As festival season gets underway, Tamara Gal-On considers the benefits of water in aiding music industry professionals to practise self care at one of the busiest times in the musical calendar.
Spend any time backstage at a music festival this summer and without even having to eavesdrop you’ll hear conversations going on between the portacabin dressing rooms, or in the queue for catering which highlight starkly the fact that the majority of people working in the live music sector – be it artists, artists’ teams, crew or any kind of festival production folk – are working fit to drop.
Almost literally. Tales of 3 hours of sleep (or less) and artists due to be on a plane within 90 minutes of getting off stage are the norm. Yet for all that, most of those sleep-deprivation-Olympics conversations are undertaken in good humour. Smiles may be rueful at times but folks are still smiling because for many signing on for a life in music is to claim something that is, more often than not, felt soul-deep.
The reality of course is less glamour and more hard graft and the costs of living life like this I hardly need to tell you, can be high. Long separations from loved ones, lack of sleep, poor diet, jet lag and the lack of a sense of place due to never being in one spot for more than a couple of nights all combine to create stress responses in your body that can affect your mood and ultimately your mental and physical health. Climbing on a tour bus, or setting up your tent at your first festival site at the beginning of the summer season and hoping to get home physically and mentally unscathed at the end can be more of an act of foolhardiness than faith, unless you are taking steps to look after yourself.
As someone who works with clients from across the music business to find ways to make their careers sustainable and long-lasting, I am well aware that for those in live music, the summer season doesn’t afford much time or space for self-care. And yet here I am advocating for just that. It has to be done. It has to, if you don’t want to spend your time on the road just enduring and then wasting time once off the road simply trying to recuperate or as one artist put it, “not fall off the end of the world when you get home.”
People know actively safe-guarding their health is important in this highly (or more honestly over-) demanding business. The uniform positivity with which Music Support, the British mental health and addiction charity started by the industry for the industry to support anyone whose life is in music and who is struggling – (and for whom I volunteered at the latest edition of Download Festival) was made to feel welcome back stage was testament to that. And yet nearly every single person I spoke with to spread the word (be they artist, crew or festival production) knew they were working in very challenging conditions with no prospect of improving their lot for weeks if not months.
Given the very limited resources of time or energy to do anything approaching self-care, what can be done?
I have a suggestion, if I may.
No, this is not an article about staying hydrated. Although, while we’re on the subject, please yes, do stay hydrated (so important for brain function) and do try to use your own water bottle, single use plastics are the devil’s work.
The water I want to highlight is the kind of water you can use as a resource for giving your mind and body a much needed rest. Bodies of water, if you’ll excuse the pun.
But Tamara, if I am sleeping 4 hours per 24, while travelling or working the other 20 where am I going to find any time for bodies of water?
You ask such a good question, my friend. If I may I am going to offer you a little science, just for a moment.
Wallace J Nichols, a marine biologist with a deep fascination for the positive effects of bodies of water on our minds and body wrote a book, with the delightfully self explanatory title, Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do. In it he explains (amongst many other fascinating things) the calming and anxiety reducing benefits of water and how they can be enjoyed without having to actually go to the water at all.
I mean, if you can go – you should, as you can accrue even more benefits engaging physically with water. But you don’t have to. Let me explain.
“The huge advantage of water: you don’t need to meditate… because it meditates you.”
All kinds of fascinating research has been conducted into the effects on hospital patients of looking at pictures of various scenes as part of their recovery process. Pictures of open water (pictures, not even views out of the window) outperform all others kinds of images for reducing anxiety levels and thus supporting more rapid healing. Simply sticking up a picture where you can reflect on it for fifteen minutes or pasting one into a journal and taking the time to look at it, works to reduce an overactive or anxious mind. Paintings work just as well as photographs in case you have a favourite.
To move from the visual to the auditory, millions of people nightly use recordings of the hush and roar of the ocean to help with insomnia. Not for nothing. The sounds of the sea according to Wallace J Nichols promote a sense of tranquillity, plus improve concentration and mood because they are neither harsh nor high frequency, they have a harmonic pitch and a low volume. One theory is the low frequency and rhythmic nature of the sound of the sea are similar to that of human breath. And matching your breath to that of someone who is breathing calmly is a well known practice to reduce stress and high anxiety. All streaming platforms carry natural sounds recordings. Have an explore. (I prefer a 45 minute plus length recording, very short ones that loop are least effective for me). Also if you are suffering sleep loss due to noise disruption, try an ocean recording while you sleep for its natural white noise benefits.
Even if you don’t find the science behind this fascinating, just know that looking at or listening to open water is a quick win for genuine stress reduction. It will literally drop your stress hormone levels.
Further depth can be added to the emotional benefits by using an images or the sound of your water. Your water being the lake, river, pond, ocean, pool that holds some special meaning to you. Your home town sea front, family holiday beach, fishing spot with your grandfather, bucket list destination water. If you have a positive emotional connection to a body of water already, taking time out to look at or listen to it (or both – video is proven to be a very effective format) regularly in the midst of a prolonged tour season will bring real benefits.
If you do have time to get to the water though? Go. If you get a day or part of a day off, the merits of using some or all of it for getting next to, on or in the water are even greater than looking at or listening to it and fully worth the effort.
There is science to back this assertion up too. One tool recommended for tackling some milder forms of depression is to find and stare at the horizon. If you find a large enough body of water, you get all the horizon you can handle. If you’ve got yourself next to the ocean, and are staring out, you are benefiting not only from the horizon effect, but also from watching something that gives the optical illusion of moving slowly. This is also proven to be very calming. And is also true for boats on lakes and people swimming in pools too. Also positive for our stress hormone levels are so many of the smells we associate with naturally occurring water. Ozone, salt or for non oceanic waters leaf mulch. Add to this the possibility of a live soundtrack that drowns out any more frenetic man-made sounds and it is not difficult to see that merely standing beside the sea is a highly impactful stress reduction strategy. Or on the banks of a river.
I mean, we know this, instinctively – there are enough songs about going to rivers and beaches to think, sit, pray and reflect, but we need to apply this knowledge, as regularly as we can. In combination with using images or recordings of water, setting up a regular (it doesn’t have to be daily but a few times a week) practice is not such a stretch.
The other strategy of course is to get into the water. This can provide benefits without you even having to take so much as a stroke of exercise. Although of course, exercise is immensely beneficial for physical, emotional and mental health. A fascinating fact is that the gentle pressure of water all around the body causes a change in the balance of catecholamines (one of our stress response hormones) in our blood. Immersion in water causes it to create a balance similar to that found during relaxation or mediation. So literally just sitting in water, reduces stress. No further effort required. This can be sea, lake, river, pool, spa, hot tub or bath. Just immerse yourself and let the water do the rest.
Water rewards even the smallest effort at engagement with stress reducing, imagination enhancing, increased flexibility in problem solving and connection building benefits. Wallace has science to back up every one of these claims. In my experience, using water for stress relief works well on an individual basis and it works every bit as well for groups. Take your creative differences to the water to increase the likelihood of finding calm compromises!
I’ve long used proximity to and immersion in water to benefit my clients, for nearly a decade in fact. Whether it was helping partners in a music management business to envision their next stage of business development (in the Bahamas) or working with individual artists or freelancers who were wanting to move their career forward from the place where they had got stuck (usually in thermal spa water). It was intuition that guided me to figuring out that water might work wonders on creativity, mental flexibility and anxiety reduction. Now I am invoking both my intuition and Wallace J Nichol’s bountiful science to persuade you. Seriously, find your own best way to use water! And use it regularly.
The tl;dr. This quote from the book Blue Mind sums it up. “The huge advantage of water: you don’t need to meditate… because it meditates you.” From looking at pictures or video of your favourite stretch of water to listening to sounds of the ocean, in person or recorded – for the time poor, energy depleted and stressed denizens of the music business, using water for stress reduction is a much needed and truly easy win, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Tamara Gal-On has been coaching artists, managers and wider music industry folk since 2007 when she co-created a coaching and peer networking group for 12 music business women for the Music Publishers Association. Since then she has worked on several projects serving women in the music business and created many opportunities to take them to work near, on or in the water. In September 2019 she is running a 10 week virtual group coaching programme including a (very real life) 3 day water therapy retreat in Budapest, for music women who want to build skills and resources for a long and strong music life. Women who know they need to manage their resilience and self-care better (to avoid burnout or worse) and who also want to move their career forward and believe doing so with a group of like-minded industry women for support would work way better than doing it alone. To find out more check out: www.sanctuaried.co.uk