Illustration: Leo Peng
According to a 2019 report, 73% of independent musicians experience symptoms of mental illness in relation to their music careers.
The unpredictability of making a living from creative work, the challenges of navigating the music industry, and the constant pressure to “hustle” make it easy for things like stress, burnout, low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression to creep in. Throw in a global pandemic, and it’s not hard to see why more and more musicians have been suffering. In the face of all of this, one simple, highly effective, yet often overlooked solution that can help maintain our physical—and more importantly, mental—wellbeing is self-care.
Now, if you’re rolling your eyes at the words “self-care,” it’s because the term has been extremely overused and grossly misunderstood. When most people think of self-care, they think of face masks and bubble baths. Yes, these are absolutely forms of self-care, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s about looking out for yourself and setting yourself up to feel and perform at your best.
It’s also not selfish or self-indulgent. In fact, getting yourself to do the things you know are good for you is often extremely hard. It can take a lot of effort to cook a healthy meal or take time away from work to recharge yourself. But it always feels better when you’ve done it, and in the long term, it can drastically improve your overall wellbeing.
Self-care is something absolutely everyone should implement into their lives, but it can be especially helpful for musicians, artists, and anyone who does any kind of creative work.
In this article, let’s talk about what exactly self-care is, why it’s important for musicians, and what you can do to start taking better care of yourself.
What is self-care?
Self-care simply means taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing. We’re all unique, so it can look very different from one person to the next, but the ultimate goal is always the same—to take care of your needs, maintain good health, and remain resilient through challenging circumstances.
It’s important to note that while self-care often involves adding healthy activities and habits into your life, it can also mean refraining from the things that you know are bad for you.
Why is self-care important for musicians?
As creatives, we often fail to draw a line between our work and our identity. When we experience criticisms or setbacks in our music career—which almost always stem from someone’s subjective point of view and should never be taken as fact—we see them as personal failures. As a result, our self-esteem and, consequently, mental health tend to suffer.
Now, trying to build a career in music is no walk in the park. The industry is highly competitive, it’s constantly changing, and there’s no single right way to do anything. In other words, the path is littered with failure, rejection, and disappointment.
Of course, there are also incredible moments to look forward to, but you want to be able to 1) stay in the game long enough to experience them, and 2) stay happy and healthy enough to fully appreciate them.
This is where self-care comes in. When you set aside time to take care of yourself, you have a better chance of staying resilient in the face of challenges and enjoying a long, fruitful, and fulfilling career in music.
Below are some of the main benefits of self-care in more detail.
1. Self-care helps develop a positive self-image
Engaging in activities that promote good physical and mental health—while saying “no” to bad habits and things that don’t serve you—produces positive feelings and improves self-esteem. You can feel proud of yourself for taking responsibility for your wellbeing and choosing only what’s best for you.
2. It makes you more creative and productive
When you’re well rested, balanced, and generally feeling good, you’re much more likely to produce your best work. Your motivation, concentration, and productivity also tend to improve.
3. It helps manage stress
Stressful situations are inevitable, but you can counteract their effect on your body and mind by intentionally choosing calming activities, breathing exercises, and positive thoughts.
4. It makes you more resilient
When you’re operating at your best, you’re much more likely to persevere through challenging situations, view failure as a learning opportunity, and maintain a positive attitude about yourself and your future.
5. It creates a healthy work-life balance
There’s a dangerous misconception that in order to be successful, musicians need to constantly hustle and work day and night on creating and promoting their music. The truth is, it’s those who understand the importance of resting, recharging, and taking care of themselves who enjoy prosperous and long-lasting careers.
6. It prevents burnout
Pursuing a career in music can often feel like a marathon, except the track isn’t paved, you don’t really know where you’re going, and you have no idea how long it’s going to take. Taking the time to stop, rest, and attend to your needs will help prevent burnout and keep you energized and motivated for the long haul.
7. It can help prevent or reduce anxiety and depression
Self-care is absolutely vital for maintaining good mental health. If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, self-care means identifying and making use of tools that can help you deal with negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
If you’re generally doing okay, but are overwhelmed with everything you have to deal with, self-care can help you better manage life’s stressors and prevent more serious issues from rising up.
8. It supports your overall health and wellbeing
Your music career aside, self-care is simply part of living a healthy, happy life. When you take care of your body, mind, and emotional needs, you operate at an optimal level and see it reflected across all areas of your life.
How to implement self-care into your life
Now that you understand why self-care is important, let’s go over three steps you can take to implement it into your own life and see its benefits for yourself.
1. Cover the basics
There are countless ways to take care of yourself, but there are a few key things you can do that will make a massive difference. These are things like:
- Getting eight hours of sleep and having a consistent sleep schedule
- Fueling your body with nutritious food
- Moving your body in a way that you enjoy
- Ditching habits that harm your physical or mental health
- Setting appropriate limits for how much you work, while leaving time for rest and play
- Having a support network of people you can talk to and spend time with
You might already be doing some things that help you feel better in the moment, but these basics will help maintain your wellbeing in the long run and shouldn’t be neglected.
2. Create a self-care menu
Once you have the basics covered, you can think about other ways to take care of yourself.
Even though we know self-care is important, we don’t always know what exactly it’s supposed to look like. This lack of clarity can lead us to procrastinate on self-care and, ultimately, neglect it. When we have a free hour, we end up spending it scrolling through social media, rather than truly resting and recharging.
That’s why it can be helpful to create a self-care menu—a curated list of activities and tasks that’s made for your unique needs and preferences. Take the time to create this list, so you can refer to it whenever you need some ‘me’ time but aren’t sure what to do.
Below are a few ideas you can borrow and experiment with, split up by the eight dimensions of wellbeing. You don’t have to do everything on this list every single day, but try to regularly engage in at least one self-care activity from each category.
- Prepare a nourishing meal or snack
- Drink a glass of water
- Exercise, dance, or go for a walk
- Take a nap
- Book a check-up with your doctor
- Keep a journal
- Talk to a friend
- Set boundaries
- Practice positive affirmations
- See a therapist
- Read a book
- Do a puzzle
- Learn something new
- Spend time away from your phone or computer
- Take up a new hobby
- Try breathing exercises
- Connect with nature
- Set intentions
- Call a family member
- Spend time with friends
- Have a date night with a significant other
- Try doing something new and meeting new people
- Volunteer in your community
- Clean, declutter, or organize your space
- Rearrange or decorate your home
- Open up the windows to let in fresh air
- Create a relaxing atmosphere by lighting a candle, dimming the lights, and playing soft music
- Take care of indoor plants or an outdoor garden
- Set professional goals and make an action plan for how you’ll achieve them
- Plan your day, week, month, and year
- Learn a new skill
- Research new ways to grow as a musician
- Find a mentor and meet with them regularly
- Review your spending habits
- Create a budget
- Pay your bills
- Create a savings plan
- Research new ways to make money
3. Reflect and adjust: Self-care is a continuous journey
Creating a self-care plan isn’t a one-and-done process. Our circumstances, needs, and preferences are constantly changing, so it’s important to reflect on your wellbeing and how well your self-care is working.
It’s also far too common to keep up with self-care when it’s easy, but neglect it as life gets busy and stressful—ironically, the time when we actually need it most.
The most important thing you can do, then, is keep a close eye on how you’re doing physically and mentally, regularly reflect on what you’re doing to take care of yourself, and make adjustments as necessary.
For example, on a good day, self-care might look like going on an hour-long hike, cooking a delicious dinner, and inviting friends over for board game night. On a challenging day, self-care might look like taking a shower, ordering takeout, and curling up on the couch to watch Netflix.
No matter what your self-care looks like, remember to have self-compassion. The life of a musician isn’t easy, but with the right tools and mindset, you can set yourself up to enjoy a healthy, balanced, and fulfilling career.
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March 29, 2022