Change (as we are experiencing now) is intrinsically linked to anxiety. Helen Brice, a psychotherapist specialising in working with musicians and performers, offers some practical mindfulness.
First, we’re in a crisis. It’s perfectly fitting that you may feel panicked, stressed, anxious, or out of control. It’s absolutely fitting that you may feel the need to re-orient yourself, take stock of your life, implement strategies to kick some unhealthy habits, or build more healthy ones.
It’s also a completely natural reaction to do nothing much at all except make banana loaf and bake bread till the country’s yeast runs out or to be non-productive.
There is no right way to get through a crisis and the constancy of change that comes with it. Here’s the thing; change causes anxiety, always. Whether you embrace it and relish novelty, or you are averse to it and dread it, change and anxiety go hand in hand.
It’s the apprehension that comes with change that results in two responses and their corresponding action urges. One response is fear, whose action urges are to flee, fight, or freeze; the other is joy, the action urge for which is to be over expressive, and highly active. Whilst these responses are different according to the emotion experienced, what is exactly the same for both is the physiological reaction: racing heart, shortness of breath, muscular tension, possible sudden change in body temperature. I’ve even found that a few of my clients who are used to living with a generalised anxiety, or prone to perfectionism or obsessive behaviours are now able to take a sit back, to stop – almost smug – and tell me and others reeling in the turmoil, “welcome to my world. This is how I live day-to-day“ i.e. hyper-vigilant, stressed, frantic, worried, paranoid, on alert, sometimes on the attack when taken by surprise.
So, you get the picture? There is no correct or “appropriate” way to respond to your current environment. All emotions are valid. And if you want to paint, knit, do yoga, exercise, create an online TV channel, update your LinkedIn account; be an activist, watch all the news bulletins; devise online learning for your students, stream “postcard” performances to individuals. It’s also OK to stop playing, to be sad, to hide away and hunker down, avoid the news, catastrophise, worry, do what works for you.
Having said that, my clients have found if what you’re doing stops working, a practical approach to mindfulness can be really useful.
Reign in the anxiety of change with mindful worrying
Worry works, worry validates your anxiety, but it needs to be limited. It can be paralyzing living in worry. However, it is possible to worry mindfully:
Book yourself anywhere between 5-30 minutes worry time once or twice a day, make an appointment with yourself; do this the night before;
- Set a reminder for the “appointment”,
- When you get the reminder, attend to it, stop whatever you are doing;
- Set an alarm for the worry time (5-30 minutes duration), and worry away till the alarm goes off;
- When the alarm goes off you must end your worrying and go back to your task, or do something else.
Your worrying can take any form you want, whether writing, talking to yourself, thinking, reading the news updates online; you might catastrophise, i.e. think about the worst possible outcomes, or mourn your losses, wish things were different, wallow in self-pity, even; or problem solve and focus on solutions. How you worry is up to you.
Whenever you have a worry thought outside of this allotted time – and you will do – say to yourself, ‘now’s not the time to worry. My worry time is at (e.g.) 5pm tonight’ and until then, you discard, kick in to touch, sweep under the carpet the thought, and bring it back into mind at that appointment that you’ve booked with yourself. If you’re cynical, be curious, and try it a few times as an experiment.
You can do this for anywhere between 30 seconds or 3 minutes, and as many times a day as you like. It’s mindfulness on the go, and an antidote to mindless wallowing. Keep the phrases short, don’t clump lots of feelings and thoughts together.
Try as best you can not to filter or edit your what comes to you in that time. It seems counterintuitive to go toward the thoughts you usually try to steer clear of; but the danger of positivity at all costs is that the difficult, negative ones come back to bite you when you least expect. This way, you’re in control.
Don’t be bullied or coaxed into doing things a certain way; embrace difference – what works for you won’t necessarily work for others, and vice versa. Attune to your mood as is effective and validating to you at any given time.
Helen Brice, Existential Psychotherapist
UKCP, MUPCA Accred, BACP, FRSA, MA, BA (Hons)
DBT and RODBT Practitioner
Whatever you’re going through right now, you can contact Music Minds Matter on 0808 802 8008 or email us at MMM@helpmusicians.org.uk