Psychology of Music

Why Does Music Affect Our Emotions?

by Trishna Patnaik
Author Trishna Patnaik with a view of the mountains of Darjeeling, India

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.

PKF

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

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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:

  • Extremely safe
  • Non-invasive
  • Easily accessible
  • Non-expensive
  • 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!

References

Guest blogger Trishna Patnaik

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.

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann: music-sheet-in-a-shadow-flute-piano.” Vector graphics by Gordon Johnson.

Teacher Self-Care 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.”

virus-4928021_1920_HoagyPeterma“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.”

“Maintaining Connections, Reducing Anxiety While School Is Closed” by Jessica Minahan in ASCD Educational Leadership, Summer 2020

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!

books-4843726_1920_Myriams-Fotos

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.”

“At the end of March, our team at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, along with our colleagues at the Collaborative for Social Emotional and Academic Learning, known as CASEL, launched a survey to unpack the emotional lives of teachers during the COVID-19 crisis.”

“In the span of just three days, over 5,000 U.S. teachers responded to the survey. We asked them to describe, in their own words, the three most frequent emotions they felt each day.”

“The five most-mentioned feelings among all teachers were: anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed and sad. Anxiety, by far, was the most frequently mentioned emotion.”

Navigating Uncertain Times: How Schools Can Cope With Coronavirus

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!”

  1. Don’t obsess. Calm yourself. Set priorities.
  2. Connect and communicate often with your family members and your students.
  3. Set and maintain boundaries.
  4. Practice mindfulness.
  5. Take the necessary steps to maintain your own physical and mental health!

burnout-4778253_1920_Tumisu

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.

computer-768608_1920_free-photosFor 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!

online-5059831_1920_TumisuGo 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!)

desperate-5011953_1920_Peggy_MarcoFive tips for coaching overwhelm:

  1. Describe it.
  2. Recall previous experiences.
  3. Identify one tiny next step.
  4. Listen.
  5. 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

coronavirus-4991979_1920_enriquelopezgarre

Making Connections

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!

human-2944064_1920_geralt

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.

timetable-2467247_1920_Comfreak

Setting Boundaries

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!

The foresight of Elisa Janson Jones was evident for writing this in her blog “7 Self-Care Strategies to Prevent Burnout” back in September 2018 before the pandemic:

bulletin-board-3233653_1920_geralt“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

yoga-4595164_1920_laurajuarez

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.

 

snowglobes-437383_1920_jojokejohn

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

Love the Job, Loss the StressHer 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!

salad-374173_1920_stevepbMake self-care PRIORITY ONE for YOU! I know, you have heard all of these before:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Hydrate.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise daily.
  • “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 examples here, 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:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Professional

self-care-4899284_1920_Wokandapix

And, as explained in the article “Why Teacher Self-Care Matters, and How to Practice Self-Care in Your School,” self-care is not about selfishness.

“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.”

Waterford.org

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:

  1. Relying on a team reduces work and stress.
  2. Connecting with students boosts morale.
  3. Learning new technology isn’t so bad.
  4. 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.

Please stay safe! PKF

park-5040260_1920_Queven

 

References

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

 

Do You Always Feel Exhausted?

Our second in a series on publications and other resources for self-care, health, wellness, and remediation of stress and burnout of music educators addresses one of the core issues for all of us — chronic fatigue.

french-bulldog-4443329_1920_Mylene2401

The medical definition is comprehensive:

Fatigue is a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting. With fatigue, you have unexplained, persistent, and relapsing exhaustion. It’s similar to how you feel when you have the flu or have missed a lot of sleep. If you have chronic fatigue, or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), you may wake in the morning feeling as though you’ve not slept. Or you may be unable to function at work or be productive at home. You may be too exhausted even to manage your daily affairs. — WebMD

In the NAfME community forum Amplify, another colleague turned me on to the book Exhausted — Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy (2017). Most of this blog will focus on a review of this work. I also recommend you visit his very informative website of blog-posts: Teacher Habits.

If you’re like most teachers, being tired at the end of the day is a way of life. We’ve become so accustomed to it that it’s hard to imagine how things could be any different. We get through out mornings with coffee, our afternoons with Diet Coke, and the ends of our school days with the iron strength of our will. We leave the building exhausted, having so much at work that there’s little left over for our families or even ourselves.Paul Murphy

So, what is the scope of the problem? What can we do about it?

 

What Is a Teacher?

Are you a teacher? If so, are you also a classroom work foreman, logistics manager, guide, drill sergeant, disciplinarian, cheerleader, data entry clerk, cultural advocate, or analyst?  Maybe you are all of these things and more.  Maybe, we need to look at educators in a new context of what teaching really is in most schools, and whether it should be given cultural, economic and technological change.

Merriam-Webster’s says “teach” is a verb, with several simple definitions that repeat themselves but ideologically are these five things:

  • to cause to know something
  • to guide the studies of
  • to make known and accepted
  • to impart the knowledge of
  • to conduct instruction regularly.

LeiLani Cauthen

Personally, I have always glorified the mission and “calling” of becoming an educator.

Teachers model the “habits” of

  • ornament-1899065_1920_xsonicchaosFocus
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-motivation
  • Self-assessment and self-improvement
  • Work ethic
  • Highest standards of behavior, appearance, and ethics

We serve as

  • Fiduciaries, looking out for the welfare of students
  • Model exemplars, both on and off school time
  • Self-starters, intrinsically motivated and goal-oriented
  • Professionals 24/7 – always “on the job”

This bar is further raised by the public’s and our very own highest expectations of the “nine characteristics of a great teacher” by Maria Orlando in Faculty Focus:

  1. A great teacher respects students.
  2. A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom.
  3. A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring.
  4. A great teacher sets high expectations for all students.
  5. A great teacher has his own love of learning.
  6. A great teacher is a skilled leader.
  7. A great teacher can “shift-gears…”
  8. A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis.
  9. A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas…

I wouldn’t have it any other way! But these standards must take a toll on our health, wellness, and work/life balance!

 

lion-3317670_1920_Alexas_Fotos

Stress and Data on Teacher Exhaustion

Do you find yourself tired most of the time? Quoted in Exhausted by Paul Murphy, does this sound like YOU?

  • “I’m exhausted, and every weekend, I spend at least one day in my pajamas.”
  • “I feel like work never ends.”
  • “I love my students, and I have a really good class this year, but I’m done and ready for a break.”
  • “I was so tired that I ended up missing out on family’s holiday dinner.”

Why is this so prevalent? According to Paul Murphy, “the answer, in a word, is STRESS! Teachers are incredibly stressed-out people, especially when they are at work.”

He shares some scary statistics:

Because our culture tendency to demand more of educators, that stress is on the rise. In 1985, 36% of teachers reported feeling great stress at least several days a week. Today, that number is 51%. Only doctors report higher levels of stress on the job.

The costs are high. A recent study of the U.S. Department of Education found a 10% of new teachers don’t return for second year. Nearly 185 new teachers are gone within five years. Many young people, perhaps persuaded by on his federal and Teacher should buy what they see on social media, won’t even entertain the thought of teaching. Between 2009 and 2014, enrollments in teacher preparation programs fell about 35% in the U.S., reducing the supply of available teachers by nearly a quarter-million. — Paul Murphy

These figures are supported by other sources as well. The American Federation of Teachers reported here that “61% of educators say their work is always or often stressful,” and, worse yet, “50% say they don’t have the same enthusiasm as when they started teaching.”

Teacher-stress-lede

In addition, according to James Anthony in “7 Conclusions from the World’s Largest Teacher Burnout Survey” posted here, 75% of teachers complained of health problems such as shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations or chest pain, or regular headaches or stomach aches — symptoms often associated with a failure to deal with stress. His conclusion? “This is a worrying sign that pressure and workload of many teaching jobs is having a very real physical impact on many teachers.”

 

From the Back Cover of the Book

You should definitely grab a copy of Exhausted. Paul Murphy promises you will learn:

  • Exhausted by Paul MurphyWhy even good days with your students leave you drained.
  • What tired teachers have in common with doctors, major league baseball managers, and interview committees.
  • How Jeb Bush’s failure in the 2016 presidential primaries is related to your own fatigue.
  • What long distance runners, one of history’s greatest weightlifters, and a Stanford psychologist can teach you about the powerful influence of your mind.

He says you will find solutions to these problems and understand:

  • What teachers can learn from baristas and airline agents.
  • What supermarket layouts can teach us about the dangers of decision making.
  • Why AC/DC doesn’t belong in your classroom.
  • What an insurance agent’s plane crash can teach us about belief.

Who is this Paul Murphy guy? His own bio, the last section of the book, is unique:

Paul Murphy is a third-grade teacher in Michigan. This fall, he started his 20th year in the classroom. His writing focuses on improving the lives of teachers, both inside the classroom and out. He enjoys reading, writing, travel, exercise, craft beer, and Cheetos. His feet are perpetually cold, he bites his nails, and he regularly (and almost instinctively at this point) changes the lyrics to songs to make them inappropriate, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughter.

cat-3623703_1920_ Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto

 

The Science of Exhaustion

The best way to review the innards of a publication and get to the nitty-gritty may be to frame a few guiding questions, to follow an outline summary on which to reflect while reading many of the early chapters:

  1. How many decisions do you make before you ever teach a single class every morning? What effect do they have on you?
  2. What is the link of willpower (ego depletion* and delayed gratification) to exhaustion?
  3. What do doctors say about the constant exercise of self-control and blood glucose levels, and why is the time of the day critical?
  4. What is “morning morality” and what does it have to do with planning your day as a teacher?

*Psychologist Roy Baumeister coined the term “ego depletion” after he found that humans have a limited supply of willpower.  He compares willpower to a muscle, which can strengthen but also wear out with use. Ego depletion has a general effect, meaning that using self-control in one area of your life erodes your ability to self-regulate in other parts of your life. Baumeister found that exerting self-control results in a significant drop in blood-sugar levels.  Low blood sugar leads to physical fatigue, which is why you’re so tired, even though the heaviest thing you lifted was a textbook. Paul Murphy

A few of my observations. Willpower is actually “won’t-do-power,” and represents the chronic stress teachers and other professionals place on themselves everyday: saying “NO” to such things as sleeping-in an extra 10-15 minutes, staying on your diet by passing by that Dunkin Donuts shop on the way to school, forgoing the idle chit-chat from the teacher’s room on the way to the photocopier, not allowing yourself to be distracted by a TV program instead of doing your own homework, delaying an update of your social media sites or reading personal email instead of finishing your lesson plans, grades, or the forms the principal requested for completion by the end of the week.

In other words, facing up to all of those grown-up expectations that grown-ups must do! There’s no room for youthful indulgences or “goof-off time” as an adult!

chihuahua-809588_1920_Didgeman

Paul Murphy says, “Whatever you call it… resisting temptation, will power, self-control, self-discipline, grit, perseverance, self-regulation, or determination, science has proven that it exhausts us.”

Teachers endlessly self regulate. We hold back sarcastic rejoinders, walk away from lazy students when we what we really want to do is lecture them, keep her honest thoughts about the principles latest he’ll conceive ideas to ourselves, respond professionally to disrespectful emails from parents, work with students when we want to do anything but, plan the next day one would rather check Facebook, and bite our tongues when we’d like to drop F-bombs. We force ourselves to work when we feel like taking a break. We redirect students when we’d rather just let the behaviors go and avoid the resultant excuses and conflicts. We keep teaching even though we really, really have to pee. Teachers use a lot of willpower. — Paul Murphy

Couldn’t say it better myself!

Another personal observation also seems to be supported by Paul Murphy. I have found that “earlier is better” for doing creative tasks, solving problems, or completing highly detailed work. Most mornings (in retirement), I reserve my first two hours for writing. Others say that the AM is best for practicing or composing, when you feel the freshest! The closer to having a meal or having slept all night (which revitalizes our supplies of self-regulation and blood sugar), the better for tackling something hard… which for a teacher might mean facing the challenge of a “difficult parent” phone call, student discipline report, or conference with an “unhappy” administrator.

 

fuchs-4434858_1920

Strategies for Releasing/Postponing Tension

Paul Murphy recommends that, instead of using up your willpower reserves to fight off the urge to snap at someone or suppressing your anger, “simply notice something else that requires less willpower” or distract yourself. Postponing can also be effective: Have your tantrum “not now, but later.” (Schedule your nervous breakdown for another day?) Often, once some time has passed, you may find your frustration has abated.

Another technique for alleviating stress is to actually do a deliberate exercise to release your emotions and desires… in a more controlled and constructive way.

I sometimes receive an email from a parent or supervisor that angers me. My instinct is to return fire. That’s a bad instinct, but it doesn’t mean I have to hold in those feelings. It also doesn’t mean I should vent to other teachers or my wife. They’ve got their own problems, and nobody really wants to hear mine. What I do instead is write my honest, no-holds-barred rebuttal. I let it all out, hammering the keyboard and plastering my screen with vitriol. I read it and re-read until it effectively conveys the righteous indignation I so strongly feel.

Then I don’t send it!

It released my anger, and it’s there for me to revisit. On those few occasions when I have gone back to reread these unsent missives, my anger is gone. I wonder why I was so outraged at the time. They’re actually embarrassing to read. If you do this a few times, you begin to realize that your initial feelings are often an overreaction (and also the result of depleted willpower and low blood sugar) and it becomes easier to avoid indulging them.Paul Murphy

 

zoo-4508682_1920_edmondlafoto

Intense Emotions = Model Teacher?

Who is a better teacher? An energetic, passionate, and always “fired-up” one, or a professional who exerts a calm, introspective, and less intense attitude? Some studies do show that an enthusiastic, engaging teacher who is passionate about his subject is more effective than a “dull” or less dynamic teacher who seems to dislike his job, but what of the costs? Again, in Murphy’s book, we have more research to the rescue: “…Science has proven that intense emotions tire us out!”

I’ll explain why teachers should aim for a feeling of inner calm for large chunks of their day. I’ll argue that the expectation we have for ourselves and other teachers to be constantly enthusiastic is counterproductive in the short-term and ultimately damaging to the education system in the long-run. And I’ll explain how being calm will not only conserve your energy, but will make your classroom a better learning environment for your students.Paul Murphy

Another reason to buy his book!

brain-2062057_1920_ElisaRiva2.jpg

The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste!

Finally, our very own thoughts are amazingly powerful tools. Our brain can either help or make things worse! “If you believe a task is going to be difficult, it will be.” We all know that “positive talk” can alleviate the effects of stress, and can inspire greater levels of achievement. But, what about the relationship of negative thoughts to fatigue?

Almost every distance runner talks of hitting a wall. In 2012, Spanish researchers wanted to know what went through runners’ minds as they neared exhaustion, and they found exactly what you’d expect: the harder the runners work and the longer they run, the more negative their thoughts become. No surprise there.

runner-808932_1920+skeeze.jpgBut then a group of British and dutch researchers asked an interesting question. They wondered if everyone had it backwards. Did the discomfort of physical fatigue cause the runners to think negatively, like everyone assumed, or did the runners negative thoughts make them more physically tired and sore? It was a chicken and egg question.

The researchers found 24 healthy adults and had each complete a grueling ride on a stationary bike until they were exhausted. Then they were sent home for two weeks. During that time, half of the subjects were trained in positive self talk, a technique many sports psychologist coaches teach athletes to combat negative thinking that can lead to poor performance. The other 12 subjects were left alone. Then the researchers called them all back to hop on the bikes again.

On average, those who receive positive self talk training performed more than 17% better on their second ride than they had on their first. There was no improvement among members of the control group.Paul Murphy

He goes into great detail that the driving force behind our exhaustion may not even be the hours we work, the challenges we face in the classroom, or the lack of support we perceive from administration or parents. It may rest in our thoughts. And, he analyzes the negative effects of “worrying” and the concept of “mind over matter!”

 

dog-4607655_1920_DrawnByShaun

The Schedule That Doesn’t Help

Tiger Woods was known for so many “firsts” and breaking numerous golfing records in his early career. Many credited his success to his extreme focus, perseverance, and self-discipline. It was documented that he practiced golf 7-8 hours every day and worked out two or three hours more:

  • tiger-woods-79694_1920_ David Mark6:30 a.m. an hour of cardio
  • 7:30 a.m. one hour of lower-body weight training
  • 8:30 a.m. high protein/low-fat breakfast
  • 9:00 a.m. two hours on the driving range
  • 11:00 a.m. practicing putting
  • 11:30 a.m. playing nine holes
  • 2:00 p.m. healthy lunch
  • 2:30 p.m. two to four more hours on the golf course
  • 6:00 p.m. back in the gym working on upper-body
  • 7:00 p.m. dinner and relaxation

Then we learn about his personal “crash of 2009” when everything seemed to unravel:

  • Extra-marital affairs
  • Personal calls to escort services
  • Wife, discovering his “extra-curricular” activities, assaulting him
  • DUI arrest
  • Divorce
  • Destruction of his reputation
  • Injuries
  • Poor golf play

Certainly, Tiger had some deep-seated psychological issues. But I can’t help wondering if his remarkable self-discipline left him depleted to the point that he was unable to fight off his most distracted urges at the close of his ego-depleting days. Yes, he only had to focus for five hours during a round of golf, but Tiger Woods used will power from the time he woke up to the time he started texting port stars. His is a cautionary tale for anyone who spends large parts of the day exercising self-control. As teachers, there are lessons to be learned. Paul Murphy

Your own strict daily regiment may also contribute to your feelings of “total exhaustion.” Music teachers are usually their own worst enemies. We take on responsibilities for the hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainensake of the music program, add a new ensemble, schedule after-school time to teach a solo or instrumental part, and plan more weekend and evening “learning activities” or events beyond the scope of most other academic subject teachers. It was not unusual for me to be at school by 6:45 a.m., eat lunch in my car on the way to my second or third assignment as an itinerant, stop for a quick “date” and dinner out with my wife, return to school for band, orchestra, or musical practices, and not get home until 9 or or 10 p.m. As a retiree, I now ask, “What ever happened to all of this stamina and endurance?” Pushing wheel chairs only four hours a day three times a week at a local hospital, I sometimes find myself wanting to take a “power nap” when I get home! Never you fear: the healthy “calendar of a retired music teacher” is as busy (and hectic) as full-time employment… We always say, “I wonder how I ever had the time to do all of these things and work at the same time!”

However, to put it in perspective, here is a copy of my former professional schedule that I was (mostly self-) assigned to teach grades 5-12 strings in three buildings, manage the fall play and spring musical, assist the marching band, work with the superintendent on school district public relations projects, prepare for PMEA and NAfME music festivals, and serve as my district’s Performing Arts Curriculum Leader.

Schedule 2013

As an administrator, the number of “contact hours” over the maximum was irrelevant; it was never an option to submit a grievance to the teacher’s union. Actually, I accepted the responsibility of planning what I thought was necessary for the success of my program, my students, and my music staff… no matter what the cost! Sound familiar?

 

monkey-1171394_1920_kachi

Other Remedies to Lower Tension and Exhaustion

This is just “the tip of the iceberg” for an analysis of the book Exhausted. Part two which we have not covered here is entitled “What To Do About It.”

More recommendations for better time management, remediation of teacher burnout, development of a self-care plan, and techniques for stress reduction will be addressed in future blogs. At this point, from three excellent sources, these tips may steer you towards improved rest, personal life/work balance, and general health/wellness. Stay tuned for more at https://paulfox.blog/care/.

Numbers 1-6: Paul Murphy: Exhausted: Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It http://teacherhabits.com/about/

Numbers 7-15: Raphailia Michael: “What Is Self-Care, and What It Isn’t” at PsychCentral https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/

Numbers 16-22: Lesley Moffat: I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me https://squ.re/2TaXoAr and (also see this blogpost)

  1. Work less/fewer hours
  2. Time before school is worth more than twice as much as time after school
  3. Use class time to check student work
  4. Leverage technology
  5. Don’t grade everything
  6. Stop assigning things
  7. Create a “NO” (I will not do) list
  8. Promote a nutritious, healthy diet
  9. Get enough sleep
  10. Follow-up with medical care as needed
  11. Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation
  12. Spend enough time with loved ones
  13. Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s spending 30 minutes unwinding, listening to music, or taking a walk
  14. Do at least one pleasurable activity every day, from going to the cinema, cooking, or meeting friends
  15. Make opportunities to laugh
  16. Take a break from social media
  17. Seek out ways to compliment others
  18. Allow someone to go ahead of you in line at the store
  19. Set your alarm for nine minutes earlier and use those nine minutes to listen to an inspiring song
  20. Turn off notifications on your phone and/or avoid electronic devices for the first hour of your day
  21. Take deep breaths when you encounter spped bumps and stop signs/lights during your daily commute
  22. Stay hydrated

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Care of Music Teachers

Something New is a-Coming

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

 

key-2114313_1920

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.

 

model-pillow-sleep-sleepwalking_2373534_1920_Engin_Akyurt

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.”

8 dimensions of wellness

Further elaboration of their eight dimensions of wellness is provided here:

  • Occupational
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Intellectual

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.”

 

runner-1814460_1920_skeeze

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.

“Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel

 

breakfast-1804457_1920_Einladung_zum_Essen

Coming Soon…

Already, we have found a wealth of people who have perspectives and “prescriptions” that may help. We are anticipating future submissions from (or reviews of) the following self-care advisors:

  • Aforementioned MEJ article, teacher self-care assessment, and excellent bibliography by Christa Kuebel
  • Contributions by Lesley Moffat including her book I Love My Job, But It’s Killing Me and details about her Band Directors Boot Camp, “Music Teacher Mojo Meter,” and her website “Building Better Band Programs Without Burning Out”
  • 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
  • Survey of “prioritizing teacher self-care” articles posted by Edutopia
  • Other online sources

 

zumba-4333580_1920_arembowski

This is Where YOU Can Help!

If you find something interesting, please comment on it at this forum, or send an email to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

The Myths of Retirement

Dispelling Five Common Misconceptions Involving One of Life’s Greatest Transitions – Perspectives from Gerontologists, Psychologists, Authors, and Other “Retiree Gurus”

 

Throughout my travels presenting at music educator conferences and local workshops, I discover soon-to-retire music teachers and other professionals have many preconceived notions about retirement. I hear the general acceptance of many “myths,” including these five Five Mythsthat seem to be the most prevalent:

  1. You retire FROM something.
  2. It’s an easy transition.
  3. It takes little time to prepare.
  4. It’s completely different from anything you’re doing now.
  5. Retirement is the time to downsize and move.

Let’s “troll the Internet” a little and check-in with a few leading authorities on retirement planning.

knit-869221_1920_Foundry

 

1

You should retire to, not from, something.

“Most people today view retirement as an opportunity to begin a new chapter in their lives, ‘not a time to wind down and move off the playing field,’ says gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, 64, the CEO of Age Wave, a research think-tank on aging issues.”

“They are trying to figure out new ways to be productive. ‘Many are wondering: What can I do with this stage of my life that is perhaps my highest purpose?’ says Dychtwald, who is also a psychologist. He has written 16 books on aging, health, and retirement issues.”

— “How to Reinvent Yourself in Retirement” by Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/10/12/five-stages-of-retirement/16975707/

grandma-736004_1920_fujidreams

quote

“You really should retire to something, not just retire from something… Having a notion of what you are retiring to is also a necessary early retirement planning activity. One that everyone should complete.”

“I would say that I just want the freedom to do whatever I want to do. To spend time in the garden, exercise, travel, pursue opportunities that interested me, learn new things, meet new people, etc. I had done the necessary steps of making sure that I had budgeted for my hobbies and our travel wishes. I thought that was enough. However that wasn’t going to occupy all of my retirement days.”

“Now I do want and enjoy free time where there are no obligations just as much as the next guy, but I needed to look at what I was really retiring to so I wouldn’t end up one of those unfortunate retirees who say they are bored and wished they had never retired. That is why you should plan to retire to something, not just retire from something.”

— “Retire To Something,” Leisure Freak Tommy: https://www.leisurefreak.com/non-financial-aspects-of-early-retirement/retire-to-something/

senior-2642013_1920_RitaE

quote

“Throughout your working years, you have probably viewed your retirement as a destination. It is a goal you are saving for and will hopefully reach one day. But once you reach this destination, then what? ”

“The perception of retirement as a destination may be why some people approach retirement with dread rather than anticipation. They view retirement as a finish line or as the end of the road.”

“But retirement is simply a milestone you pass on your journey. It’s like crossing the border from one state to the next. The road will continue to unfold before you.”

“Your life has changed in countless ways from the time you graduated from school and entered the full-time work force until the present. You have probably changed jobs and perhaps changed careers. You may have lived in numerous places, gotten married and raised a family. Friends have come and gone, your hobbies and interests have evolved and your body has changed.”

“Your retirement could easily last two or three decades. It won’t be a one-dimensional, stagnant state of being. Your life will continue to evolve in many ways after you retire. You may move, the people in your life will continue to shift and you will probably travel to new places and engage in new activities.”

— “Your Retirement is a Journey, Not a Destination” by Dave Hughes, RetireFabulously: http://retirefabulously.com/2017/05/15/your-retirement-is-a-journey-not-a-destination/

 

2

For many, retirement may not be an easy transition.

“50% of retirees will suffer some form of acute emotional distress. This is potentially a very large problem given the fact that 10,000 people are becoming eligible for Social Security every day for the next 20 years in the US alone.”

— Dr. Robert P. Delamontagne in Retiring Mind, Fairview Imprints, 2010: http://www.theretiringmind.com/

fisherman-1624704_1920_paulbr75

quote

“For some people, retirement planning conjures up images of languid days free from the demands of the daily grind, but for others the prospect of leaving the workforce may be a daunting or even frightening transition.”

“For most, this major milestone will elicit a mixture of emotions that fall somewhere between anticipation and apprehension. Retirement is, in fact, a complex experience for almost everyone, characterized by gains and losses and tremendous shifts in identity and routines.”

“Unless those challenges are addressed and dealt with, the so-called ‘golden years’ can be tarnished,” says Irene Deitch, PhD, psychologist and professor emeritus at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. “Even those who may have thought they were prepared can find that the transition is tougher once they’re actually in the throes of it.”

—”Eight Ways to Ease into Retirement” by Katherine Lee, Everyday Health: https://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/future-planning/happy-retirement.aspx

3

Preparation to retirement is essential for you and your family members.

“Most gerontologists agree that a period of adjustment will occur during the first years of “interning” as a retiree. Even more crucial is the “pre-retirement” or “imagination” stage of retirement, involving your preparation six to ten years prior to “taking the big leap” to FREEDOM!”

“Have you considered a few ‘terms of transformation’ below that are all-to-common to soon-to-be-retirees undergoing that life-changing transition to ‘living their dream?’ How should you unravel these “conundrums” or mysteries of transitioning to retirement?

  • Self-Identity and Change
  • Free Time
  • Energy and Fortitude
  • Losing Control and Perpetual Care”

“The only solution to ‘softening the blow’ of the possible turmoil and incongruity brought on at this time is to follow the Boy Scout rule… BE PREPARED.”

“According to TIPS Retirement for Music Educators by Verne A. Wilson (MENC 1989), at least three years before you leave your full-time employment:

  1. Sit down with your spouse if you are married (and other family members) and plan ahead carefully.
  2. Decide when you want to retire. Estimate as accurately as possible what your economic situation will be after you retire.
  3. Decide where you want to live after you retire. This means not just the neighborhood, city, or state, but also the kind and style of residence… retirement community, one-floor ranch, apartment, etc.
  4. Set some goals regarding how you want to spend your retirement time. Focus on your talents and abilities instead of looking at the handicaps that may come with the aging process.
  5. Be prepared for “change” and learn how to accept it, and be willing to embrace new opportunities for personal growth, flexibility, and adaptability.
  6. Be sure your intentions are clearly stated in writing (wills, power of attorneys, living wills, etc.)”

— “New Dreams and Horizons” by Paul K. Fox and other sources: https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/08/03/new-dreams-and-horizons/

old-couple-2435629_1920_MonicaVolpin

quote

“Prior to retiring, you should make a concerted effort to prepare for ‘life after work,’ including:

  • Cultivate interests outside work
  • Lead a healthier lifestyle
  • Revitalize family relationships
  • Spend more time with spouse
  • Embrace spirituality or meditation
  • Nurture friendships and make new friends”

— “Retire Happy: What You Can Do Now to Guarantee a Great Retirement” by Richard Stim and Ralph Warner, USA TODAY/Nolo Series: https://www.amazon.com/dp/141330835X/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

 

4

Retirement may or may not be completely different to what you are doing right now.

“Many people want to continue to work. In fact, 72% of pre-retirees, age 50 and older, say they want to keep working after they retire, according to a recent survey sponsored by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave. Almost half (47%) of current retirees either are working, have worked, or plan to work in retirement, the survey found.”

— “Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations,” by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Agewave: https://agewave.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2014-ML-AW-Work-in-Retirement_Myths-and-Motivations.pdf

trumpet-player-8455_1920_Hans

quote

“Planning for retirement may require a focus on self-management throughout a person’s career, according to a model of career development by psychologist Harvey Sterns, PhD, the director of the Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron.

“No two retirees are the same and multiple pathways exist to get from work to retirement.”

“There is no right way to retire,” Sterns says. “Many people think retirement is wonderful, and for people who want to retire, that’s the right thing to do. If they don’t want to, that’s the right thing, too.”

“After 26 years as a counseling psychology professor at the University of Maryland, Nancy K. Schlossberg, EdD, was ready to retire. But she was hardly ready to slow down. She looked forward to having more flexibility and freedom in her schedule to explore other interests. Still, there was the question of what her new identity would be…”

“Retirement can take many forms, Schlossberg notes. In fact, she identified the following six based on her interviews with about 100 retirees:

  • Continuers stay connected with past skills and activities, but modify them to fit retirement, such as through volunteering or part-time work in their former field.
  • Adventurers start new activities or learn new skills not related to their past work, such as learning to play the piano or taking on an entirely new job.
  • Searchers learn by trial and error as they look for a niche; they have yet to find their identity in retirement.
  • Easy gliders enjoy unscheduled time and like their daily schedule “to go with the flow.”
  • Involved spectators maintain an interest in their previous field of work but assume different roles, such as a lobbyist who becomes a news junkie.
  • Retreaters become depressed, retreat from life and give up on finding a new path–the only negative path in Schlossberg’s classification.”

“The path retirees choose after retirement isn’t necessarily the path they stay on either, Schlossberg says.”

“It’s an evolving part of your career development,” Schlossberg explains. “And the longer you live, the more your path will shift and change.”

— “A New Face to Retirement” by Melissa Dittman, American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/nov04/retirement.aspx

fashion-985556_1920_skeeze

quote

“After the last school bell rings, retired teachers have a leg up. Opportunities cut a broad swath from tutoring to substitute teaching to jobs a little further afield, such as fitness training.”

“Teachers have a combination of tools in their kit that many retirees don’t — solid degree credentials, expertise in a specific field and a passion for helping people learn something new.”

— “Great Jobs for Retired Teachers” by Kerry Hannon, AARP: https://www.aarp.org/work/working-after-retirement/info-04-2011/jobs-for-retired-teachers.1.html

violin-374096_1920_niekverlaan

quote

“Most teachers spend their first year of “retirement” decompressing from the full-time teaching gig. It’s that special time you’ve looked forward to for years. You do some traveling, catch up on all those books you never had time to read, and just relax. Your days are free of ringing bells and reports. Plus, you get to spend a much larger part of your day in your pajamas. Yay! You earned it. You know you’ve arrived when Labor Day stops feeling like D-Day.”

“After a year or so, however, you may start to realize you actually miss working. Not that you miss the standardized tests, parent conferences and grade reports. But something in that work stimulated you in a way nothing else comes close to doing. Perhaps you miss the pleasure you felt creating learning units, or the joy of introducing students to a new author, or the collaborative bonds with fellow teachers. These were true enjoyments and now they are gone.”

“Once you’ve decompressed sufficiently, you might want to consider doing a career redesign. Unlike many other careerists, retired teachers have the freedom and the financial ability to put together a ‘second-act’ career, tailored to the life they want. Keep in mind, U.S. pension policies have restrictions on post-retirement income, so keep a close check on those caps.”

“If you’re feeling ready to begin again, here are ten opportunities you should definitely consider.

  1. Tutoring
  2. Specialized Test Prep
  3. College Application Support
  4. College Adjunct Teaching
  5. Career and Life Coach
  6. Tour Guide
  7. Writing and Editing
  8. Educational Consulting
  9. Translator
  10. International Schools”

— “Ten Great Encore Careers for Retired Teachers” by Peter Spellman, Nextcalling: https://nextcalling.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/10-Great-%E2%80%98Encore-Careers%E2%80%99-for-Retired-Teachers.pdf

artist-463959_1920_imaginart

quote

“We were fortunate to have Dr. John V. D’Ascenzo join the PMEA Retired Member Coordinator at the PMEA Summer Conference, assisting on the session “Retirement 101 – Retiree Stories and Strategies,” which was held on July 17-18, 2018 at the Red Lion Hotel in Harrisburg, PA.”

“John provided a lot of interesting perceptions and coping tips for the “soon-to-retire!” He shared new segments for consideration with references.”

“The evaluating of personal and professional paths prior to and at the time of retirement leads to behavioral changes that promote positive outcomes (Krawulski, de Oliviera Cruz, Medina, Boehs & de Toledo, 2017). Activities would include:

  • Giving and/or receiving education/training.
  • Volunteering roles: leadership, followership
  • Pursue different career paths for remuneration or gratis.”

Retired Member Network eNEWS, August 2, 2018: https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Retired-Member-Network-eNEWS-080218.pdf

 

5

Retirement may or may not be the time to pull-up stakes and move from your current residence.

“The US Census Bureau reports that 49 out of 50 people over the age of 65 stay right where they are when they retire.”

“If your current hometown is affordable, close to friends and family, and near activities and entertainment you most enjoy, why move for the sake of moving? Instead, consider whether the need for change can be satisfied through more frequent brief vacations, or by purchasing an inexpensive weekend getaway home.”

— “Fine Out Where You Should Retire” by Melissa Phipps, The Balance: https://www.thebalance.com/where-should-i-retire-2894254

guitarist-407212_1920__SplitShire

My next blog for this “Retirement Resources” forum will investigate this subject more closely and pose the questions, “Where Should I Retire?” and “What are the three most important factors to consider before choosing your retirement destination?”

Retirees: Do you have YOUR favorite “myth in retirement?” Please share. (Click on “comment” near the top of this article.) We would love to hear from you!

Otherwise, stay tuned for additional thoughts and tips on preparing a happy transition to retirement. You are also invited to revisit past blog-posts at this site: https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/for-retirees/.

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “emotional” by werner22brigitte, “knit” by foundry, “grandma” by fujidreams,”senior” by RitaE, “fisherman” by paulbr75, “old couple” by MonicaVolpin, “trumpet-player” by Hans, “fashion” by skeeze, “violin” by niekverlaan, “artist” by imaginart, “guitarist” by SplitShire, and “cottage” by MonikaDesigns.

 

cottage-1550083_1920_MonikaDesigns