Do you ever make plans to do something a certain way, and then turn around and do something completely different? I’m finding out that this is happening with this blog— although I have many ideas scheduled out on a master calendar for the next weeks and months, I often abandon my planned post for the week and decide to write on another subject entirely! That’s how I happened on today’s important theme– You Deserve a Break Today– and I Don’t Mean McDonald’s!
The inspiration for a blog post may come from something that happens in one of my voice classes that I teach at the college, or in a singing lesson with one of my students at my private studio. And, it can also be from something that happens in my own professional life as a singer and teacher, or even from my personal life. If I think it could benefit other singers on their singing journey, I want to share it…
To that end, a little background for this week’s post. As some of you who have been reading this blog know, my 94-year-old mother fell and shattered her hip three years ago, and the impact it has had on her, and the rest of us, her family, has been beyond anything we could have imagined. I will spare you all the excruciating details, from the life and death issues to the everyday realities of life after an accident of this magnitude. But what I will share is that my stress levels have been off the charts— if I am not at work, I am with my mom and helping to take care of her. Even in the short periods when I am home, I’m still thinking about her, losing sleep, worrying about medical issues, and money issues as well. All this, on top of the normal stresses of everyday life!
A Personal Discovery
So why am I telling you this, and what’s in it for you, the singer? After three long years of non-stop pressure and emotional turmoil, I have made a discovery, one that we can all benefit from. No matter how complicated and stressed-out your life may be in general, and no matter how hard you’re working at your singing life in particular— practicing, going on auditions, taking classes or lessons, promoting yourself, trying to find work as a singer, learning music— you have to step off the hamster wheel, at least temporarily, and take a REAL break! Your voice, and your psyche, will thank you, and you’ll return to your usual routine with a greater zest for life than you’ve had in a long while…
How did I get off the treadmill myself? Yesterday my husband and I set aside the guilt in leaving my family for a day (a 24-hour caregiver for my mom was there as well) and finally took a day for ourselves. A WHOLE day. To OURSELVES. It was a revelation! We got up early, drove an hour and 40 minutes out to the desert, checked into a spa, and proceeded to soak in mineral hot springs, lie in the sun and drink a strawberry and peach daiquiri. Aaaaah, it was sooooooo relaxing. The soft desert air, the hot sun, the soothing warm waters, and just BEING— in a different environment, without a watch on and a schedule to keep….
After lunch and a shower, we drove into Palm Springs, where we walked Palm Canyon Drive in 106 degree heat, popping into shops every few minutes to get air-conditioning breaks, have leisurely conversations with the shop owners, and just generally wander around with no particular schedule or goal. To avoid heatstroke, we ducked into a restaurant for a long, lazy sojourn, just talking, sipping more daiquiris (virgin this time!) and waiting for the evening Village Fest street fair to begin. After strolling the boulevard checking out the various stalls and people-watching, we had a wonderful dinner at a Greek restaurant, and then met a dear friend for dessert before finally driving home. While I will confess to calling my parents several times during the day to check on my mom, I actually let go of my usual Type-A go-go-go approach to life— so much so, in fact, that I completely forgot that I had to work the next day— my sister had to remind me!
The Wonderful Result!
After getting home around 11:30 p.m. and falling into bed, I woke up the next day feeling refreshed, clear-headed, and ready to get back to my usual routine of work and helping with my mom’s care. My voice, which had been a bit raspy from fatigue, dehydration and stress, felt fresh and responsive once again. An added bonus—my neighbor saw me today, did a double-take, and said I looked ten years younger! While it may have been an exaggeration, that alone was worth taking the day off for right there!
Now, you don’t have to spend a lot of money (the spa we went to only cost $14 per person to use the pools), and you don’t even have to go somewhere far away, or take the whole day off. But, you DO need a break. Even a few hours or a half a day can be so restorative! You are no good to yourself, or your family and friends if you are continually stressed out, and it certainly isn’t good for your singing!
Stress hormones dry out your vocal cords, lack of sleep and exhaustion interfere with your breathing and support, and tension creates tight muscles in your vocal tract and throughout your body. All of these take away from your ability to sing dynamically and with freedom. You certainly won’t feel like practicing, or if you do practice, you’ll get limited results. If you have a performance, you won’t be at your best for that, either.
“But I just CAN”T get away or even relax!” you cry.
Here’s How To Make It Happen
1. Do set aside the guilt! (at least temporarily). I know it’s hard, especially if you have a spouse, children, or elderly parents to care for. But, make arrangements for a caregiver, babysitter, relative or friend to step in for awhile, if necessary. And, if you need/want to, check in during the day to make sure all is okay at home, so that you can truly relax.
2. Do a little research and planning. Anticipation is half the fun! Look online for places to go and things to do, and picture yourself being there and doing them in advance. That alone will make you feel better, knowing that you have something to look forward to, and you will have a game plan for how you want to spend your day playing “hooky” from “real life”!
3. Play tourist in your own local area if you can’t go far away. What would a tourist do if they came to your neck of the woods? Chances are, you probably haven’t done some of those things yourself! Check online for “Things To Do In…” and plug in your town or county’s name. Look for “What’s Happening” listings too, where you’ll see special events, festivals, etc. I bet you will be surprised at finding new and pleasant ways to escape your usual routine, even if it’s close to home. And, hit the beach, or your nearest pool! Whether you’re near an ocean or a lake, or can lounge poolside, there’s nothing like pulling up a beach chair and just gazing out at the water. Better yet, jump in! Floating in water calms the parasympathetic nervous system, and you will feel better in no time!
4. Leave early and stay late. Once your “play day” arrives, try to maximize your escape by lengthening your day as much as possible. Even an hour or two extra can give you the feeling of a real break, even if it’s only for a half a day.
5. Take off your watch. Or at least stuff it in your pocket or purse, and don’t look at it unless you absolutely have to! As a voice teacher, I live my life by the clock— college classes and voice lessons rule my day. I love what I do, but it’s nice once in a while to not play “Beat the Clock” with my schedule!
6. Turn off the electronics! Studies show that people check their cell phones hundreds of times a day (yes, I just saw you steal a glance at your notifications), and that this ups our stress levels considerably. Put your phone, pager, tablet, or whatever other gizmos you carry around with you away for the day. Unless you are a doctor, or have a very compelling reason to keep it on, turn it off and put it with your watch. If you must, you can have a few check-in times to make sure you haven’t missed an important call from home.
7. Wear vacation clothes. Seriously! Dress super-comfortably with good walking shoes or sandals, and put on clothes that you usually wear on vacation. Don that Hawaiian shirt, sport that straw hat, wear that flowery dress or bright-colored shorts, and just feel your muscles start to relax!
8. Eat, drink and be merry. Make your day (or even half-day!) of fun even more special by having that fancy coffee drink, that fabulous cocktail (limit the alcohol to one, please), or a truly memorable meal. Literally feed your senses with culinary treats you wouldn’t normally allow yourself to have.
9. Try new places that are not part of a chain. If there are four coffee places to choose from in your destination, DON’T go to the one that you always go to at home! This day is all about new experiences and breaking your routine. Try the coffee shop that you won’t find anywhere else, and see what you discover…
10. Stop and chat with locals and fellow tourists. One of the great joys of life, and one that we are usually too stressed and in a hurry to partake of, is stopping for an impromptu friendly conversation. You can learn so much by speaking with people you run across during your day, and it gives you a feeling of connection to others, and the greater world as a whole. One of the great complaints of modern society is that people feel isolated. And, singers can feel it more, because of all the alone time we spend practicing and learning music. I’m a bit introverted by nature, but I find that when I make the effort to have a pleasant talk with someone, even for a few minutes, it really brightens my day, and theirs.
11. Take photos. Okay, I know most of us use our phone for this, so pull it out — but only for that purpose! Taking beautiful photos of your destination or cute photos of each other (if you have a travel companion) will give you something to look back on that immediately takes your stress level down when you’re back in your usual work/life mode.
12. Buy fun souvenirs. They don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Just buy a trinket that makes you smile every time you look at it, because it reminds you of your “happy place”. I bought an inexpensive sunglasses case that has a cute design and says “Palm Springs” on it. Every time I open my purse, it gives me a little lift to think of my day off there (and, I can finally find my glasses without having to dig to the bottom of my purse!).
So… if you’re lucky enough to have an easy life with little or no stress, you are truly blessed! But if you’re like the rest of us mere mortals and have a lot on your plate, remember this, like the old McDonald’s jingle says: “you deserve a break today, so get up and get away”— to anywhere that renews your spirit and nurtures your body and soul. And that, fellow singers, will refresh your voice, your desire to practice, and the energy you need to keep pursuing your singing goals.
For more information on self-care, visit my earlier post:
Also, read these tips from Psychology Today: