, it’s important to act on this information rather than ignoring it. This exercise isn’t about avoiding all negative emotions and thoughts and embracing only the positive ones. Our emotions and thoughts are simply messengers attempting to give us useful information. Studying yourself is an ongoing process, and you need to always be mindful of the messages that your body is sending you. As you study yourself, it’s also useful to get the input of other people that you trust. Sometimes they see aspects of you more clearly than you see yourself.
Now it’s time to delve into specific techniques of effective self-care. We’ll start with physical health since it will create the foundation. Take time during your non-busy season to establish healthy sleep, diet, and exercise habits that work for you. To determine what works best for you, follow the techniques to become a student of yourself. Remember that your emotions, physical body and mind are always guiding you with information. Below are tips for basic physical care. Experiment with them and see which ones work best for you.
Tips for Sleep:
- Take note of how many hours of sleep you need to feel rested and schedule sleep as you would any other activity. If you can’t get adequate sleep on certain nights, it’s Ok if you usually stick to your routine.
- Find a routine to relax before bed that works for you. This can include a hot mug of tea, a hot soak in the tub, deep breathing, meditation, reading etc.
- When in bed, relax your muscles one by one starting with your toes and slowly working your way up to the top of your head. Take a deep breath and as you let it out, say to yourself “Now I relax my toes” etc. It helps to tense the muscle while inhaling for a better release.
- Create a comfortable sleep environment. Make sure that you have a comfortable bed and bedding and a cool dark room. Some people enjoy listening to sleep sounds or white noise as they sleep.
- Avoid the use of electronics such as computers, TV, or any screen time in the bedroom.
- Journal your thoughts before you go to bed.
- Do easy yoga or stretching before you go to bed.
Tips for Exercise:
- Schedule exercise either by time of day or by tacking it onto something that you already do daily. For example, you can say: I’ll exercise first thing after getting up in the morning, I’ll exercise at 7:00pm, or I’ll exercise before eating lunch.
- Think of several different kinds of exercise that you enjoy and do a different type of exercise or routine each day to keep it fresh. Ideas include walking, running, yoga, Pilates, swimming, sports, cycling, dancing, jump rope, going to the gym, or floor exercises that can be done without equipment.
- Exercise with a friend.
- Listen to a book on tape or music while you exercise.
- See exercise as your personal time to think or unplug from the world.
- Exercise mindfully and feel the strength in your muscles and the energy of your pumping heart.
Tips for Diet:
- Prepare meals in advance so that you don’t have to cook every day (invest in lots of food storage containers of the same size so that they can be neatly stacked in your freezer or refrigerator. Use glass containers instead of plastic because they don’t transfer chemicals or bad flavors to the food).
- Drink water! Carry a bottle of water wherever you go and for a more appealing cold or hot drink, bring it in an insulated water bottle. Avoid mindlessly drinking sugary drinks or alcohol but drink them as a special treat during a time at which you can enjoy every sip.
- Juice fresh vegetables and have the juice available to energize yourself on a performance day.
- Make healthy shakes that are easy to bring in place of a meal.
- If you don’t have time to shop for food, consider a home grocery delivery plan.
- If you don’t have time to cook, consider an easy home cooking plan.
- Learn quick and healthy recipes that you can rotate using ingredients that you have on hand. (I like “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman).
I don’t think that anyone really looks forward to going to regular doctor, dentist, or eye doctor appointments. However, it’s important to get regular check-ups just to make sure that everything is still well with your body. If possible, schedule all these appointments during your slow season so that you don’t need to think about them when you’re in your very busy. Schedule a reminder in your calendar that will tell you to make your doctor appointments and don’t ignore it when it comes up.
Self-care in Relation to Playing or Singing:
Live a lifestyle that keeps your body and mind in optimal singing and playing condition. You know what habits are specific to you whether it be diet, specific exercises or stretches, and good performing habits to prevent injury when singing and playing your instrument. It’s also healthy incorporate good habits right into your instrument or singing practice. These can include short intervals of stretching and breathing, visualization techniques, the Alexander Technique, or just regular check-ins to notices if you have any tension.
Example: I had severe nerve damage in my left arm and I do arm exercises daily and apply essential oils. This takes about 15 minutes every day, but I have a scheduled time to do it because for me it’s a necessity for pain management and mobility. During my practice sessions, I stop at regular intervals to do a few seconds of stretching. Sometimes, I find that I feel even better after practicing than before!
A couple of years ago, I noticed that I was frequently feeling down in spirits at various times and I didn’t know why. I became a student of myself and over the next few weeks, I made mental notes of what was happening when I felt down.
A very clear pattern emerged. I realized that I would feel down when I hadn’t had any social activity for a while. Since I’m an introvert, I had always thought – no big deal, right? I need plenty of time to be alone, so that can’t be my problem. But the truth is that whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you need regular social interactions to life a healthy and balanced life. I realized that I sometimes went without interactions with friends for weeks at a time and this was a big problem.
I scheduled time to spend with friends (even if it was just on the phone) a minimum of once a week. I guarded my time with friends carefully. After only a few weeks of trying this, my husband commented that I seemed different somehow. He said that I was much more positive, happy, and engaged. I then told him about the experiment that I was doing, and he encouraged me to keep it up.
When you have more time-consuming self-care activities, it’s important to schedule them. Make a specific time each week to sit down to evaluate your past week and to schedule the upcoming week. Ask yourself what’s working and what’s not working. What do you need more of and what do you need to cut back on? Be intentional about what your're doing with your life on a small scale. This can be your time to make a mini life assessment so that you don’t live on autopilot. You know your schedule and your needs and can choose the frequency of your scheduled self-care activities to be daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly. Make these scheduled activities as important as any other appointment on your calendar. Sometimes this will mean that you have to say “no” to people. If you’re honest with others, then they’ll begin to see how important self-care is to you. If they admit the truth to themselves, they’ll realize that they want that for their lives as well, and one person at a time, self-care may become an embraced and respected part of society.
Drop your ideas of what defines a useful activity. If your activity leaves you feeling one of the following ways, then it’s a useful activity and it doesn’t matter why:
Here’s a sample list of items that you can schedule. As you read this list, take note of which activities have worked for you in the past and which ones that you might want to try for the future. When doing your activity, unplug yourself from work life completely. Turn off your cell phone or work notifications and put your phone where you can’t see it.
Take a Day Off:
If you’re in music, your day off might not be on the weekend, but you can choose another day of the week. Once you choose your day off for the upcoming week, schedule it as a very important appointment in your calendar. Busyness can come in many forms and isn’t just about your job. Consider all the responsibilities that you deal with daily and take a rest from them as much as possible. On your day off, be intentional about doing things that rejuvenate you. This may even involve things that some people consider “work”, but if it’s refreshing for you, then do it. The key is intention.
Time with Family or Friends:
Remember your friends and family. Everyone needs community and social interactions in order to be balanced and healthy. Make time for your friends and/or family even if the time is more limited than normal, such as with a quick phone call. Spend time with people who leave you encouraged and with a smile on your face.
Other self-care activities to schedule include:
- Go out to dinner with your family or friends or even schedule a dinner at home
- Have an adventure – hiking, fishing, road trip etc.
- Take a day of fun exercise such as hiking, swimming, biking or gardening
- Participate in a sport that you enjoy
- Attend a social or town event
- Go to the spa or for a massage
- Go to the movies
- Read a good book
- Do a wine and paint session
Quick Self Care Techniques
As important as the previous activities are, they do take time, and sometimes you just need a quick way to recharge and reset. You may also want a healthy and productive way to fill an odd gap of time between other activities, rather than checking social media or your news feed. It may also be tempting to fill the moments when you need a short break by heading to the refrigerator or snack machine, falling into a bad habit you'd rather break, or ignoring that you need a break altogether. We all need to take moments of refreshment in the middle of a busy day and that’s why I created the idea of quick activities. Quick activities should only take between one and fifteen minutes to complete.
Make a list of your own quick activities and keep it in a place that you can refer to at any time. To make your list, you can ask yourself these questions:
What things help to give me perspective?
What things put a smile on my face?
What things make me feel just a little bit lighter?
What things help me feel calmer?
How do I like to create?
How do I like to play?
You probably already know several things that work well for you. Here are a few more ideas to help get you started on your list:
- Work on a puzzle
- Work on a crossword puzzle
- Do a short computer game
- Play with your pet(s)
- Soak up some sun
- Read or listen to something humorous
- Do a few minutes of yoga
- Let your mind wander
- Walk or run around the block
- Step outside and take a few deep breaths and notice the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the air around you
- List all the things that you’re grateful for
- Text a friend
- Color in an adult coloring book
- Give someone a hug
- Do something kind for someone else
Since making decisions drains energy it’s helpful to choose a quick activity randomly. You won’t be able to do all of them in all settings, but hopefully you have items that you can do at work or even in the car.
When do you practice self-care? The simple answer is – All the time!
My husband, Tom, manages a team of people in the tech industry. Recently, the company has been making some very unpopular changes regarding his team, and morale was quickly slipping away. Tom noted that one of the major problems was a negative attitude among several of the workers, and this attitude transferred to everyone else in the team. The environment was becoming toxic and productivity was at an all-time low. Tom took the situation seriously and had many talks with his team, encouraging them to foster a positive attitude. He said that it wasn’t wrong to be unhappy and frustrated by the situation that they were in, but they still needed to maintain a positive attitude regardless of their feelings. Tom was honest with them about his emotions and said that he was frustrated with the situation as well. He created an environment in which his team could be honest about their emotions without being judged. Tom’s team responded to his lead, productivity dramatically increased, everyone trusted each other more, and working relationships improved.
This is the final element of self-care. Even though there are many things in life that you have no control over, you can still choose how you respond to what life throws at you. These are your self-care attitudes, and they are responses that you can practice and nurture at any place and at any time until they become habits. These mindsets are practically limitless and the benefits of actively practicing these self-care attitudes include:
- Personal growth
- Increasing positive and helpful interactions with others
- A greater love for self and others
- Less stress
- Better work performance
- Improved awareness of our environment and of others
- More freedom
Here are some examples of self-care attitudes. Use this list as inspiration to create your own list that is specific to you:
- Have a positive “can do” attitude despite the situation
- View events from a positive viewpoint and believe yourself to be a lucky person
- Live in the “now” and experience the input from all your senses
- Work as a team with others – help others when they need it and ask others for help when you need it
- Focus on making what you want to happen rather than trying to prevent bad things from happening
- Be patient
- Forgive yourself and others for making mistakes
- Help others
- Commit with care and then follow though
- Be authentic and unique rather than comparing yourself to others
- Choose to trust others first rather than to distrust first
- Express your emotions mindfully
- Respect your boundaries and the boundaries of others
- Be loving
Example: If you believe yourself to be a lucky person, you’ll start to notice how frequently things work in your favor throughout the entire day. Or if you live in the now and use your senses throughout the day, the day will give you a richer experience and it won’t seem like time is flying by too fast.
Which of these points challenge you? What points can you add to your list? Once you have your list, read one point first thing each morning, and then apply it to the rest of your day. Think of it as looking at life through a different lens each day. It’s like putting on a pair of different colored glasses, so that everything you interact with that day is filtered through this new lens. If you actively and mindfully practice your self-care attitude throughout the day, you’ll notice a difference in the way that you feel and respond, and the way that others respond to you. The benefits of practicing helpful attitudes are countless, and they will positively affect every area of your life and the lives of others. As you practice these attitudes, they’ll begin to become habits and you’ll no longer have to consciously think of them to practice them. You can continue to adjust your list as you grow, removing things that have become habits and adding new things.
Recognize what your priorities really are. Only a few items will fall into your “absolute must” category. The list of things that you’d really love to get done but that aren’t critical will probably be a lot longer. Make self-care a priority.
Being late to personal and professional appointments is a great way to create a lot of stress for ourselves and others. You can mostly eliminate this stress from your life by allowing extra travel time. You can use today’s technology to check the traffic at different times of the day, look at satellite images of where you're going, and to locate parking places in advance. Schedule your departure times in your calendar, and double check traffic before you leave.
Technology makes us very mobile so the time that you have when you arrive early need not be wasted. You can:
- Make phone calls
- Answer emails
- Warm up your voice or instrument
- Eat a snack
- Network or socialize
- Take a walk
- Do one of the things on your quick self-care list
- Review your current item on your self-care attitudes list
We all make mistakes, both in our musical performances and in our lives in general. It’s helpful to develop a personal mistake ritual so that you can quickly move past your mistakes, particularly in a performance situation. Here’s an example of a mistake ritual:
After making a mistake, sit in a tall confident pose with your shoulders back, chest out, chin up and with a confident facial expression. Then squeeze your shoulders together and visualize the mistake rolling away down your shoulders. Then move on!
Once you’re aware of what things energize you and what things wear you out, you can begin to shape your decisions and attitudes and be conscious about the way that you use your time. Once you set your strategy for self-care, involve the important people in your life. Make sure that your family and friends are aware of how important this is to you and what the changes that you’re making might mean for them. Be forgiving of yourself and don’t treat these tips as rules, but as helpful tools to make your life more purposeful and healthier.
Remember that self-care is a necessary part of your well-being. Take care of your basic physical needs such as sleep, diet, exercise and seeing the doctor for check-ups. Take time out of your schedule each week to evaluate your past week and to plan the following week, making sure to include self-care activities if possible. Have a list of quick self-care activities that you can do at any time when needed. And finally, practice healthy self-care attitudes that will change your life for the better, one thought at a time.