Kathy Merlino is the author of kathysretirementblog.com, a blog about her perspective and thoughts on the emotional side of retirement and her journey as a caregiver. She is one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on non-financial retirement topics. Kathy believes retirement is a journey, not a destination. Readers can leave a comment on Twitter:@kathysretiremnt
Kathy’s article was originally posted on November 26, 2022.All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
PKF: This personal reflection is timely for all of us retiring and retired individuals, especially those of us with elderly or ailing family members. For a loss of a loved one, we all have to face and cope with the five stages of grief:
Grief is personal and individual, and every person experiences its nuances differently. Your personality, your support system, your natural coping mechanisms and many other things will determine how loss will affect you. There are no rules, no timetables, and no linear progression. Some people feel better after a few weeks or months, and for others it may take years. And in the midst of recovery there may be setbacks — this nonlinear process can’t be controlled. It’s critical that you treat yourself with patience and compassion and allow the process to unfold.
PKF: Check out their excellent article on the common signs and symptoms, triggers, myths and facts about grief as well as ways to take care of yourself, posted by healgrief.org here.
Shortly after Martin died, I walked down my long driveway to fetch the mail. Usually, I have little or none. But, in the days following his death, my mailbox held more than junk mail. There were sympathy cards and official letters from various institutions. As I pulled out the cache of the day, I saw something I’d never seen in my mail. A penny. It lay underneath the cards and letters and the ubiquitous junk mail. A penny so tarnished it almost faded into the background of the black metal floor of the box.
My mind flooded with the rhetorical questions. Who would leave a penny in my mailbox and why and how? I lived on a busy road, so someone walking by was unlikely. The leaving must have been thoughtful, intentional. “A penny for your thoughts” (Sir Thomas More) came to mind. Was it my faithful mail lady who left it? I lifted the penny out, slid it into my jean pocket, and walked back to the house. Inside, before turning my attention to the mail, I fished it out and set it on a mosaic trivet Martin had made in an art class.
Over the next couple of days, I eyed the penny still wondering how it got in my mailbox. Did a penny have any significance? “See a penny and pick it up and all day you’ll have good luck” (Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes). Since we can pretty much Google anything these days, my curiosity finally gave way to asking Google. To my surprise, a penny has significance for the deceased or their loved ones. In the case of a veteran, a penny left at the grave means someone visited. For a widow like myself, a penny in the mailbox represents a new beginning, a rebirth, renewal of your life. A penny being first and one represents singularity. If you are part of a couple, one of you will die first leaving the other alone, single.
I’ve been alone for nearly eighteen months. While Martin still lived, it was not with me. If there is a silver lining here, it’s that I had ample time to adapt to my aloneness and grieve this impending, profound, enormous loss in my life. The outcome? I was not filled with the expected feelings of grief. Rather, as I held Martin during his final moments, I cried tears of gratitude for the end of his suffering. He was free of this disease. I was free of this disease. Our family was free of this disease. Relief instead of deep sorrow. Comfort in knowing he was at peace. As I stroked his face, I noted how serene his countenance. Peace at last.
Though I’ve had fits of grief, I’ve also felt immense joy when contemplating my future. During the last year, I deliberately divested myself of anything which smacked of negativity in my life. I decluttered the house paring my personal belongings. I feel washed clean, ready for a new start. Martin would want that for me. A friend asked if I thought Martin’s spirit left the penny. I would like to think so. I may never know who left the penny in my mailbox, but it is now my talisman for fresh beginnings, rebirth, a reawakening of my life’s potential. And a second chance at the retirement we dreamed of.
Other articles by Kathy Merlino. Thank you for sharing!
This special feature reviews something all music teachers, performers, and consumers already know that’s in our DNA… the need for music to sustain our lives! Guest authored by Trishna Patnaik, this poignant message is essential during these challenging times of COVID-19 and in support of many school music/art programs currently under siege.
Can you envision a life without music?
A world where your favorite musician is a doctor or lawyer, or construction worker because music doesn’t exist?
A life where you can’t turn on your favorite workout playlist while going for a run? Or the pump-up song to boost your confidence right before your big presentation cannot happen?
If you can’t, you are definitely not alone.
Music tends to hit on us a deep level. Whether it is sad music that helps us feel relatable when we are going through hard times or joyful music that adds an extra bounce to your step, music is incredibly powerful!
But, then why is this case? Why does music impact your brain and mood so deeply?
Music is a Universal Language…
…but we don’t always pay enough attention to what it’s saying and how it’s being understood. We wanted to take an important first step toward solving the mystery of how music can evoke so many nuanced emotions. Music has a special ability to pump us up or calm us down.
Listening to music can be entertaining, and it might even make you healthier. Music can be a source of pleasure and contentment, but there are many other psychological benefits as well. Music can relax the mind, energize the body, and even help people better manage pain.
Brain regions involved in movement, attention, planning, and memory consistently showed activation when participants listened to music—these are structures that don’t have to do with auditory processing itself. This means that when we experience music, a lot of other things are going on beyond merely processing sound.
Knowing better how the brain is organized, how it functions, what chemical messengers are working, and how they’re working—that will allow us to formulate treatments for people with brain injury, or to combat diseases or disorders or even psychiatric problems.
