Stress, Burnout, & Stage Fright in College

Resources for Music and Music Education Majors

Increasingly,  in some parts of the country there are new shortages of qualified, experienced, skilled, and engaging public and private school teachers, even in the fields of Performing Arts. (For examples, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/08/28/teacher-shortages-affecting-every-state-as-2017-18-school-year-begins/?utm_term=.c599b1d39405.)

At the same time, although it may not seem to be hustle-and-bustle-1738072_1920_geraltdocumented to a great extent, stress, burnout, and stage fright have become real concerns for music education majors completing their coursework, juries/recitals/concerts, methods exams, student teaching, and other field experiences. This may be affecting statistics on college enrollments, graduation rates, and job placements!

It would seem we should be recruiting more music educators (not losing them as “failed” music/music education majors). Where should we look for answers to this problem?

“Burnout is fatigue and diminished interest caused by long-term stress. It is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accomplishment. In the university music atmosphere, stress and burnout are prevalent accepted as part of the culture. Symptoms and causes of general stress and burnout have been well researched, but much less has been presented on college musicians’ burnout, let alone how to deal with it.” — Helen Orzel

 

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The purpose of this blog-post is to share studies, surveys, and articles of research on the causes for stress and “drop-outs” of music and music educator majors, along with proposals of remedies for reducing college student anxiety and recommendations for alleviating the problem of attrition.

An overview of collegiate performance anxiety elucidates numerous emotional triggers:

  1. anxiety-2019928_1920_WokandapixCollege funding
  2. Academic pressures: acquiring new knowledge, understandings, skills, etc.
  3. Competition (both in self-perception of achievement and in relation to peers)
  4. Trends in seeking perfectionism
  5. Coping with being away from home
  6. Sleep deprivation
  7. Challenges with personal relationships
  8. Development of new strategies and systems of personal organization and time management

If you find additional sources or statistics, please pass them on. Click on the above comment link so we can add them to this discussion.

 

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College Student Stress

The best summary I have found on this subject is from the recently released Fall 2018 issue of the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) – PMEA News. (For full access, become a member of PMEA.) Read the article on page 52, “Music Major Anxiety – Causes and Coping” by Kevin Shorner-Johnson, National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Society for nafme_society_research_music_edMusic Teacher  Education (SMTE) PA State Chair and Director of Music Education at Elizabethtown College. He talks about anxiety as “the leading mental health issue among adolescents and college students,” and examines the stressors of academic expectations, time management, “perfectionism,” and amygdala and cortex-rooted stress disorders, as well as cultivating practices of self-care and coping skills.

Shorner-Johnson recommends the book, Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry by Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle (2015).

“Pittman and Karle provide beautiful guides and checklists that may assist students in building coping skills such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, prayer, yoga, exercise, and chanting. Coping strategies can allow us to enter into tension, getting to know origins and triggers, and transforming anxieties into new forms of centered awareness. Like music, coping strategies are skills that can only be cultivated through practice. When we practice self-care, we rewire associated connections and empower new responses.”  — Kevin Shorner-Johnson

 

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For a comprehensive survey on the stressors of music majors, peruse the illuminating thesis of H.J. Orzel (2010) “Undergraduate Music Student Stress and Burnout.” She states that her study has a two-fold purpose:

  • Examine sources of stress and burnout for undergraduate music students, and
  • Examine existing methods of controlling stress and burnout.
  • This information can also be a tool for college music students needing
    help with stress and burnout.

“A college musician’s environment can significantly influence stress levels. Environmental stressors include overworked professors unable to provide support,
competitive peers, lack of resources such as practice space or counseling services,
overburdened schedules, and high standards and expectations set by institutions…
Developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the effects of environmental stress, promoting resilience.” — Helen Orzel

In her conclusion, she mentions these possible strategies to alleviate stress:

  1. stress-391657_1920_geraltLearning to “manage your burdens,” class schedules, assignments, calendar, etc.
  2. Improvement of personal time management towards greater work/life balance
  3. Development of coping skills for new environments
  4. Exploration of new practice venues and study routines
  5. Allocation of more time with supportive peers
  6. Learning to make manageable choices, setting of limitations and reasonable expectations for making future commitments
  7. Practice of relaxation, slow breathing, and meditation exercises
  8. Strategies for reduction of performance anxiety and “stage fright”
  9. Reflection on and rehash of personal mission, goals, and motivations, and “what first inspired them to pursue music”

 

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H. Christian Bernard II from the State University of New York at Fredonia offers his research-based article Contemplative Practices in Music Teacher Education, describing efforts to incorporate contemplative studies within a music curriculum (Sarath 2006), mindfulness instruction on the music listening experiences (Diaz 2013), mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention instruction (Shapiro, Schwartz, and Bonner 1998), short-term meditation practices on attention and self-regulation (Tang lonely-1510265_1920_PoseMuse2009), “deep listening” as “a way of hearing in which we are fully present with what is happening in the moment” (Barbezat and Bush 2014), contemplative movement activities including methodologies of Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, and Gordon adapted for other music teaching contexts (Benedict, 2010), walking meditation, tai chi ch’uan, yoga, and labyrinth walking (Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, 2016), contemplative reading, writing, and other self-help practices.

“Contemplation is not the opposite of thinking but its complement. It is not the emptying of the mind of thoughts but the cultivation of awareness of thoughts within the mind. Through contemplation, the mind is open to itself.”                                               — D.P. Barbezat and M. Bush.

“Utilizing contemplative practices including meditation, reading and writing, movement, and listening can offer students and teachers opportunities for meaningful experiences while simultaneously reducing levels of stress and anxiety. While mindfulness is a prerequisite for all contemplative practices, this secular and academic application goes beyond deepening of awareness and compassion to also include deepening of thinking and learning. Care should be used when selecting resources and activities, as the use of contemplative practices should always serve as an aid to, not a replacement for, effective music teaching and learning.”   — H. Christian Bernard II

Bernard also provides an excellent bibliography for further study, and has also written many other related articles:

 

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Burnout

An outstanding series of YouTube video presentations dives into what “five different research studies have to say about burnout and the undergraduate music education major, and the implications these studies have for students, professors, and administrators when it comes to managing the stress often associated with this degree.” As a requirement for her graduate music psychology class, Meghan Johnson presented “Burnout and the Undergraduate Music Education Major: Surviving the Stress” in 2010:

Additional resources regarding pre- and in-service music teacher burnout:

 

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Performance Anxiety

Dr. Natalie Ozeas, formerly Professor and Head of Music Education at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), shares a new local initiative for addressing the problem of stage fright by Anne Jackovic Moskal, a member of the Pittsburgh Benedum Orchestra and solfege teacher at the CMU School of Music.

“The text that I use for my class is Musician’s Yoga by Mia Olson. We work a lot with meditation, especially focused towards the music we are currently working on. We practice by either listening to recordings or simply thinking of the whole work in their mind and how to continuously breath through it. The thought is that they will be able to move past anxious moments in performances and feel the constant breath instead. Additionally, we take meditation walks and practice the same method. Some of these methods are addressed in this book. We also have a physical practice to reinforce breathing through challenges. However, a significant part is to stretch, repair, restore, and strengthen our bodies from the damage of long practice sessions.”                            — Anne Jackovic Moskal

There are a myriad of sources on the web geared to performers for lessening stage fright, including blogposts like “A Few Things Every Musician Should Know About Stage Fright” by Noa K Kageyama from BulletproofMusician.

 

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NAfME members have free access to numerous articles on performance anxiety. Several articles published in the Music Educators Journal (MEJ) include “Stress in the Lives of Music Students” by David J. Sternbach (January 2008), “The Other Side of Stage Fright” by Donald L. Hamann (April 1985), and “Stage Fright – Its Cause and Cure” by Rowland W. Dunham (1953).

“To help your students reduce stress, address the ways they critique their practice and prepare for performance… Excessive self-criticism in practicing can be a predisposing factor for performance anxiety.” — David J. Sternbach

nafme“When musicians think about performing, they eventually think about performance anxiety — ‘stage fright.’ Performance anxiety can be defined as a physical and mental deviation from a ‘normal state’ and is perhaps one of the most misunderstood areas of performance practice… A reduction in anxiety levels especially with musicians with extensive formal training may actually diminish performance quality. For musicians with low mastery skills, the prudent approach would seem to be to undertake more formal training.” — Donald L. Hamann

“Here is the cure for stage fright. If you have strength of mind and a conscientious determination, you can walk onto the stage for a solo with almost the same certainty you have in practicing. There is the added and thrilling incentive now of an audience. By ignoring what you may fancy to be their opinion of you — which does not matter anyway — you have a new angle: giving emotional joy, spiritual nobility, or dramatic stimulation.With an honest artistic outlook, stage fright goes out the window. In its place you have the pleasure of adding something to he lives of your listeners.”               — Rowland W. Dunham

 

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Additional resources on stage fright and other anxiety issues:

