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.

Burned Out or Bummed Out?

More on Teacher Self-Care: Diagnosis and Remediation

This is Part VI in a series of articles on educator health and wellness, following “Stressed Out!” and “Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic.”

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Do you recognize these signs of burnout experienced  by yourself, a coworker, neighbor, or someone you love?

  • Physical: tired, lowered immunity, illnesses, aches and pains, loss of appetite or sleep
  • Emotional: sense of self-doubt, failure, helplessness, loneliness, cynicism, loss of satisfaction/motivation
  • Behavioral: withdrawal, isolation, skipping work, procrastination, frustration, overuse of food, drugs, alcohol

By the time it gets to that third bullet, probably everyone would be aware of the trouble.

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Burnout Prevention and Recovery by Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson

 

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Gregory S. Perkins and Angela M. Guerriero, licensed Music Therapists from the Tempo! Music Therapy Services, provided much more detailed definitions of self-care in a session at the PMEA 2020 Virtual Summer Conference. (PMEA members may continue to register and view a video of this workshop until mid-September 2020.) You should know and be on the lookout for these terms:

The United Nations defines self-care as the actions that individuals take in order to develop, protect, maintain, and improve their own health and well being. Self-care involves a personal investment in maintaining physical, psychological and spiritual health, and pursuing a fulfilling, well-rounded life.

Brownout: “A practitioner essentially gives up or performs in a perfunctory manner when confronted with too much stress and too little gratification.” Guy, J. & Norcross, J. (2007). Leaving it at the office: a guide to psychotherapist self-care. New York, NY: Guilford Publications, Inc.

Burnout: “A syndrome of physical exhaustion including a negative self-concept, negative job attitude, and loss of concern and feelings.” Keidel, G. (2002). Burnout and compassion fatigue among hospice caregivers. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 19(3), 200-205

Recognizing the Need: Self-Care for Music Educators by Gregory S. Perkins, MT-BC, and Angela M. Guerriero, PhD, MT-BC

The Mayo Clinic offers numerous symptoms of “burnout.” How many of these have you “felt” too or noticed in someone else’s demeanor or behavior?

  1. Disillusionment over the job
  2. Cynicism at work
  3. Impatience with co-workers, administrators, and students
  4. Lack of satisfaction in accomplishments
  5. Dragging yourself to work and trouble getting started once you’re there
  6. Lack of energy
  7. Unexplained aches/pains
  8. Self-medicating with food, drugs, or alcohol
  9. Changes in sleep/eating patterns

 

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Education Week adds many more danger signs. Are any of these striking close to home?

Exhaustion. This is a fatigue so deep that there’s no way to “turn it off,” no matter how badly you want to. It’s deep in your bones. The kind of tired where you just want to ooze into your bed and disconnect from life.

Extreme graveness. Realizing you go hours without smiling or laughing, or days without a belly laugh.

Anxiety. The constant, nagging feeling that you can and should do more, while simultaneously realizing you need to unplug and spend more time with your family. But there are so many things to do.

Being overwhelmed. Questioning how they can possibly add one more task, expectation, or mandate to your plate. Compromising your values of excellence just so you can check-off 15 more boxes to stay in compliance. All the while knowing it still won’t be enough.

Seeking. Losing your creativity, imagination, patience, and enthusiasm for daily challenges. Craving reflection time and productive collaboration rather than group complaining.

Isolation. Wanting to head for the deepest, darkest cave where no one will see your vulnerability. A place where your limits are unseen and unquestioned and all is quiet.

— Six Signs of and Solutions for Teacher Burnout by Wendi Pillars 

 

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What about the causes of burnout or brownout? Where should we place the blame?

According to Paul Murphy in his book, Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It, the stress of a few problems may stand out as leading culprits at your place of employment:

  1. Lack of autonomy
  2. Dysfunctional work environment
  3. Inadequate social support
  4. Extremes of activity
  5. Poor work/life balance

But, you have no one else but yourself to blame! You must take responsibility for your own health and welfare. Most of the sources in this blog-post (including a few mentioned in past articles from this “care” category) suggest solutions to better self-care, many of which offer answers to address the issue and CAN BE DONE RIGHT NOW.

Here are a few more self-care tips from PsychCentral:

  • Create a “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. Examples might include: Not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.
  • Promote a nutritious, healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep. Adults usually need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Exercise. In contrast to what many people think, exercise is as good for our emotional health as it is for our physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy. In line with the self-care conditions, what’s important is that you choose a form of exercise that you like!
  • Follow-up with medical care. It is not unusual to put off checkups or visits to the doctor.
  • Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation. You can do these exercises at any time of the day.
  • Spend enough time with your loved ones.
  • Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s taking a walk or spending 30 minutes unwinding.
  • Do at least one pleasurable activity every day; from going to the cinema, to cooking or meeting with friends.
  • Look for opportunities to laugh!

What Self-Care Is and What It Isn’t by Raphailia Michael, MA

 

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We should also review “Five Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout” by Mary Beth Hertz, an Edutopia blog (read the entire article for greater depth and clarity):

  1. Maintain your “other” life.
  2. Be a stakeholder when changes are made.
  3. Find lessons and opportunities in everything.
  4. Nurture peer connections.
  5. Keep it light.

Edutopia, from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a wonderful resource. Most recently, three valuable “streams” of articles have been released on coping with the preparations and stress in the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 year:

I also recommend this blog-post of the Regional Education Laboratory Program which describes “teacher well being” as “the reaction to the individual and collective physical, environmental, and social events that shape how educators respond to their students and colleagues.” They discuss how three prominent human behavior frameworks— Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, and the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM)— can be used to address the challenges that teachers face when adapting to change and identify approaches to support teacher well being.

 

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In addition, the following perspectives come from a variety of self-proclaimed practitioners:

“One of Leonardo da Vinci’s seven essential elements of genius is known as Sfumato, Italian for ‘smoked,’ or ‘going up in smoke.’ This principle is the ability to embrace uncertainty, the unknown, and the unknowable. In my interpretation, it’s also an ability to ‘let go’ of everything that’s left undone when you know you’ve done your best. Embrace Sfumato.”  — Wendy Pillars

“Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you must treat it as such.” — Raphailia Michael

“Remember that example about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others? This is where that analogy really comes in to play. It’s time for you to take a good hard look at your self-care versus your care for others and decide if you are in a place where you have a good balance or if you need to make this a priority… Why is self-care… such a critical component of your physical and mental health? Because in order for you to function at your peak, you need to meet the needs your body and mind have for rejuvenation, relaxation, and rebirth. If you are constantly putting out efforts toward other people and events but never taking time to refuel yourself, then you will run out of steam and it will manifest in your body as an illness, weight gain, acne, joint pain – you know the drill – again.” — Lesley Moffat in I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me

“It’s estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions every school day. When you combine those decisions with all the necessary self-regulation involved with teaching kids, it’s no wonder our willpower is gone by five o’clock. We are exhausted.” — Paul Murphy

The term “unprecedented times” has become a hallmark for describing the context in which leaders must respond to changing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective responses in education are dependent upon teachers as the front-line workers in classrooms, so it’s essential that administrators take care of teachers. When they do so, they also take care of students.

When teachers don’t have the resources they need, and especially when sustained job demands are high, teachers experience chronic stress — and eventually burnout.

Teachers who are burned out are less effective as teachers, have less supportive relationships with students and, in turn, the students they teach have lower academic and social outcomes.

How to Prevent Teacher Burnout During the Coronavirus Pandemic by Laura Sokal, Jeff Babb, and Leslie Eblie Trudel

 

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We should all read the above blog-post from The Conversation, which offers these conclusions based on a national Canadian education survey conducted in May 2020:

  1. Teachers’ concern for vulnerable students is one of the most stressful aspects of their jobs right now.
  2. Teachers are seeing magnified inequities.
  3. When giving teachers initial resources, less is more.
  4. Perceived support matters to teachers’ resiliency.
  5. Teachers are concerned about effectively engaging students through remote learning, and professional collaboration can help.

Finally, we’ll end this epistle on “things to do to avoid burnout” with a timely and practical article from Carlee Adams found on the We Are Teachers site: 15 Smart Ways to Prevent Teacher Burnout That Really Work. Repeating many of the suggestions above, these “find these” remedies resonated with me:

  • “Find someone you can be vulnerable with…”
  • “When you feel hopeless, find perspective…”
  • “Find your own voice and allow it to change over time…”
  • “Find your people; they get you!”

The bottom line? If you “feel” consistent periods of burnout, brownout, or being bummed out in your career as negative influences to your “calling” as a teacher, you cannot sit back and let things continue “as is!” Most professionals cannot self-diagnose this problem (but, perhaps a family member may clue you in!). If you notice that you are continually having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships or communicating your thoughts to others, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic, it may be time to visit your health care professional.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Sleep and Retirement

Are you getting enough (or too much) rest?

Saying goodbye to work life can mean a change in your sleep schedule. Learn how to sleep well during this new stage of life.