The notion that music can influence your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors probably does not come as much of a surprise. If you’ve ever felt pumped up while listening to your favorite fast-paced rock anthem or been moved to tears by a tender live performance, then you easily understand the power of music to impact moods and even inspire action!
The psychological effects of music can be very powerful and wide-ranging. Music therapy is an intervention sometimes used to promote emotional health, help patients cope with stress, and boost psychological well-being. Your taste in music can provide insight into different aspects of your personality.
Why Do People Listen to Music?
Over the past several decades, showcase numerous functions that listening to music might fulfill. Different theoretical approaches, different methods, and different samples have left a heterogeneous picture regarding the number and nature of musical functions.
Principal component analysis suggested three distinct underlying dimensions. People listen to music to regulate arousal and mood, to achieve self-awareness, and as an expression of social relatedness. The first and second dimensions were judged to be much more important than the third—a result that contrasts with the idea that music has evolved primarily as a means for social cohesion and communication. The implications of these results are discussed in light of theories on the origin and the functionality of music listening and also for the application of musical stimuli in all areas of psychology and for research in music cognition.
The psychology of music seeks to interpret musical phenomena in terms of mental function; that is, it seeks to characterize the ways in which people perceive, remember, perform, create, and respond to music. While centred on the empirical findings and theoretical approaches of psychology, the field is highly interdisciplinary, with input from neuroscientists, linguists, geneticists, computational modellers, physicists, anthropologists, music theorists, music performers, and composers.
While the study of music has a long history, dating from the ancient Greeks, the psychology of music as an empirical science did not emerge as a full-fledged discipline until the second part of the 20th century. During the last few decades the field has advanced rapidly, and it interfaces strongly with other branches of psychology, such as the studies of perception, cognition, performance, human development, personality psychology, psycholinguistics, clinical neuropsychology, evolutionary psychology, ability testing, and artificial intelligence.
Musical activity combines perceptual, cognitive, and motor skills in real time and it can offer social and health benefits for diverse populations. While psychologists and neuroscientists probe musical activity for insights about the human mind and brain, music scholars examine its cultural, pedagogical, and theoretical aspects. Though these approaches can complement each other, scientific and humanistic studies of music are often disconnected.
This can result in experiments with flawed musical stimuli and musicological writings with problematic assumptions about human cognitive processes. The human brain contains neural mechanisms specific to music perception. It has identified a neural population in the human auditory cortex that responds selectively to sounds that people typically categorize as music, but not to speech or other environmental sounds. It has been the subject of widespread speculation.
The Benefits of Listening to Music
Brain Focus is Enhanced
Any music listener will agree that music can evoke emotions such as pride, elation, or relaxation. That music does more than that for humans: it stimulates various parts of the brain and bodily responses. How do different kinds of music affect the human body physiologically and psychologically? Is the unconscious experience elicited by the autonomic nervous system analogous to what is experienced consciously through emotions?
Background music, or music that is played while the listener is primarily focused on another activity, can improve performance on cognitive tasks in older adults. One study found that playing more upbeat music led to improvements in processing speed, while both upbeat and downbeat music led to benefits in memory.
So the next time you are working on a task, consider turning on a little music in the background if you are looking for a boost in your mental performance. Do consider choosing instrumental tracks rather than those with complex lyrics, which might end up being more distracting!
Music Can Reduce Stress
It has long been suggested that music can help reduce or even manage stress. Consider the trend centred on meditative music created to soothe the mind and inducing relaxation. Fortunately, this is one trend supported by research. Listening to music can be an effective way to cope with stress.
Listening to music had an impact on the human stress response, particularly the autonomic nervous system. Those who had listened to music tended to recover more quickly following a stressor.
Music Can Help You Eat Less
One of the most surprising psychological benefits of music is that it might be a helpful weight-loss tool. If you are trying to lose weight, listening to mellow music and dimming the lights might help you achieve your goals.
Music and lighting help create a more relaxed setting. Since you are more relaxed and comfortable, then you may consume food more slowly and be more aware of when you began to feel full.
You might try putting this into practice by playing soft music at home while you eat dinner. By creating a relaxing setting, you may be more likely to eat slowly and, therefore, feel fuller sooner!
Music Can Improve Your Memory
Some feel like listening to their favourite music improves memory, while others contend that it simply serves as a pleasant distraction.
It depends upon a variety of factors, including the type of music, the listener’s enjoyment of that music, and even how musically well-trained the listener may be. Musically naive students learned better when listening to positive music, possibly because these songs elicited more positive emotions without interfering with memory formation.
However, musically trained students tended to perform better on learning tests when they listened to neutral music, possibly because this type of music was less distracting and easier to ignore. If you tend to find yourself distracted by music, you may be better off learning in silence or with neutral tracks playing in the background.
Music Can Help Manage Pain
Music can be very helpful in the management of pain. The effects of music on pain management found that patients who listened to music before, during, or even after surgery experienced less pain and anxiety than those who did not listen to music.
While listening to music at any point in time was effective, noted that listening to music pre-surgery resulted in better outcomes. Music listeners require less medication to manage their pain. There was also a slightly greater, though not statistically significant, improvement in pain management results when patients were allowed to select their own music.
Music May Help You Sleep Better
Insomnia is a serious problem that affects people of all age groups. While there are many approaches to treating this problem, it has been demonstrated that listening to relaxing classical music can be a safe, effective, and an affordable remedy. Sleep quality is enhanced for those who listened to soothing music before going to sleep over a period of time without any intervention or breakages.
Music Can Improve Motivation
There is a good reason why you find it easier to exercise while you listen to music. Listening to fast-paced music motivates people to work out harder.
Speeding up the tracks resulted in increased performance in terms of distance covered, the speed of pedalling, and power exerted. Conversely, slowing down the music’s tempo led to decreases in all of these variables.
So if you are trying to stick to a workout routine, consider loading up a playlist filled with fast-paced tunes that will help boost your motivation and enjoyment of your exercise regimen!
Music Can Improve Mood
Another of the science-backed benefits of music is that it just might make you happier! People who listen to music knew an important role in relating arousal and mood. Participants rated music’s ability to help them achieve a better mood and become more self-aware as two of the most important functions of music.
Listening to music is not directed to become happier intentionally! However, if you do so by working to determine your own levels of happiness, you will show improvement in the moods and feeling happier.
Music May Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Music therapy can be a safe and effective treatment for a variety of disorders, including depression. Music therapy was a safe, low-risk way to reduce depression and anxiety in patients suffering from neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
While music can certainly have an impact on mood, the type of music is also important. Classical and meditation music offer the greatest mood-boosting benefits, while heavy metal and techno music are ineffective and even detrimental.
Music Can Improve Endurance and Performance
Another important psychological benefit of music lies in its ability to boost performance. While people have a preferred step frequency when walking and running, scientists have discovered that the addition of a strong, rhythmic beat, such as fast-paced musical track, could inspire people to pick up the pace.
Runners are not only able to run faster while listening to music; they also feel more motivated to stick with it and display greater endurance. While research has found that synchronizing body movements to music can lead to better performance and increased stamina, the effect tends to be the most pronounced in cases of low to moderate intensity exercise. In other words, the average person is more likely to reap the rewards of listening to music more than a professional athlete might.
So why does music boost workout performance?
Listening to music while working out lowers a person’s perception of exertion. You’re working harder, but it doesn’t seem like you’re putting forth more effort. Because your attention is diverted by the music, you are less likely to notice the obvious signs of exertion such as increased respiration, sweating, and muscle soreness.
Music engages people with learning disabilities
There is evidence that music interventions can offer opportunities for creative, psychological, and social developments for individuals with mild to profound learning disabilities, addressing the disadvantages they face in respect of social outcomes.
Music can change the world
Do you ever listen to a song and find yourself moved so deeply you are almost in tears? Have you ever been to a live performance that turned your worst day into your best? Have you ever heard a song that inspired you? Music has the power to move us and to change us. Yet today’s music mostly does not seem to have the same earth-moving, society-shaping effects as that of the past.
With today’s technology, music has become even more of a part of our life experiences: we listen to it on our drive to work, when we go to parties, while we study, when we exercise, and in so many other settings. There are, however, still musicians who hope that their words will inspire change.
Music with a message
The combination of the right lyrics, rhythm and instruments can build a group identity, stir strong emotions, engage audiences and amass people to take action. This makes music the perfect partner for social change.
The effect of music on emotions
It is undeniable that music can stimulate our emotions, evoking different feelings like sadness, happiness, calmness, relaxing and nostalgic feelings. This emotional stimulation from music is because it activates areas in our brain that process sound features. It also activates the limbic brain areas associated with emotions and the prefrontal areas, which is connected to decision making!
One of the reasons music has a huge impact on our emotions is that our mirror neuron system is activated when music is being played. It may be due to the song’s pitch, volume, and timbre. Indeed, music plays a big part on our emotions. If we are broken hearted, we react accordingly when we hear music or songs that were connected to our failed relationships. We sometimes find ourselves in tears hearing a song that reminds us of these relational memories.
There are also points in our lives when we are feeling so low that listening to something inspirational can often alter our negative mood into a positive one.
The Effect of Music on Intellectual Capacity
Can music make people smarter?
Those who undergo musical training are said to be more cooperative and coordinated than their non-musically trained counterparts. This is probably because people who play an instrument or sing usually work with other people; hence, they learn how to interact and communicate with others, making them more open to social interaction.
People who are into music or those who have undergone musical training show an increase in brain plasticity. Brain plasticity is the innate ability of the brain to change shape and get bigger in response to learning or training.
There is a significant difference in terms of structures of auditory and motor cortices in the brain and other brain areas between musicians and non-musicians. They found out that musicians tend to have a bigger and structured brain areas compared to non-musicians. Musical training affects other domains such as verbal intelligence and executive functions, which often lead to better academic performance.
The Effect of Music on Attainment and Creativity
Music is said to enhance one’s creativity and attainment. There is a strong association between music and attainment of tasks! Music could also make us enter into a “wandering mode.” This wandering mode enables us to daydream or imagine things, which sometimes stimulate our creative side.
Music as a Therapy
Music can improve your mood, quality of life, and self-esteem, but it is also:
Music Boosts Our Moods
Can your favorite songs be a form of therapy?
It was discovered that music can release dopamine in two main places in the brain, the dorsal and ventral striatum. When you are having a pleasurable experience, such as listening to your favourite song, these areas of the brain light up.
These things happen because musical patterns affect our auditory cortex, which is a part of the neural reward system and other areas involved in memory and emotion.
Music has accompanied major social events throughout the history of mankind. Major gatherings such as weddings, graduations, or birthdays are usually recognized by a familiar tune! There is evidence that music plays a large role in emotional processes within the brain. An individual’s emotional state of mind can directly impact daily cognition and behaviour.
Studies have shown that music has the ability to regulate a wide range of both positive and negative emotions. Determining the degree of music’s influence on aggression using two extremes of genre such as: relaxing yoga music versus aggressive rap music! It is seen that those who listened to yoga music show lower aggression, while those who listened to rap music have higher aggression. Aggressive music can make listeners more aggressive emotionally compared to other types of music!
How Many Emotions Can Music Make You Feel?
The subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings: amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and feeling pumped up.
So much is the power of music, the vibe of music is so propelling that you must enamour enormous benefits and experiential experiences of music time and again. So that you become as timeless as music itself! This is the very derivative of the psychology of music as poignant, proper and poised as music itself!
Trishna Patnaik is a self-taught visual artist, art therapist, workshop presenter, and full-time professional painter from Mumbai, India. She holds the degrees of BSc (Life Sciences) and MBA (Marketing). Trishna has been practicing art for over 14 years. After a professional stint in various reputed corporates, she realized that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling was painting. She says, “It’s a road less travelled but a journey that I look forward to everyday.” Trishna offers this inspiration for the advocacy of music and art at a time we all need to support continuation of school programs in the Fine and Performing Arts, so essential to the social and emotional learning of all students during the pandemic.
We thought our next article in this series on music teacher health and wellness was going to center around burn-out. But then… COVID-19 struck (was this really only 3-4 months ago?), we were forced into self-isolation, and all “brick and mortar” schools closed. In the ensuing panic, we all scurried about seeking solutions to reconnect and engage our students from afar in compliance with strict shelter-in-place restrictions.
“Seemingly overnight, the world changed. Teachers and school leaders have had to revamp their entire instructional systems with, in many instances, only a day’s notice. To say many of us are experiencing whiplash, disorientation, and anxiety is an understatement.”
“Our students are feeling it too. Typically, nationwide, one in three teenagers has experienced clinically significant anxiety in their lifetime (Merikangas et al., 2010). It’s probable that during a pandemic that heavily impacts everyday life, levels of anxiety in children and teens are even higher, and the possibility of subsequent trauma greater.”
“In these unprecedented times, teachers are rising to the occasion creatively and quickly to shift to remote learning amidst school closures. Even in a traditional classroom, it can be a challenge to support students with anxiety and trauma histories to stay calm and learn. With distance learning, this difficulty is magnified. However, there is much teachers can do to reduce anxiety in students even while teaching remotely. During this crisis, we need to prioritize students’ mental health over academics. The impact of trauma can be lifelong, so what students learn during this time ultimately won’t be as important as whether they feel safe.”
My opinion? The Internet and other forms of media can be a godsend or a contributing factor to our feelings of malaise. The 24/7 nature and immediacy of news programs and web posts updating the statistics of new coronavirus cases, hospital admissions, deaths, shortages of personal protection equipment and respirators, unemployment numbers, and the stock market’s roller-coaster ride, have added fear, stress, and “noise” to the real problem… our ability to cope with the ramifications of this pandemic!
Well, at least a lot of dialogue has been generated “out there” about recommended remediation and “success stories.” The purpose of this blog-post is to share some of this “advice from the experts.” Many of you (I hope) may say, “This is just common sense.” True, but however “common” it is, more people than you think are not applying these principles to their own personal lives. And like the one online post that caught my eye the other day, “Teachers Are Breaking” by Jessica Lifshitz, all of us should share our anecdotes… the trials, internal struggles, and tribulations… to make it through this emergency.
Together, we are stronger!
I have been accused of being a little too emotional and I should not “feed into the negativity,” as one reader complained in reaction to one of my blogs. However, according to this article by Christina Cipriano and Marc Brackett, “emotions drive effective teaching and learning, the decisions educators make, classroom and school climate, and educator well-being.”
Almost in unison, the strategies that seem to be echoed most often by medical and mental health professionals, educators on the front line, and even technology specialists, are outlined by this “wellness map of to-do’s!”
Don’t obsess. Calm yourself. Set priorities.
Connect and communicate often with your family members and your students.
Set and maintain boundaries.
Take the necessary steps to maintain your own physical and mental health!
Avoiding Becoming Overwhelmed
As a retiree, I “only” lost the spring season of my community youth orchestra to this crisis. In my position as state chair of the PMEA Council Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (PMEA Council TTRR), I tried to soothe the “hysteria” of many of my still-working friends and colleagues who were grappling with the instantaneous roll-out of distance learning. After researching online music education resources, we were able to place countless links on the PMEA Council TTRR website (here). After 7+ weeks, one of our “omnibus Google Docs” has grown to 15+ pages and more than 225 separate sources of virtual, remote, and alternative music learning media and methods.
For some, this has made matters worse… an “overload of abundance!” The multitude of venues and opportunities (too many unexplored “new technologies” for many of us baby-boomers!) included information about virtual ensembles, YouTube libraries, music games, lessons plans and platforms for synchronous and asynchronous e-learning, video-conferencing techniques, hardware and software reviews, etc.
Take a deep breath! Focus! Prioritize your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? Don’t try to consume all of the available resources “out there,” nor use every application or online lesson that you find on Facebook groups like https://www.facebook.com/groups/mecol/. What was it my mother used to say at the dinner table? “Sip and chew slowly… don’t gulp!” Take away what might help your situation, but approach anything brand new in moderation!
Go ahead and sign-up for a webinar or planned learning community meeting or two. Many professional development workshops are provided with “no extra fees” right now, like the NAfME library here, the aforementioned Facebook group and others, and if you already have a membership in PMEA, this website.
BUT… plan to take away ONLY one or two new “teaching tools” from each session… maybe consider trying-out one new app or lesson idea every other week?
As if to anticipate our needs, more than a year ago, Elena Aguilar published the in-depth piece “How to Coach the Overwhelmed Teacher” in Education Week blog, summarizing excellent stress-reduction treatments. (Share these if you think they will help you or some else! Read the entire article for more detail!)
Five tips for coaching overwhelm:
Recall previous experiences.
Identify one tiny next step.
Plan for action.
“When coaching someone experiencing strong emotions, it’s important to know the signs and indicators of depression and anxiety disorders. Emotions can turn into moods, and if moods hang around long enough, they may become depression or an anxiety disorder. People who feel overwhelmed a great deal may be experiencing depression, whereas those who are ‘stressed’ a lot may be experiencing anxiety. This resource, AppD Depression_Anxiety.pdf, can be offered to your coachees or used to consider whether someone may need professional help.”
“When coaching any strong emotion, it’s useful to remember that emotions can be guides to self-understanding. They are a normal part of being a human being, and strong emotions show up to get us to pay attention to what’s going on. We can welcome strong emotions—in ourselves and in our coachees—and explore them to gain insight into ourselves and humans and educators.” — Elena Aguilar
Your loved-ones and friends probably need you now more than ever!
And, a myriad of research supports the assertion that social connections significantly improve our own physical and mental health and emotional well-being, such as published by the “Center of Compassion & Altruism Research & Education” of the Stanford Medical School:
“Strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity, strengthens your immune system (research by Steve Cole shows that genes impacted by loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation), helps you recover from disease faster, [and] may even lengthen your life!”
“People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.” — Dr. Emma Seppala
There’s even evidence that “human touch” and close connections with other people increase our body’s levels of the beneficial hormones serotonin and cortisol.
Just more common sense? Right? Probably!
The first thing I did during that initial announcement of school/activity closures was to reach-out to my “musical kids.” Many music directors told me they quickly sponsored a Zoom/Google Hangout meeting of their ensemble members, mostly just to check-in with their players or singers and get everyone “on board” for future online interactions.
Perhaps COVID-19 has made me a better “citizen,” too. Much more frequently, I now call or text a friend, colleague, volunteer co-worker, or neighbor to see how they are doing. It’s terrible to admit that it took a world disaster to improve my interpersonal communications skills!
Finally, here’s a good “recap.” In spite of the need for social distancing, these examples of “safe connections” are suggested by Jennifer Wickham from The Mayo Clinic:
Use electronics to stay in contact with friends, neighbors and loved ones. This could include using video-conference programs, making voice calls instead of sending texts, or talking with a neighbor through windows while maintaining a safe distance.
Spend quality time with the people you live with, such as playing board games or completing an indoor project.
Make a family meal or dessert recipe that reminds you of friends or family you are unable to visit, and then call them to tell them about it. This way, you get an experience of internal and external connection.
Write in a journal about your experiences during this time of social distancing. Not only will this help you sort out what you are thinking and feeling, but also it can be shared going forward as a way for future generations to connect with the past.
Something else I admit to NOT doing!
“Going Google,” “exploring e-learning,” or “doing digital” – it is easy to get carried away and not notice you just spent 12 hours in-a-row of “screen time” participating in online meetings or creating new remote learning opportunities for your music students. Exactly when are your classroom and office hours? You are likely pushing yourself too hard, even in your pajamas! This insane pace will only promote other health concerns!
“It’s hard to create a work-life balance when life is filled with work. Teachers are known for working long hours off-the-clock for no additional compensation. This is even more prevalent in music education. We add performances, competitions, musicals, individual lessons, fundraising, data entry, and even music composition and arranging to our task list.”
“We may find pride in saying we worked 60 hours this week, flaunting to our friends that we got to school in the dark and left in the dark. Perhaps we find self-importance in their pity and admiration.”
“However, to thrive in our profession, we must remember that teaching music is our career, not our entire life. Hobbies, families, volunteering, and other ways we contribute to our communities and our homes are also aspects of who we are.”
“Setting clear boundaries between when we are working for our paycheck and when we are working for ourselves helps us carve out space where we offer ourselves time to be free of obligations and burdens of our career. Whether it’s a few hours per day, a full day per week, or both, setting strict boundaries for when you’re on-the-clock and when you’re off is essential.” — Elisa Janson Jones
Mindfulness and “Living” in the Present
Another concept that Elisa Janson Jones covered in her Smartmusic blog:mindfulness.
Now is the time for a little nonjudgmental “free reflection,” or what the psychologists call the best practice of “mindfulness” – a focus with full attention on your thoughts, feelings, and sensations “in the moment.” I think the “Teaching with Orff” website really nailed it in the article “7 Self Care Tips for Quarantined Music Teachers.” Read co-author Zoe Kumagai’s examples of affirmations: “How do I want to feel today?”
I allow myself time and space to reflect.
My mind is aware of the present.
My heart feels compassionate and is full of love.
My mind is stimulated by books, stories, art, scholarly articles, music that inspire me to be my best self.
I maintain boundaries with technology and intake of the news.
My body is free to dance.
My voice is clear to sing, laugh and converse authentically.
According to this Harvard Medical HelpGuide, the habits and techniques of mindfulness can improve well-being, physical health, and mental health:
“There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment… Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.” — HelpGuide
Band director, best-selling author, and acclaimed clinician Lesley Moffat devoted an entire chapter to mindfulness in her book I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me. You know what they say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” After learning the techniques for herself, she adopted mindfulness practice at the beginning of each band rehearsal for her students, a 4-5 minute routine of guided breathing and relaxation exercises leading up to the daily warmup chorale.
I love the symbolism in her “snow globe” analogy:
“Just like a snow globe that’s been shaken up, it takes time for your mind and body to settle down. If you try to get the snow globe to settle down while you’re still holding it and carrying on with your regular activities, the snow may fall slower, but it won’t completely stop and allow you to see the objects in the snow globe. You must allow it to be completely still long enough for the water to stop swirling and the glitter to follow the pull of gravity and settle on the bottom. It only takes a matter of minutes until it settles, revealing the magical scene inside, and the very glitter that was covering up the view when it was moving around has become a lovely blanket of snow that grounds the scene in the snow globe. But without a few minutes of stillness, it is impossible for it to become completely settled. So it goes with a mindfulness practice. Your mind and body needs time to go from hyper-speed to a pace that serves you well, a place where you have space to think – and space to not think. That begins by bringing stillness to your body and to your mind. Easy to say – hard to do… until you practice it every day and it becomes habit.” — Lesley Moffat
Her book should be required reading for all music teachers, even retirees who want to remain active in the profession. (Read my previous review here.) It serves as a true treasure-house of practical applications for de-stressing and re-centering your life. Her “mPower Method of Meals, Movement, Music, and Mindfulness” may be the solution to improving your situation.
FYI, her next book, Love the Job, Lose the Stress, is on the way. You can request an advance e-copy here.
“Do as I Say… Don’t Do as I Do!”
The worst part of this? We seldom take our own advice. Hey teacher, “heal thyself,” and “practice what you preach.” Taking care of our children or elderly relatives, we are probably the last to comply with the tenets of our own sermons on health and wellness.
Lesley Moffat also devoted a chapter in her book to the airline safety bulletin “Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First.” You cannot take care of someone else (your family members or your music students) unless you first take care of yourself!
Make self-care PRIORITY ONE for YOU! I know, you have heard all of these before:
Eat a balanced diet.
Get enough sleep.
“Flex your brain.”
The latter “exercising your mind” is referenced in the Teaching with Orff website, and is a frequent emphasis on my blog-site (with exampleshere,here,and here). Pursue your own avenues of creative self-expression, and grow and learn something new every day!
According to charitable organization Waterford.org, the definition of “self-care” is “any action that you use to improve your health and well-being.” They cite extensive research from the National Institute of Mental Illness (NAMI), corroborating the statement that there are six elements to self-care:
“Self-care is an important component of a teacher’s mental health, but there are misconceptions about what it is. It’s common for educators to dismiss the self-care movement as ‘selfish’ or ‘superficial.’ But for teachers, self-care is so much more than breakfast in bed or treating yourself to a spa day. It’s about taking care of your health so that you’re prepared to be the best teacher you can be for yourself and your students.”
These endorsements probably represent just “the tip of the iceberg!” Peruse all of the resources listed below. In addition, perhaps we should take a close look at Alex Wiggin’s ASCD article, “A Brave New World: A Teacher’s Take on Surviving Distance Learning”(Educational Leadership, Summer 2020), considering the adoption of these four lessons learned from the past four months:
Relying on a team reduces work and stress.
Connecting with students boosts morale.
Learning new technology isn’t so bad.
Model being a life-long learner
I predict that the hardest part, coming to the end of May and the completion of our first-ever “virtual spring semester,” is coming to grips with our “fear of the unknown!” At the date of this writing, no one really knows when “we” are going back to “in person” schools, how we will resume large group music instruction like band, choir, or orchestra rehearsals, and what will the “new normal” look like to successfully “move on!”
Summer break is just around the corner… a good time to stop and reflect! And yes, we will make it through this.
You cry and you scream and you stomp your feet and you shout. You say, “You know what? I’m giving up, I don’t care.” And then you go to bed and you wake up and it’s a brand new day, and you pick yourself back up again. — Nicole Scherzinger
Wellness seeks more than the absence of illness; it searches for new levels of excellence. Beyond any disease-free neutral point, wellness dedicates its efforts to our total well-being – in body, mind, and spirit. — Greg Anderson
What is that saying? “When you point at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” Or if you prefer the biblical reference (Jesus), “Don’t focus on the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the log in your own eye.”
Increasingly common, I find that our colleagues in music education do not model habits of good health and work/personal life balance. All fingers point at both my wife and I, as when we were at the pinnacle of our full-time careers (prior to retiring in 2013), teaching strings grades 3-12 in multiple buildings, preparing for concerts and festivals, designing curriculum, producing musicals, running marching bands, etc. often felt like a “runaway train ride” — a stressful 24/7 schedule with the two of us squeezing in time to meet for dinner in between our after-school rehearsals, and later “falling into bed” to snatch 5-6 hours of sleep, three to four days per week, ten months a year.
That said, I “see” little research, pre-service, in-service, post-service training, or even online dialogue about the wellness problems associated with our profession:
Overwhelming workload, long hours, and challenging classroom situations
Inconsistent hydration and consumption of a balanced diet
Irregular amounts of daily aerobic physical exercise
Insufficient quantities (length, depth, and frequency) of rest and sleep
Infrequent use of sick days or vacations as needed for restorative health
Misuse of the voice at work
Inadequate hearing conservation and protection from over-exposure to sound
Deficient scheduling of opportunities for mindfulness, meditation, and/or reflection
Deprivation of personal outlets for creative self-expression (not related to the job)
Lack of time to explore hobbies, interests, and socialization with family, friends, and loved ones
With the simplistic title of “Care,” blogs archived within the new section of this blog-site here will dive into these issues, remedies towards fostering a better “life balance,” and suggestions for the development of a self-care plan. Quoting from the timely article in the June 2019 issue of NAfME Music Educators Journal, “Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel, “Those in our profession need to increase awareness of the prevalence of stress and mental health concerns in music education.” We need to address methods for reducing job-related depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, feelings of impotency, and “burnout,” which can lead to negative student outcomes, lowered professional standards, absenteeism, illness, and teacher attrition.
Definitions of Wellness
A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. — The World Health Organization
A conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential. — The National Wellness Institute
According to the Student Health and Counseling Services of the University of California, Davis Campus, “wellness” is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness; it is a dynamic process of change and growth.”
Further elaboration of their eight dimensions of wellness is provided here:
They conclude: “Each dimension of wellness is interrelated with another. Each dimension is equally vital in the pursuit of optimum health. One can reach an optimal level of wellness by understanding how to maintain and optimize each of the dimensions of wellness.”
It’s Time to Bring on the “Experts”
Even though I would have told you “I am loving every moment of it” during my 35+-year career in music education, I would be the last person anyone should turn to for helpful advice on self-care. I cannot say I ever “practiced what I preached” lectured to my music students on taking care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. So, for this forum, we will bring in leading authorities and even a few “frontier blazers” who have agreed to share new ideas in alleviating “the problem,” so well defined in the MEJ article by Christa Kuebel:
Music education has been shown to be a field in which stress and burnout are common. We must address this difficult realization in order to make changes for the health and success of our current and future teachers. Our concert seasons will continue to come and go, and our responsibilities will not decrease in number, but taking time to consider how to take care of ourselves may allow us to fulfill our responsibilities in safe and effective ways throughout our entire careers.
Recommended by NAfME member Jennifer Dennett, the book Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy, who also has an extensive website and other books on “teacher habits”
Future wellness research and writings by Theresa Ducassoux, who has been accepted into the Google Innovator Academy, a program for teachers to work on tackling challenges in education
The “new” definition of retirement includes a unique collection of synonyms. Gone are the designations “seclusion,” “privacy,” “withdrawal,” “retreating” and “disappearing” based on archaic models of retiring when the average life expectancy at birth in the 1800s was 38 and in the 1900s was 47. (Merriam-Webster and others still show these words on their online dictionaries!) Now, some of the more creative descriptors for retirement are “renewment,” “rewirement,” “rest-of-life,” “second beginnings,” and “reinvention.” (Also see http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-do-you-define-retirement/.)
In addition to these, there are a few nontraditional terms that may come up during the passage from full-time employment to “living the dream” (hopefully) in retirement. These will not show up in a typical book for retirees… but, understanding them can “make a difference” through this roller-coaster ride of coping with life-style changes/altered expectations, and finding creative new ways to self-reinvent and thrive.
Marginality and Mattering
Do you feel “needed” and “making a difference” to others? The definition of “mattering” is “the belief that we matter to someone else.” This is an essential part of what author Ernie Zelinski of the best-seller Retire Happy, Wild, and Free emphasizes the importance of “finding purpose, structure, and community in retirement.”
“It has been suggested that one problem of retirement is that one no longer matters; others no longer depend on us… The reward of retirement, involving a surcease from labor, can be the punishment of not mattering. Existence loses its point and savor when one no longer makes a difference.” – Rosenberg and McCullough Quoted in Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg (APA, 2017)
According to counseling psychologist Nancy Schlossberg, Rosenberg’s concept of “mattering” is “a universal, lifelong issue that connects us all.” Her four dimensions of mattering are:
Attention – the feeling that a person has the interest of another;
Importance – the feeling that others care about what you want, think, and do;
Ego-Extension – the feeling that others will be proud of your successes and/or saddened by your failures;
Dependence – the feeling that a person can depend on someone else.
Just like the sometimes tumultuous passage to and emotional ups-and-downs during your “life after the work?”
What does “post-traumatic stress disorder” have to do with leaving your job? Hopefully it does not apply to you, but…
If are among the surprisingly large number of music teachers who lost their job “involuntarily,” you may be undergoing the same “stages of grief and loss” often shared during the breakup of a marriage or the dealth of a loved one:
Denial (disbelief, numbness, shock)
Bargaining (preoccupation with “what could have been,” guilt, remorse)
Feeling you were “kicked to the curb,” “downsized,” “minimized,” or somehow “forced” to resign or retire comes from many scenarios:
Music or staff are eliminated from the curriculum or building in which you teach.
You feel you must retire early before the end of the contract to avoid losing existing medical or other contractual benefits.
While voluntarily retiring from the full-time “day” job, you hope to continue serving in the capacity as assistant director (marching band, musical, etc.), but are not re-assigned or asked to return.
The new head coach of the sport in which you have assisted for many years fires you to bring in his “cronies.”
The perception that the program to which you have devoted your whole career is being dissembled or de-emphasized for the next “flavor-of-the-year.”
Most mental health experts agree, you cannot self-diagnose PTSD. However, the “warning signs” are probably evident. If you are having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic, visit your health care professional.
Losing old habits…
“Surrendering your urge to be an agent of change!”
The next retiree concept is more of a habit or tendency, something that those of us who retired from education may find it a little hard to stop doing at first. Among the core values of “moral professionalism,” we consistently seek ways to reform “the system,” much like efficiency experts. In other words, “break it if it needs fixed,” or seek new practices or approaches to solve problems. This means we seldom accept the status quo or “that’s the way it’s always have been done.”
I found that in my volunteer work, when I come up to a challenge like a policy that isn’t working, I look for better ways of doing it. Teachers always self-assess and seek changes for “the good of the order,” but these “systems” are not our classrooms. Educators were expected to “monitor and adjust,” modify our lesson targets, rip down old bulletin boards and put up new with more exciting media, re-write curriculum, etc. – always with the mission to “build a better mouse trap” for more efficient delivery of instruction to all.
In retirement, this can be frustrating. You can’t tell somebody else how to run their operation. Some people do not want to hear criticism, nor do they care what your opinion is, nor do they want to change their traditions or fine-tuned (?) step-by-step procedures. You on the other hand want things to improve, e.g. better training, more consistent application of the rules, etc., and therefore you feel “unrequited stress.”
Throughout my whole “professional life,” I never looked the other way. I try to fix things. But that’s not everybody’s inclination, and the world is not going to come to end if someone doesn’t take your advice. As retirees, remove the unnecessary hassle. You have two choices. Resign from the activity, or step back from being its self-appointed critic, accept the situation, and let everyone go back to playing their own way in their “sandbox.”
Many retirees choose to be part- or full-time caregivers, perhaps babysitting or serving as the custodian of a senior family member.
If you are fortunate enough to have grandchildren (your own or adopted ones), enjoy them! Your generous super-competent daycare services may provide ever-so-essential attention to your loved-ones. “Playing with the kids” is wonderful for your own mood, perspective, and mental health. And, how many times have I heard the sage advice to “immerse yourself around young people and you will stay forever young!”
However, invest your time wisely. Retirees deserve a life of their own and opportunities for unstructured “time-off.” Don’t forget the other items on your “bucket lists” (like travel, “encore career,” and volunteering). Serving as your family’s childcare “safety net” is nice, but don’t let this schedule dominate everything you do in your retirement… trading one job for another… with no financial compensation (but a whole lot of fun, I know).
Sometimes the responsibility of taking care of an elderly family member comes to you unexpectedly (like an ill parent or grandparent). When this “all-encompassing” duty is thrust upon you, it may consume every free moment in your schedule.
This excellent advice is from the blog-site “A Place for Mom.”
Many of us do end up deciding to become family caregivers, a demanding role that often includes advocating for your loved one, coordinating providers, and performing home medical care tasks.
In fact, over 65.7 million Americans currently provide care for a family member or loved one, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, and 36% of those are caring for an elderly parent.
Being prepared for the role of caregiver means taking a lot of different factors into consideration. You will need to ask yourself hard questions about how your own availability and care-giving capabilities will affect your ability to provide effective care — for your loved one and yourself.
Am I financially prepared for the extra costs of care-giving?
Am I really capable of taking care of Dad or Mom all by myself?
Do I have the social support and resources I’m going to need?
How will care-giving affect my physical and mental health?
Will I be able to make time for myself and my family?
Again, that focus on “first things first” (remember the book of the same name by Stephen Covey?) and “take care of yourself, too!”
In her book In A Different Voice (Harvard University Press), author Carol Gilligan describes the philosophy of moral development based on “evolving steps of caring.”
Decisions based solely on care for their needs. (GOOD)
Decisions based on care for the needs of others. (BETTER)
Decisions based on care for themselves and others. (THE BEST)
As mentioned in a previous blog, we could all hope to prescribe to Kathy Merlino’s “independent-living manifesto” ― being actively involved in her children’s lives, but NOT leaving them the ultimate chore of “taking care of mom!”
“Stressed over the season”
Finally, while we are on the subject of care-giving, here are a few links to alleviating stress, especially around the coming winter holidays:
Photo credits from Pixabay.com: “person” by RitaE, “dictionary” by stevepb, “volunteer” by maialisa, “stress” by thedigitalartist, “checkmate” by stevepb, “head” by johnhain, “comic-characters” by OpenClipart-Vectors, “grandfather” by kko699, “grandparents” by sylviebliss, “seniors” by geralt, “shopping-mall” by stocksnap, and “senior” by RitaE