 

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Finally, even though there is so much more to cover, a good “coda” on the subject of stress in music school might be to look at the article “Reality 101” by Gary C. Mortenson in the December 1991 issue of Music Educators Journal. Citing the University of Massachusetts student Erin Martin’s column “Real World 101: A Needed Course” in the October 1990 issue of U. — The National College Newspaper, college students could use help in areas not traditionally included in undergraduate curriculum:

  1. hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainenJob placement
  2. Financial planning
  3. Raising a family
  4. Stress management

Mortenson creates several excellent “mock scenarios” fostering critical thinking and problem solving of teacher-student relationships, teacher-parent relationships, and criticism and stress that are issues in every teaching career.

“Life would be much easier if we could learn to handle real-world problems before we have to face them on our own.” — Erin Martin

“Teaching requires the ability to manage a variety of challenging situations. It is as complex and changeable as the society we live in. In college, future teachers assimilate a great deal of information that prepares them to share knowledge with their students. No one, however, can teach all of the skills needed to make complex decisions on all possible future real-life circumstances. These must ultimately be arrived at on an individual basis according to one’s own instincts and conscience. By giving more thought to how the problems and issues that confront students, parents, and colleagues will affect us, however, we can better equip ourselves to respond in an intelligent way to these challenges.” — Gary C. Mortenson

 

UPDATE (January 3, 2019):

Just after the release of this blog-post, the timely article “The Mindful Music Educator – Strategies for Reducing Stress and Increasing Well-being” by Dana Arbaugh Varona came out in the NAfME Music Educators Journal, Volume 5 Issue 2, 2018. (See https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0027432118804035.) You must be a member of NAfME to read the December 2018 issue in its entirety.

PKF

© 2018 and 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “stress” by TheDigitalArtist, “hustle and bustle” by geralt, “people” by tweetyspics, “anxiety” by Wokandapix, “woman” by Comfreak, “stress-2883638” by geralt, “stress-391657” by geralt, “woman” by Pexels, “lonely” by PoseMuse, “stress-22670” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “trumpeter” by klimkin, “marching-band” by skeeze, “hug” by markzfilter, “hurry” by TeroVesalainen, and “laptop” by JESHOOTScom.

Post-Employment Prep – New Places to Go

Follow the Wonderful “Gold Brick Road” to More Retirement Resources

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This blog-site will continuously explore new/better research on and suggestions for a happy, healthy, and meaningful transition to retirement. This month, it seems we hit the mother-lobe of recent discoveries for this journey… four more for the road! (To catch-up reading all the blogs for retirees, click on the category link “Retirement Resources” at the right.)

Jean Potuchek

Probably one of the most insightful and expansive treasures of online articles on retirement is Stepping Into the Future – A Retirement Journal by Jean Potuchek, who defines herself as “a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching.” She succinctly states her purpose: “This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.”

enjoying-retirement-1358850-1Take a deep breath, find an easy chair, ignore your cell phone’s texts/calls, and plunge into her full website: https://stepintofuture.wordpress.com/category/retirement-transition/. Or, if you prefer, set aside 30 minutes and read a few of her individual posts (below). I have just begun to “crack this nut” – her blog-site is more extensive than anything else I have found!

choir-1438273As a music educator, this last title peaked my interest. We urge every retiree to revisit their creativity roots and seek renewed opportunities to enjoy music as a lifelong pursuit. (We have already posted reprints of several of my articles on this subject from PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, including Sing Your Heart Out, Now and in Retirement and It’s Time to “Dust off Your Chops” (join a community band/orchestra).

Potuchek relates her rationale for a quest in more spontaneity in her retired life and participating in a “creative aging singing workshop” sponsored by the Portland Public Library:

I am never going to be a totally spontaneous free spirit; it’s just not in my character. I like structure, and I don’t see myself giving up scheduling as a way to structure my days and weeks. But as I get weekly practice in spontaneity, I am learning to loosen up and be more flexible with my schedules. My first spontaneous jump into a new activity has brought the joys of choral singing back into my life, introduced me to some new friends, and helped me to recover long-forgotten skills (like reading music). Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? For this old dog, retirement is proving to be a time of growth and learning. – Jean Potuchek

Top 55 Retirement Planning Websites

the-end-of-the-road-1207268-1Generally, I am not much in favor of perusing commercial websites on planning for retirement, especially those by investment counselors, but Ernie Zelinski (author of bestsellers like How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free) sent me this link: http://goldretiree.com/retirement-planning. Zelinski’s own “Retirement Cafe” (http://www.retirement-cafe.com/) is the second website listed, and seems to archive the foundations of much of his subsequent writings. Here is his “10 Dumbest Retirement Moves.”

  1. Purchasing a larger home than you need or than you can afford
  2. Watching a lot of TV — more than an hour and a half a day is excessive!
  3. Gambling
  4. Spending a lot of time shopping
  5. Complaining about life
  6. Being afraid to spend the kid’s inheritance
  7. Being a miser with your money
  8. Planning to work forever — something NOT advocated in The World’s Best Retirement Book.
  9. Neglecting your health by not indulging in vigorous physical exercise every day
  10. Not making new friendships and neglecting old friends

If you are concerned about your personal finances, investment, life styles, travel, or other issues in planning for your “golden years,” goldretiree.com may be valuable. Besides Zelinski’s site, I was taken with the following writers:

aarpThe final entry at goldretiree.com, AARP is worth mentioning here (http://www.aarp.org/). I was one of those 40-something spouses who automatically became a member when his wife turned 50 and she joined; I was neither ready nor expecting it. However, the AARP magazine and online materials are excellent, and span topics about travel, health care and coping with aging, finance, dining and cooking, etc. plus special discounts and benefits.

If you like, the entire listing of retirement websites is provided at this link: GoldRetiree.com

Stephen Price

In my last blog-post on retirement, “Three Exit Lanes to Retirement Self-Helhowtosurviveretirement_pricep Guides,” I briefly mentioned Stephen Price’s book “How to Survive Retirement: Reinventing Yourself for the Life You’ve Always Wanted.” No one resource has everything… but this book comes closest to covering the greatest variety of subjects, exploring such possibly mundane (?) topics of financial planning, making your home elder-friendly, and social security information, to riding the up-and-down emotions of “change” and retirement. The book’s table of contents is eclectic:

  1. Entering Retirement
  2. Discovering the New You
  3. The New Realities of Money
  4. Making a Move: Post-Retirement Relocating
  5. Do Unto Others: Opportunities to Volunteer
  6. Travel
  7. Encore Employment, or Returning to Work
  8. Planning for a Healthy Retirement

Volunteer Gardener

Of special merit, Price shares 14 pages of ideas on volunteering, with a gang of valuable websites on which to follow-up… everything from animal shelters, museums, zoos, aquariums, and conservation groups to business mentoring, foster grand-parenting, senior companions, and child advocates.

The last full chapter, written by Laurence Burd, MD, starts with a quote by the late PA Senator Arlen Specter: “There’s nothing more important than our good health – that’s our principal capital asset,” and dives into the effects of aging and how to maintain good health throughout “our maturing years” (or second childhood?).  I have never seen a manual for retirees that goes into such detail on these issues:

  • Decline of Organ Performance and Function
  • Wrinkles and Dry Skin
  • Gray Hair
  • Balding
  • Hearing Loss
  • Decreased Vision
  • Dental Problems
  • Skeletal System
  • Cardiovascular System
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)medicine-1419753
  • Swelling of Ankles and Feet
  • Heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Urination Irregularities
  • Decreased Sex Drive
  • Memory Loss
  • Help, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up
  • Insomnia
  • Depression and Anxiety

This is definitely a book worth buying, reading, and keeping!

Although a life of ease may have been your dream, retirement brings with it a host of questions, problems, and responsibilities that never occurred to you and may now seem insurmountable. How to Survive Retirement will help you plan for most any eventuality during the golden years. – Steven Price/back cover

Finally… The Ultimate Resource Guide/Bibliography

I tried to revise, assemble, and share in one place all of the retirement resources I have found. Click on this link to download the ultimate retiree resource guide 072216. You do not have to be a former music educator to use this reference list to gain a perspective on research and assistance to preparing and managing the life-changing adventure of retirement.

This document is my present to you. It cannot get much more comprehensive or convenient to find/use this collection of “sound advice” from advisors who themselves have successfully found happiness, good health, and real purpose in retirement life.

pmeaUpdates to my presentation “Surviving and Reveling in Retirement” for the PMEA Summer 2016 Conference are posted on the PMEA retired members website:  http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. If you are music teacher retiree and taught or live in the state of Pennsylvania, we recommend joining PMEA to enjoy the numerous benefits of networking with fellow colleagues, reading publications, supporting music advocacy efforts, realizing ongoing professional and leadership development, and other programs. One advantage of being “senior citizens” is that our dues and conference registration fees are significantly reduced! For more information, please go to the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/membership-information/.

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PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox