Musician Coping Strategies

Uh-oh: the high-stress season is upon us—time for musician coping strategies to reduce anxiety!

I’m all about the gratitude (Happy Thanksgiving in advance). But in the midst of a pandemic and the environmental melt-down, with social justice outrages happening every week and the performing arts on pause, gratitude may not be enough. And if this holiday season you’ll be visiting family members whose political views are diametrically opposed to your own, you may need an extra dose of super-strength coping strategies.

If your anxiety is off the charts, you’re not alone.

True confession: I’m no stranger to anxiety, I’ve had my share of panic attacks. These began back during my grad school years, when I was studying in Paris.

My first attack happened in the Paris metro. Somehow the location made my symptoms seem all the more extreme. At the time I had no idea what was happening to me and didn’t find out until I saw a therapist who told me it was a panic attack.

If you’ve never had one, here’s what you’re missing: it’s a sense of overwhelming fear and dread. Your heart starts racing and you’re short of breath, as though you’re running for your life. All that plus your thinking becomes fixated on the certainty that your world is about to end—you think you’re about to die.

Anxiety is no picnic

To this day I’m unclear what caused the panic. On the one hand, I was having the time of my life, having won a grant to study with a fabulous teacher and live in the most beautiful city in the world. In between practicing, rehearsing, and concerts, I was visiting museums and sitting in cafes, marveling at the city of light.

And on the other hand, I was having panic attacks.

Back then, the good advice that I got for coping with panic—and what I didn’t want to hear—was that I had to learn how to deal with the anxiety. I needed to breathe through it and learn to calm myself.

But I was also told I needed to force myself to go back to riding the Metro. I needed to prove to myself that Metro riding does not cause panic attacks and that I wouldn’t die from the panic (even though that’s what it felt like).

Easy to prescribe. Hard to do.

It took weeks and more courage than I ever imagined I’d need. But eventually I got myself back on the metro and found out the world didn’t end. And as the therapist predicted, my panic attacks were gone in another month or so.

It was a matter of needing to see for myself that yes, life goes on, and yes, I will have anxiety, but I can learn how to deal with it.

To be clear, I still have anxiety, but I know now how to de-escalate it before it blooms into a full blown panic attack.

Lesson Learned

The most important thing I learned was that each of us has the ability to calm ourselves, to shift our state of mind so we can move ahead positively—even when our world seems to be closing in on us.

Anxiety is part of all of our lives. Maybe now more than ever. The uncertainty and fear we experience may escalate into panic, or manifest itself as depression, mood swings, and temper flare-ups.

But by lowering our anxiety level we can be examples to others. And with less anxiety we can do the positive work needed to contribute to the better future we want to help create.

What’s working now

In these times of big change and big stress, when you feel defeated or overwhelmed, what helps you find your center and regain your sense of agency?

From my latest completely un-scientific informal poll, here are . . .

20 Musician Coping Strategies to Reduce Anxiety

(in random order, here’s what musicians recommend  . . .)

  1. Have a good cry
  2. Self-medicate (my sister swears by diet cherry Dr. Pepper)
  3. Scream in your car with windows closed
  4. Spend quality time with four-legged family members
  5. Turn to a hobby (knitting, gardening, crossword or jigsaw puzzles)
  6. Talk it out with friends and loved ones
  7. Cook comfort food
  8. Get professional help from a good therapist
  9. Work out
  10. Shop (window shopping is best for your bank account)
  11. Take walks: connect with nature
  12. Meditate
  13. Read, Watch, Listen, and Look at art that rekindles your sense of wonder
  14. Practice Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong
  15. Practice kindness to oneself and others
  16. Find a spiritual community that renews your faith in humanity
  17. Focus on your purpose: why you do what you do
  18. Breathe diaphragmatically (practice Belly breathing with Elmo)
  19. Acknowledge your fears and go forward with your life
  20. Gather safely with friends and loved ones*

*There’s something grounding in hearing the stories and plans of people we care about. In sharing space and time, in creating a sense of belonging where we are seen and heard. Happy Thanksgiving.

For this week: Review and update your own coping strategies. Here’s to lowering our individual and collective anxiety.

If you’re interested in learning how coaching can help you achieve your goals, let’s talk.

Wishing you and your loved ones all the best this season,


Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

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