“Sleep, and the Workplace” at Sleep.org

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Did you know there really exists a National Sleep Foundation? Now that we are retired from full-time music teaching and the day-to-day stress of managing classes and a busy music program, do you think we need it? Can’t we sit back and enjoy “living the life of Riley” without experiencing any work-related tension or fears for the future?

Maybe not! What is that old Chinese proverb? “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” After all, as humans, we all seek new and unique challenges to grow (and that brings on stress), and sleep is a complicated issue!

But, no worries! Several someones have “our back” (or should I say “our pillow!”). Here is a collection of insightful resources on promoting better sleep habits and relaxation techniques from a variety of research-based and/or medical authorities.

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I didn’t set an alarm for four months. I quickly learned that one of my favorite times of the day was 30 minutes after I first woke up. For the first time in decades, there wasn’t a rush to get out of bed. I’d let myself fade in and out of sleep several times, savoring the fact that I could let myself fall back into the hazy sleep rather – into the shower to wake myself for the morning drive. I’d gotten up at 5:30 AM for years the found that about 7:15 AM was a natural time for my body to wake up. The dogs seem to enjoy this new routine as well. We have four dogs, all of whom compete for space on the bed. Which ever one happen to be near my hand would nozzle under my fingers when they felt me start to wake up, being content to enjoy our laziness together as a new way to start our new days.

The Keys to a Successful Retirement by Fritz Gilbert

The perks of retirement are many, including the “freedom” to do new things and spend more time with family and friends as well as on travel, personal music-making, hobbies, babysitting loved-ones (or care-giving our elderly relatives), volunteering, and other projects or pursuits of “self-reinvention” suggested by “retiree gurus” like Dave Hughes, Robin Ryan, Kenneth Schultz, Hyrum Smith, and Ernie Zelinski.

Another benefit of post-employment? MORE sleep! According to Sleep.org, “people sleep approximately 20 minutes longer at night after retirement. Those who skimped on sleep the most during their working years see the biggest gains, increasing their nightly sessions by around 45 minutes compared to pre-retirement.”

The National Sleep Foundation website also offers articles on the “science of sleep.”

  • Sleep Cycles – Stages of Sleep
  • Circadian Rhythms
  • What Is Microsleep?
  • How to Fall Asleep Fast
  • What is the Sleep-Wake Cycle?

as well as mattress reviews and life style choices that may affect our sleep.

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The “serious stuff” for serious sleep issues

Experts do believe that “normal aging” brings on some changes to sleep… Basically, older adults tend to get sleepy earlier in the evening, and tend to sleep less deeply than when they were younger.

So it’s probably not realistic to expect that as you get older, you’ll sleep as long or as soundly as when you were younger.

That said, although aging by itself does change sleep, it’s also quite common for older adults to develop health problems that can cause sleep disturbances. So when your older relatives say they aren’t sleeping well, you’ll want to help them check for these. Figuring out what’s going on is always the first step in being able to improve things.

Better Health While Aging blogs by Dr. Leslie Kernisan here and here

The definitions, causes, and treatments of sleep disruption are described in great detail by Leslie Kernisan, M.D., authoring “5 Top Causes of Sleep Problems in Aging and Proven Ways to Treat Insomnia” outlined here:

  1. Underlying medical problems
  2. Sleep-related breathing disorders (snoring, sleep apnea, etc.)
  3. Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  4. Periodic limb movements (PLM)
  5. Insomnia

Painful nighttime leg cramps may also interrupt sleep, as referenced by the American Family Physician, Mayo Clinic and WebMD.

Dr. Kernisan advises us against using sleeping pills or other sedatives. She prefers the following remedies which have shown great promise, backed up by published research:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy: New York Times and Mayo Clinic
  2. Brief behavioral treatment: Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine and National Institute of Health
  3. Mindfulness meditation: Journal of the American Medical Association and Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA
  4. Exercise: Science Direct, National Institute of Health, and New York Times

The Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School also offers these “Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep.”

  1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep.
  2. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment.
  3. Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine.
  4. Go to sleep when you are truly tired.
  5. Don’t be a night-time clock-watcher.
  6. Use light to your advantage.
  7. Keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule.
  8. Nap early, or not at all.
  9. Lighten up on evening meals.
  10. Balance fluid intake.
  11. Exercise early.
  12. Follow-through.

Another “sleep checklist” worth a quick examination is available from WebMD.

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Should we take cat naps? The jury is out.

At first glance, the National Sleep Foundation basically says NO! Napping during the day may “throw your body clock off and keep you awake at night.”

However, the truth may be more about how long to doze off during the daylight hours…

You may think that taking a catnap will make you feel more tired than skipping it altogether, but that’s not necessarily true.

The key to waking up refreshed from a nap is all about timing. Just 20 minutes is all you need to get the benefits of napping, such as improved alertness, enhanced performance, and a better mood. Naps of that length keep you in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep, making it easier for you to get up and go after your snooze session. Be sure to set an alarm so you don’t snooze for too long and wake up all groggy.

Nap for 30 to 60 minutes and you’ll hit the deeper stages of sleep, where your brain waves slow down, making you feel groggy (as if you have a sleep hangover) when you wake up…

It might not be worth it to nap at all if you’re going to nap for this amount of time because you’ll likely come out of your shuteye feeling less alert than before.

“How Long Is an Ideal Nap” at Sleep.org

The benefits and drawbacks of napping are further examined by the Mayo Clinic and even TIME magazine.

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Can too much sleep be bad for you?

According to new research carried out by Online Opinions, over-60s need to make sure that they are not in fact getting too much sleep once they are retired, as this can actually have an adverse effect on health.

According to the National Sleep Federation, the optimum amount of sleep for adults aged up to 64 to get each night is between seven and nine hours, while for over-64s, between eight and nine hours is deemed to be best.

You need to remember that your body isn’t as young as it once was and needs a decent amount of rest, but not too much, but the organization warns that more than ten hours’ sleep a night could be stopping people from using their bodies and brains as much as they need to in order to keep them active and hold on to their cognitive functions. In other words, too much sleep could carry a small extra risk of dementia development.

But there’s no need to worry too much; as long as you get plenty of exercise, keep your brain ticking, and lead a healthy lifestyle during the hours that you’re awake, there shouldn’t be too much cause for concern.

Just Group

WebMD warns that oversleeping has been linked to a host of medical problems, including diabetes, heart disease, depression, and increased risk of death.” The article “Physical Side Effects of Oversleeping” delineates the causes and effects of too much sleep, and points to an online “sleep habits assessment” to help you evaluate your needs.

This research seems to be supported by several other sources:

The amount of sleep you need varies significantly over the course of your lifetime. It depends on your age and activity level as well as your general health and lifestyle habits. For instance, during periods of stress or illness, you may feel an increased need for sleep. But although sleep needs differ over time and from person to person, experts typically recommend that adults should sleep between 7 and 9 hours each night.

WebMD

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More on retirement and “mindfulness”

From the author of one of my favorite “teacher self-care books,” I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me by Lesley Moffat, I personally recommend trying the “M-Power Method” of mindfulness practice during meals, movement, music, and what Lesley describes as the “5 S’s of clearing,” cited by the website dailyom.com:

  • Slowing Down
  • Simplifying
  • Sensing
  • Surrendering
  • Self-care

Jason Ong, a sleep psychologist at the Rush University Medical Center, offers these reminders of “Seven Tips for Falling Asleep” based on mindful practices of health and wellness (visit his site here to study these more in depth):

  1. Beginner’s mind
  2. Non-striving
  3. Letting go
  4. Non-judging
  5. Acceptance
  6. Trust
  7. Patience

Finally, if you want to immerse yourself in a comprehensive “mindfulness journey,” visit the blogs of Cindy’s Mindful Retirement to peruse “Mindfulness After Sixty: 21 Practices.”

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Can you “trick” your brain into going to sleep?

One last interesting resource I stumbled on… how to “drum yourself to sleep” if you are having difficulty in calming the thoughts swirling around in your mind at night. This technique intrigued me enough to include it as one of the digital SHJO.clips for my community orchestra musicians sent out as a remote learning opportunity:

CLIP #22C: View and try the techniques in this YouTube “How to Trick Your Brain into Falling Asleep” by Jim Donovan (TEDtalk) using a simple 2 to 3-minute rhythm tapping and breathing “cool-down.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5dE25ANU0k

Now, although anticipated, I am not necessarily looking forward to website comments or emailed responses from mattress and sleep accessory manufacturers, sending me their advertisements, recommendations, and industry reviews. Regardless, one thing is true: “What you sleep on has a major effect on achieving a quality rest!” I can confirm this fact “living it” with a recent replacement upgrade to our master bedroom. If you are in this situation, you need to take ample time to explore all of your options in any new purchase of beds, adjustable or nonadjustable bases, mattresses, bedding, and pillows. Essential in education; here, too: you need to personalize and customize everything to meet your needs!

Just to stave off a few of these companies, here are a few websites to visit if you are in the market to buy a new bed, mattress, pillow, or other bedding:

asleep-1296292_1280

The final word? If you prefer a few “more heady” academic studies and statistics on retirement + sleep, look up “Sleep Before and After Retirement” from the National Institute of Health, the “Reduction in Sleep Disturbances at Retirement” dissertation from Cambridge University Press, or review the case studies discussed by Health.Talk.org in “Sleep Problems Later in Life.”

Have a good night!

PKF

 

© 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.

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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!

 

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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!

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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.

 

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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

 

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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!

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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!”

 

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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?

 

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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

“Top 10” Organizing Tips for 2019

Food for Thought for “Getting Your Stuff Together”

Once in awhile, someone suggests an article that might be suitable for everyone who stumbles upon this website… retired (but very busy) music teachers, active music educators, collegiates, and music students of all ages. Of course, I cannot resist putting together my own list of ways to become a better time manager and efficiency expert… mainly because I was never that organized when I taught classes in three buildings, assisted in marching band, produced plays and musicals, and served as a curriculum leader during my 35+-year career. (“Do as I say, don’t do as I do…” or did!) It’s now easy to recommend… and after trolling the Internet a little, backing up this advice with numerous “expert” protagonists.

 

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1. Throw out the “to-do list” and use a calendar

“Millionaires don’t use to-do lists. If something truly matters to you, put it on your calendar. You’ll be amazed at how much the likelihood of getting it done increases.”

– Srinivas Rao at https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-calendars-are-more-effective-than-to-do-lists

According to The Muse (https://www.themuse.com/advice/8-expertbacked-secrets-to-making-the-perfect-todo-list), “41% of to-do tasks are never completed.” Janet Choi on LifeHacker (https://lifehacker.com/5967563/master-the-art-of-the-to-do-list-by-understanding-how-they-fail) maintains that for most people, there are four problems for using to-do lists:

  1. We have too many to-do’s.
  2. We’re not good at making to-do lists.
  3. We give ourselves too much time.
  4. “The future is full of unknowns, interruptions, and change.”

paper-3141341_1920_rawpixelSupported by Dan Ariely and his team at Timeful (a company acquired by Google), Srinivas Rao writes at https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-calendars-are-more-effective-than-to-do-lists that we should throw away the to-do list and use a calendar app like Google Calendar for tasks and reminders, to set goals, and to schedule meetings.

Srinivas adds, “Just the act of putting these things on the calendar for some reason seems to significantly increase the likelihood that I actually do them.”

 

2. But there’s still a good reason for keeping your a note-taking app.

Combine a virtual assistant like Apple “Siri” or Amazon “Alexa” with an application like “Evernote” for “brainstorming” to get your thoughts organized.

Perhaps creating to-do lists may or may not work in your day-to-day environment, but the use of note-taking apps with voice-activated personal assistants may be the ticket to sketch out your short to long-term planning and even respond to email or other forms of writing drafts. Basically, I find I talk faster than I can type!

Jill Duffy offers these assessment criteria for picking the “best for you” digital note-taking tool at the blog-site Zapier (see https://zapier.com/blog/best-note-taking-apps/):

  • EvernoteEasy to set-up
  • East to use
  • Specialized to fit your needs
  • Good value (some require no subscription fees)

She reviews Evernote (my personal favorite), Microsoft OneNote, Paper, Quip, and Simplenote for day-to-day use.

A lot of my blog writing is generated using voice recognition by Siri dropped into the Evernote app. It has worked well for me. However, if you are running errands in the car, or even taking a longer trip on the highway, it is not recommended to dictate your manuscript while driving! Your attention is drawn away from watching the road to check on the status of your “writings,” and Siri does not always hear things right the first time! Even if you do not look at your phone while talking to your device, you will find that your distracted “brainstorming out-loud” may cause you to miss an exit or even sit unresponsive at a green light. Never note-take and drive at the same time!

 

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3. Of course, you have to set priorities!

I was never good at going from brainstorming to finalizing the goals and action plans! It seems easier to “think outside the box” than to construct that multi-leveled box of jobs!

Tatyana Sussex at Liquid Paper (https://www.liquidplanner.com/blog/how-to-prioritize-work-when-everythings-1/) proposes these steps for “How to Prioritize Work When Everything Is Number 1.”

  1. Collect a list of all your tasks.
  2. Identify urgent vs. important.
  3. Assess value.
  4. Ordered tasks by estimated effort.
  5. Be flexible and adaptable.
  6. Know when to cut.

Benjamin Brandall contributes additional insight on systems for prioritizing at https://www.process.st/how-to-prioritize-tasks/, defining “the Four D’s” (see section #5) and my favorite concept, “When you have two frogs to eat, eat the ugliest one first.”

Finally, should you feel you need it, definitely revisit the inspiration of Stephen Covey, especially in his book, First Things First or this website: https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-3.html.

 

4. Creative things should come first!

cello-521172_1920_enbuscadelosdragones0As musicians and music teachers, this suggestion may hit home: Do something that stimulates your “right brain” with acts of personal self-expression or artistry every day, and schedule it both intentionally and early!

What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? Playing an instrument or singing? Composing? Writing? Painting or drawing?

I have previously blogged about ways to enhance your daily creativity quotient:

I also like this Inc. article: “32 Easy Exercises to Boost Your Creativity Every Day.”

“Here is what I’ve learned from these creative warm-ups: my thinking continues to be more flexible and multi-dimensional throughout the day. I approach work challenges with less fear and more playfully; I’m more open to see things in new and unexpected ways… And that makes all the difference.”

– Ayse Birsel, author of Design the Life You Love

 

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5. Adhere to the “four D’s” system of productivity.

Have you heard of Priority Manager or other systems of paper and digital notes management? My favorite… the four D’s was previously blogged at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/help-how-does-one-keep-up/.

  • Do it! (Act on it immediately!)
  • Delay or Date it! (Assign it to the future!)
  • Delegate it! (Give it to someone else to do!) or
  • Dump it! (Delete or move it into the trash)

Check out the practical advice unveiled at https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/4-ds-of-productivity. I particularly liked Mike Renahan’s visual which sums up the system:

Four Ds

 

6. Devote at least 30 minutes a day to professional reading.

“Why did the busiest person in the world, former president Barack Obama, read an hour a day while in office?”

“Why has the best investor in history, Warren Buffett, invested 80% of his time in reading and thinking throughout his career?”

“Why has the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, read a book a week during his career? And why has he taken a yearly two-week reading vacation throughout his entire career?”

Answer? “If you’re not spending five hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible.”

– Michael Simmons at https://qz.com/work/1124490/5-hour-rule-if-youre-not-spending-5-hours-per-week-learning-youre-being-irresponsible/

***

“In the busy teaching day, it can often be the last thing on your mind to dive into some professional reading. So, why should you make it a priority and how can you utilize your time effectively to fit it in?”

– Hazel Brinkworth at https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2018/10/09/time-to-read/

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Teachers have to “keep up” with their “craft,” explore mobile-791071_1920_kaboompicsdeveloping innovations, trends, and movements in their field, and embrace better instructional techniques and use of media for their students!

“I don’t have time” means you are not a true professional. Doctors and other medical care providers, lawyers, investment counselors, clergy, etc. – you name the “profession” – must continually renew their knowledge-base and “sharpen their saws.” Regular reading and attending conferences help motivate you, “recharge your batteries,” retool for the formation of new goals, review better strategies, and introduce improved teaching methods, materials, literature, and technologies.

The aforementioned Teacher Toolkit website scripts tips on how to get started:

  1. Focus your topic of interest.
  2. Know where to look.
  3. Listen instead of reading!
  4. Set aside a regular time slot in your week.
  5. Find a quiet place.

 

 

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7. Cut back on your “screen time,” especially closer to your bedtime.

“There’s a lot of debate about how much screen time is too much screen time, specifically for children, but also for adults. Likely you’ve heard about how it’s a good idea to stop using our electronics in the evening so you can wind your brain down for bed. But when it comes to screen time, the only thing that seems conclusive is that there’s such a thing as too much and that it may be different for everyone and depend on the circumstances.”

Interesting Engineering blog-site offers these “11 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Screen Time” (https://interestingengineering.com/11-easy-ways-to-reduce-your-screen-time).

  1. Eat your meals without a screen
  2. Limit your non-work screen time
  3. Don’t watch movies or TV in bed
  4. Cut down on computer socializing
  5. Set a timer
  6. Ban phone charging from the bedroom
  7. Take up another hobby for boredom
  8. Schedule a meeting phone call instead of using chat
  9. Think of other ways to access information
  10. Get your news in a condensed feed
  11. Exercise while you watch

 

8. Are you  getting enough sleep?

male-3730041_1920_Engin_AkyurtThe answer is… probably not.

According to a 2013 Gallup Study (the last year Gallup published a sleep study), the average American sleeps only 6.8 hours a day — and that number may be getting worse over the last several years.

Most experts recommend we receive 7 to 9 hours per night, but the quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity. The HelpGuide website (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-needs-get-the-sleep-you-need.htm/) posted this chart with data from the National Sleep Foundation:

sleep

Brittney Morgan at https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-hack-your-sleep-schedule-and-get-your-full-8-hours-242712 suggested these remedies:

  1. Ease into an earlier bedtime.
  2. Rethink how you use alarms.
  3. Create a sleep routine.
  4. Unplug and de-stress before bed.
  5. Write out your thoughts.
  6. Limit alcohol and caffeine

spiral-notebook-381032_1920_kathrin_I remember when I taught full-time and was in the middle of a full-blown musical production, I sometimes laid awake feeling “stirred up” inside trying to think of all the things I needed to do the next day. #5 of Brittney’s list is solved by putting a legal pad and a good pen by your bed stand, and without awakening your spouse, roll over and jot down a few of your “don’t forgets.” Or if you prefer to use the magic of technology, you can do this digitally… take a minute or so and use your tablet or smartphone, but don’t stay up very long and let the screen’s blue-light make your insomnia worse. Revisit title heading #2 above for note-taking apps.

It’s absolutely amazing the number of sources you can find on the web for additional advice for improving your sleep habits:

 

9. Get rid of the stuff you don’t need

“Now and again, everyone faces a big life transition. For me, it was when I lost my father — right around the time I realized my kids were rapidly growing up (funny how that sneaks up on you, huh?). I started to think about how I really wanted to live my day-to-day life. From the clothes on my body to stuff in my home, I wanted to stop perpetuating things that made me feel bad about myself.”

minimalism-241876_1920_bohemienne“Much like Gilligan and his infamous “three hour tour,” what I thought might be a quick clean-out extravaganza turned into an epic, six-month journey through the nether reaches of my closets and my psyche. Along the way, I learned many things from Maeve about organization — and more than a few things about myself that changed my relationship with my stuff.”

“This is tough for anyone, but it’s a crucial step in regaining control over your stuff. I was really honest with myself, and resolved to not beat myself up over getting rid of (or donating) things we didn’t need — even if they were in good shape. When you start to think of your things as part of an ecosystem for your life, it becomes easier to pare down to only the stuff you really love.”

Ask yourself, how often do you “purge the junk” from your home?

Showcased on Beginning Minimalist, Joshua Becker also shares “10 Creative Ways to De-Clutter Your House” at https://www.becomingminimalist.com/creative-ways-to-declutter/. Be sure to read what he refers to the Oprah Winfrey Closet Hanger Experiment, now my “new favorite” way of discarding seldom-worn clothing.

 

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10. Don’t forget to organize your living spaces.

In “7 Smart Organizing Tricks You Probably Have Not Tried” (https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/organizing/smart-organizing-tricks), Louisa Kamps recommends these logical time-savers and better spacing engineering techniques:

  1. Expose everything in your dresser drawers
  2. Store like with like.
  3. Be mindful of the pleasure your possessions give you.
  4. Keep your workspace clean and clutter free.
  5. Streamline your files.
  6. Create effective to-do lists (or see #1 above)
  7. Make “mise-en-place” a way of life.

Need more household tips? One Crazy House also provides a wealth of ideas in their blog-post, “17 Clever Organizing Tricks You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner” by Donella Crigger at https://www.onecrazyhouse.com/organizing-tips-tricks/. And, if seventeen are not enough, what about over a hundred? Go to the Good Housekeeping’s site: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/tips/g2610/best-organizing-tips/.

 

Hopefully these hints help you “tidy up” for the New Year, and bring you more productivity, peace of mind, and joy in your lives!

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “young” by kaboompics, “checklist” by TeroVesalainen, “paper” by rawpixel, “important” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “board”by rawpixel, “mobile” by kaboompics, “iPhone” by JESHOOTScom, “male” by Engin_Akyurt, “spiral-notebook” by kathrin, “minimalism” by bohemienne, “clutter” by Kasman, and “ring-binders” by AbsolutVision.

Unique Retiree Resources

It is always a privilege to receive email or comments from many of you regarding my past blog-posts at this site. I truly appreciate hearing from you – agree or disagree – and, whenever possible, I will “pass along” your recommendations and perspectives.

hospice-1793998_1920_unclelktThe “mission” is to help you with the transition to retirement and, when they are relevant, to communicate links to helpful sources of information. Many of these are not applicable to every retiring music teacher. However, if not issues for a family member, you might know of a friend, neighbor, colleague, or someone else who could use some direction in these eclectic topics:

  • Housing purchases/rentals, maintenance, and improvements
  • Personal security
  • Downsizing
  • Health care, eldercare, and physical fitness
  • Disabilities
  • Advance care planning
  • Medical Alert systems
  • Mattress purchase recommendations
  • Sleep guides and disorders
  • Grieving and coping with loss

We started this exposé with a previous blog, “Seniors Helping Seniors” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/05/28/seniors-helping-seniors/.

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Elmer George invited all of us to peruse his new website: elderville.org. It is called Resources for All Elders, and it shares lists of websites, blogs, and fact sheets on numerous senior-related themes – everything from “daily safety tips” to “volunteering.”

elderville.comSeveral great examples, his set of February 2018 articles (https://elderville.org/blog/) discuss “Five Ways Seniors Can Avoid Stress and Hassle During This Tax Season” and “Three Ways Seniors Can Get Healthy at Church.”

Specific to housing concerns, Elmer emailed me these additional avenues of help:

 

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Elizabeth Reynolds reached out to me with research on criteria for choosing the best medical alert system: https://www.reviews.com/medical-alert-systems/.  She said, “After hearing that there are 800,000 fall-related hospitalizations each year, our team created this resource in an effort to change that number.” Elizabeth added, “Our hope is that our guide may assist readers navigating their options to minimize this risk in the event of a fall.” At first, I thought her posting was a well-concealed advertisement for a particular company, until I explored her entire www.reviews.com website. Knowledge is power. Elizabeth has assembled a wide variety of resources in these areas worth further reading:

  • Reviews.comHome Services
  • Insurance
  • Financial Services
  • Home Products
  • Health and Fitness
  • Beauty
  • Pets

 

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Speaking of reviews, something on which you would not probably seek advice is what mattress to purchase or finding other aids for improving your sleep. Well, if you know anyone who has had trouble getting to sleep or is seeking methods of being well-rested, let me be the first to recommend https://www.bestmattressreviews.com/, shared by Jenny Thompson. She claims her “team” has been researching the science behind sleep and reviewing sleep products to see if they really have the effects that the companies claim to have. I admit, her extensive online resource first sounded a lot like a very large commercial, but I have never known such detail and vast criteria could be involved in assessing the merits of different mattresses and sleep accessories:

  • Types: foam, innerspring, latex, and hybrid
  • Sleep position: side sleepers, back sleepers, stomach sleepers, couples
  • Other benchmarks: firm, soft, cooling, crib, organic, pain management, and user type (mattresses for pet owners, runners, people with disabilities, etc.)

It is definitely worth your time to examine the article section on specific sleeping guides:

  • bestmattressreviewsSleep disorders
  • New and expecting mothers
  • Advice for children, teenagers, and college students
  • Mental health and sleep
  • Sleep and anxiety
  • P.T.S.D. and other problems

We may all know someone who has suffered the effects of Alzheimer’s. This one recently hit home to me as I just discovered one of my long-time music teacher friends was enrolled in a memory unit.

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According to this website, “Alzheimer’s disease affects as many as 5 million Americans. Scientists still don’t know how to prevent, slow, or cure the disease. Meanwhile, the death rate has increased 55% over the past decade and a half, and with the silver tsunami on the horizon, the number of patients is expected to explode. Sleep problems and Alzheimer’s are interconnected. People living with Alzheimer’s experience difficulty sleeping, while people who have sleep issues earlier in life are at greater risk for developing the disease.” We should all be aware of this link for more information: https://www.bestmattressreviews.com/alzheimers-and-sleep/.

 

spiritfinderFinally, out of the blue, Jennifer Scott contacted me with “healthy ways to cope with a loss” with these resources to help grieving families:

Reaching out to those who may be suffering with anxiety and depression, her helpful hints will go far to alleviate stress. I found parts of her website, http://spiritfinder.org/, are also very illuminating. Thank you, Jennifer!

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Bookmark the URL of this blog-post for future use. You never know when you might need some guidance on these miscellaneous subjects. Revisit past writings at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/for-retirees/.  Also, please stay “connected,” communicate your “views and news” in blog comments (click at the top of the page), submit your responses to the NAfME discussion platform Amplify (we have a special “retired member” community forum, or just send an email to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.  As Tom Bodett said in commercials for a well-known motel chain: “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “countryside” by sasint, “hospice” by unclelkt, “grandparents” by sylviebliss, “granny” by brenkee, “bed” by pexels, “dementia” by geralt, and “beach” by qimono.