As a Music Education major, I am not a stranger to the extraneous workload, unbalanced and crazy class schedules, and a lack of clarity in when/how to take breaks.
It can be argued that music degree programs are some of the most demanding in the University curriculum. In return, as “music people,” we come out with a better understanding of life, music, and more life lessons than others. But at what cost if we don’t prioritize our mental health?
I strongly believe that if we do not take time for ourselves, we cannot take time to help others. The stigma around taking breaks needs to change, and it all starts with prioritizing ourselves.
Why Don’t We Take Breaks?
I have seen it. This invisible cycle in music schools everywhere starts a few weeks after the semester hits- it is about to hit concert season, assignments are piling up, lessons are increasing in difficulty, and feeding ourselves three times a day seems next to impossible. When this starts happening, the idea gets into our brains that we are wasting our time if we are not productive at every resting minute.
I, too, have been a victim of this before. For example, in my sophomore and freshman year of college, I would barely allow myself a moment to even put on a favorite tv show because I had a music theory assignment due the next day that I had no idea what I was doing.
Music majors, especially music education majors, have so many classes and practices on their plates that they think a break would do the opposite- get them even more behind. It is an unfortunate reality that isn’t nearly talked about enough.
I am going to talk about my college roommate for a second. She is a Music Education major at West Chester University with me with a focus in percussion. She has a nearly 4.0 GPA, is highly involved in everything she can be, and is your above-average successful student who is very passionate about everything she does. When she gets home from a day of classes, she often will not give herself time to rest. She will be lying down on the couch and start saying, “This feels so good, but I have to get done with my homework. I do not have time to rest”. At this point is when I try to tell her that it is okay to rest and that our bodies need it. After some talking, she still goes on to do her homework.
The biggest thing that we need to understand is Rest is Productive. We cannot work hard all the time without resting for all of that hard work. This needs to be talked about more in the music schools.
The Reality Behind Burnout
Without rest, we burn out. Of course, some experience burnout quicker than others, but if we do not consistently show ourselves kindness and self-care, we will all experience the reality of burnout.
When we begin to feel burnt out, our motivation also dimmers. College musicians get so tired out that they don’t even see the point or the end goals of what they are doing anymore. Playing our instruments is supposed to give us joy- when it starts to feel more like a chore, it feels like going on in the program is too much.
We need to make sure we are resting to avoid this.
How Can We Make Time?
I know that it feels like there’s not enough time in the day, but there is time for self-care, if you make it. It can be as simple as 10 minutes a day of doing something that relieves stress, but those 10 minutes can have a significant impact.
- Schedule in Time for Yourself
- Like I said before, it can be as quick as 10 minutes a day. Try to schedule it in the morning when you are still at home or when you get home from rehearsals/class. You will thank yourself later.
- Time Management
- Try to keep track of how long you would like to practice, or do homework, so that way you can get your things done and even not go over how much time you want to spend on these items. It is also essential to schedule your day, allowing you to plan when you will take time for self-care.
- Make. Time.
- Like Nike says, Just Do It.
This is something I am very passionate about. In my first couple of years, I struggled to see the point in what I was doing because I wasn’t allowing myself time to reflect and see all the fantastic things I was doing. Now after incorporating self-care as a priority, I am a lot happier and excited going into my final semester of college.
Let’s prioritize our mental well-being, friends.
Want to read more practical tips for self-care? Download our free eBook on “Self Care for Music Teachers”!