Anxiety from a musical point of view

We’ve all encountered stressful situations, ones that make us nervous. It can be as simple as going to a new place, and the uncertainty of the new location may be enough to trigger of a range of reactions that we normally encounter when we are nervous. Nervousness and anxiety could manifest themselves through cold sweat, sweaty palms, increased heart rate, shortness of breath – in fact, did you know that is why actors get nervous fluff lines that they have regularly rehearsed and know by heart. Away from the cameras, all is fine, but turn up the pressure, and mistakes occur due to nervousness.

We could define anxiety as the body’s response to unfamiliar stimuli. When you are in a new situation, such as in a place you are unfamiliar with, you get a heightened sense of tension that comes from the natural flight or fight response ingrained within you. It is part of our genetic makeup as living beings.

Living beings all have a flight or fight response. Correction, thinking living beings have this response. It is the system that makes us cautious, that gives us the ability to assess situations, in order that we might survive. Without this, we would wander blissfully into dangerous situations. And anxiety is the heightened response that comes with it.

If you had to face a group of strangers on your own, would you get nervous? This is the situation, for example, that musicians have to face, particularly if they were a soloist on stage and walking up to face the orchestra and the audience. It would be like being on show while walking into the lion’s den! Soloists playing a concerto would have had to cope with their anxiety while being on show, which would normally push anxieties to the fore and interfere with performance. You can find out more about music performance from the Muswell Hill Piano Teachers website.

What can you do if you get nervous and find it interfering with your life? One of the things you can do is to establish control, which gives us power. Recognise you can choose your reactions if you know how. Secondly, understand that anxiety is all part of your body’s way of alerting you to new experiences. And thirdly, if you feel nervous, know that it is just simply because the experience you have is new, and you have not had enough of it yet to be less reactive to it – but you will in time. And that sense of control will make your anxiety go away in time.

Isolation and Mental Health

Does spending too much time alone in isolation lead to mental health decline? Let’s consider the case of the Russian composer Scriabin.

´╗┐´╗┐Scriabin’s career has a certain level of resemblance to that of Rachmaninov. Both were skilled in the art of composing and were accomplished pianists. Like Rachmaninov, his mother had been a fine pianist, and he was brought up by other female relatives in the extended family after his mother died just over a year after his birth.

Scriabin’s piano teacher in Moscow was Nikolay Zverev, who also taught Rachmaninov. Both entered the Conservatory in 1888 and both won gold medals during their time there. It was in the Conservatory that Scriabin caught the attention of the Russian millionaire publisher and philanthropist Mitrofan Belyayev. The latter began publishing Scriabin’s works and also sent him on a tour in Europe to play his own music.

In his later works Scriabin became increasingly involved in mysticism, and dabbled in Nietzschean theories, occult teachings, and philosophical ideas. He also developed the theory of synaesthesia, according to which art that appealed to all the senses would trigger a cataclysmic effect. His final work, Mysterium, was written with all these in mind. According to Scriabin, the performance was planned to last seven days in the Indian foothills of the Himalayas, beginning with bells suspended from the clouds. The universe would be shattered and humans replaced by nobler beings. To others, he seemed positively batty.

You can read more about the link between mental health and isolation from the Piano Teachers N8 website, or look up pianoWorks for Piano Lessons N8.

But it is fair to assume that spending too much time in self analysis, in what must seem like really isolationist activities such as being at the piano does push one towards mental health decline – as seen in this case. The same goes for other activities such as playing computer games, spending too much time on social media and other similar activities. In other words, get out! You may find that even when you are troubled, getting out for a walk, or just talking to people provides a temporary diversion from troubles. Or if you need to, arrange a visit with a counsellor so you can speak about your problems in strict confidence.

Your passion and what it can do for you

Teenagers are a very strange lot. Do you have a teenager about in the house? Or maybe you have two or more? Either way, you can observe a very strange set of behaviour manifesting itself at various points in the year. Ask a teenager to get up of their free will, and frequently you will find that many of them have a struggle. They get to school late and can’t get up on time. They complain about how little sleep they have had. They are late to school. Yet in the school holidays, you will find that they get up earlier in the mornings than they would have if they had school, possibly because they are keen to use their free time to go out with friends. Or maybe they may have gotten up early despite going to bed in the wee hours of the morning because they want to resume what it is that they were doing before they went to bed. It may be an Instagram chat. It may be a computer game. But what this all points to is that when there is something worth waking up for, we will all do our damnednest to get up for it.

What can adults take from this? Some suggest that one lesson we can all learn is that we should all have meaningful jobs, ones that we can get excited about. Perhaps it is making a change in someone’s life, as a teacher or a counsellor. Maybe it is one that gives us a sense of purpose, like a research scientist working on stopping cancer. Or maybe it is one what allows us to have most impact, and control, such as in influencing the world around us and giving us a sense of being in touch with the real world.

So work on finding that dream job, one that gives you purpose in life. When you have that purpose, it will sustain you and give you meaning and will to get up in the morning!

The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was passionate about reviving English music in the 20th century and it gave him meaning and sustained his creative drive in his work. You can read more about him from the Piano Teacher Hornsey N8 blog. Vaughan Williams had a career that lasted many decades – truly if you find something you believe in, it will keep you going and you will see yourself as not having enough time to finish all the things you want to do. A better alternative than counting down the hours at work!

Fatigue and Mental Errors

Is it mental fatigue? Is it the pressure? Maybe he needs a bit of counselling himself? Whatever the reason, it seems that even the pressures of work are getting to the US President Donald Trump himself. The President made headlines this week when he responded to an interview question posed by a reporter about possible collusion in the presidency voting. Despite his own intelligence services going on record to say that there was evidence to suggest so, Donald Trump ducked out of that question to say that he saw no reason to suggest why Russia would interfere.

You can imagine the media storm that followed. “President does not trust his own intelligence services!” a headline might as well have read. It is somewhat ironic then that the service responsible for security gets undermined by the very individual it ultimately tries to protect.

Unfortunately for Donald Trump, he tried to reverse his remarks in the light of this statement, saying that what he had meant to say, was “I see no reason why Russia wouldn’t” instead of “would”. But to attribute the blame to a mispronunciation hinging on a negative, when the rest of his non-verbal actions suggested otherwise, does not cut the mustard.

If you were looking to put things in a positive spin, the only thing that you might say is that perhaps it was an honest mistake. Everyone gets tired and the burden of mental fatigue can trigger us to make errors. And when we are mentally fatigued, we don’t really care about how we present ourselves, and our body language can bring the wrong impression. So when Donald Trump made what could perhaps be seen as a mistake, he was fatigued – which then perhaps suggests someone else should be in the job.

The problem with politics is no one is perfect, and the personal faults of one are transferred over to other areas. Unlike in music, where the naturalised composer Antonin Dvorak sought to create a new American style from traditional roots, and the tie-ins work because of past associations, doing so in politics means people remember you for who they saw previously – in other words, Donald Trump the apprentice, the womaniser, and the hotelier. And they don’t have this sort of positive opinion. (In the case of the former, you could find out more about Dvorak’s attempt from the Piano Teacher Crouch End blog.)

If you ever find yourself making this sort of error, perhaps you should re-assess yourself and the way things are going. But that’s the lesson to take away only if you accept that Trump was really suffering from the pressures of the presidency. If you believe he was trying to weasel his way out of the backlash – well, there’s a post for another day.

Music and Silence are both underpinned by the same thing

What does the fact that many people are listening to headphones nowadays tell us?

Does it tell us the music industry is growing? Well, it is, but that is not the main thing.

Does it tell us music plays an important part in everyone’s life? Yes, it does, but only to a certain extent.

What it really tells us – and I might be ruffling a few feathers here – is that we don’t really want to know.

We don’t really want to know what goes on outside our immediate world.

We are not capable of helping those we see in need, such as the homeless under railway stations. We don’t really want to know we can’t help them, or we don’t want to invest the necessary time to address a social issue.

So we look down on the floor as we past them, or pretend to be scrolling our phones. And we plug in headphones so we have an excuse to say we didn’t hear their pleas of “Spare some change please…”

We travel on public transport. On a train or a bus, someone plays music loudly, talks loudly, or behaves in an anti-social manner. It used to be that we could busy ourselves in a book and pretend not to hear. But the plugging of ourselves into a world of music tells us we don’t need to bother trying to get angry, trying to waste time convincing them of their idiocy. We can just disconnect there and then.

A pair of headphones is the biggest tool in your arsenal.

It allows you to switch off from the world around you. Some of it might be in response to things you disagree with but cannot change. But disconnecting may be a way of finding your own space in a crazy world.

Some of us may listen to music with loud beats and driving rhythms. It may not necessarily be music that is modern, it may be Romantic piano music or loud choral music by Handel. We may blast out music loudly, or choose to plug headphones in as a barrier. Ultimately, it is our silence that speaks most.

Watching someone on our daily commute listen to music tells us something. It tells us human beings are trying to disconnect further and further from the fabric of society.

Therein lies a time bomb.

On Leadership

A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.

Being a leader is difficult. It was so in the past, and it is arguably more so in these days. Why? Because we have more outlets of expression in the modern day than in the past.

In our grandparents generation, if you had something to say what would you do? You would sit down and take the time to compose a letter to a newspaper, write in in the most eloquent and thought-provoking way, and submit it to the letters section of the newspaper. Or you might call the radio station.

And over the years the speed of this voice would be hastened to the point where you could fax a letter in time for tomorrow’s paper.

In the modern day, you could do various things. Not only could you set up your own website and blog to air your own views, you could comment on the other blogs and websites you frequent and take part in their forum pages. But that’s not all, you could Tweet your comments and put them on social media such as Instagram. You can also text or tweet. The possibilities are endless. And you can air an opinion by call, letter, email, fax, phone chat, text.

But what has the difficulties of being a leader got to do with the increase and advancement of technology?

It is because every one has an opinion and an avenue to air it quickly.

Whatever you say, someone is going to second guess it. Whatever you do, there will be someone with an opposing view. Every one is entitled to their own view, yes. But the thing is every one wants to be giving an opinion, even when it has nothing to add to debate or discussion. And some people just want to add their two cents so that others will know they spoke. Even though, for example, in a forum discussion, someone may just write “well said”, their intention in doing so is not really to demonstrate their opinion, but to make others believe they have an opinion. It does not take long to type a short sentence, and it is the easiest way to comment and take part. And some people are contrarian just to have a chance to air their opinion.

So being a leader, demonstrating a willingness to think and act, is difficult because not only has a leader have to deal with opinion and judgement, he has to demonstrate strong will and character and hold on to his own opinion, even though there may be know it alls who doubt him just to have something to say. It is very easy to hang on the coat tails of someone intecllectual and ride their argument and say “I disagree” to them!

Finding Strength

When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.

There is no question that at various points in life we will find obstaclees placed in our path. What did you expect? Did you think that life would be one smooth travellator, where once you have got on from birth, it would just be a matter of coasting along?

The above analogy highlights an important thing. Life is not smooth. Things happen. This could be a career incident – being made redundant, or being fired. Or it could be something to do with relationships – a breakup. But because life is never smooth anyway, we can’t view these occurences as the disruption to the natural order of things. Instead we should view them as a part of a natural order of things.

You can find this change in mindset really helpful. When something goes wrong, don’t waste energy thinking “Why did it go wrong? Why is life so unfair?” Now, the severity of the bad thing may lead us down this path. But if we see obstacles as occurring naturally anyway, learning to deal with them could result in emotional growth. How we control our instant unbridled reactions, and instead focus on dealing with them, is what gives us emotional growth and a base to lay future foundations on.

Instead of wallowing in anger or pity – or perhaps allow yourself some opportunity to feel this way -focus your energies on what you can do and how you can dig yourself out of a poor situation. Sometimes, a healthy mindset helps. When a person loses a job for example, it is easy to panic at how you will manage for the next few months without a job. The higher the stakes, the higher the panic. But focus your energies into thinking how you can work things out financially, and drawing up contingency plans. This is a way of teaching yourself not to panic whenever something “bad” or unexpected happens. And the next time something like this happens again, you will have had the positive experience to deal with it again, instead of reinforcing it with a mixture of panic, guilt and fear.

Our natural reactions are to panic and let bad things destroy us. But we can learn to turn adversity into action and let it define us, and build our character.

What is really important is to realise that we have a choice. We of course don’t choose the bad things that happen to us, but we have a choice in deciding how we will react and respond. That we can control. When bad circumstances happen, often the initial feeling of fear and panic is developed from a lack of control over the happenings. We all feel calm when we have a measure of control than if we had not. So work on establishing and creating some form of control over situations. Choose how you feel. Choose how you react.

Better to burn out than fade? Use experience to achieve balance

Sometimes in life we feel drained, when we have tried to do too much and it takes a toll not only on our physical being but also of our mental health. What can we do? it is a good idea to take a break, and the length of this break depends on how deep we are into this kind of negative thinking or perhaps even depression.

Why is a break good? And how long does it take before we come out of the other end of the tunnel?

Scientists refer to this break as taking time away to refocus, to reset our neural circuits. When we overthink situations or spend too much time exploring different avenues, our minds go into overdrive trying to think out various contingency situations for which only one is needed, but because we need speed and responsiveness we try to do everything so that when the time comes we do not have to spend precious time thinking. But the problem can be that we have invested so much time thinking out possible scenarios, that by the time we have to act on one, we have already exhausted ourselves and our energies.

The flip side of this is inaction. For some people this is the mode of choice – to others it looks like they have given up. But being resigned to circumstances and expecting life to shape itself out for you, so that you can drift along with the tide is a bit of irresponsibility, a sort of transference that borders on having given up.

What can we do then? The narrow road is finding a balance between the hyperactive mindset and the inactive mindset. It is not necessarily better to be burnt out than to fade away. In some situations it may be more self-preserving to fade away that to expend energy being burnt out. It all comes down to balance. Sometimes we need to find that balance between expending too much and too little energy for the things we need to do in our lives. And how does that balance come about? Experience.

Listen, then talk

How can you help a friend who needs someone to talk to? Often when we think of someone in need, we should realise that what they need is someone to listen without judgement. This “without judgement” may even extend to listening without dispensing advice. Because when someone has an awful lot of their chest and wants to talk about it, sometimes our “advice”, no matter how well meaning, only increases the tension because we are only giving them more thoughts to think about, when they are trying to get rid of all these thoughts in their head.

Sometimes people have problems because they are overwhelmed. They could be overwhelmed with work stresses or they may have too many things going on at home or in relationships that cause their mind to be filled with thoughts. Like it or not, every thought sends a trigger to your mind. Take for example this situation: You are travelling on public transport and someone plays their music loudly. Your mind recognises this bit of information. “The music is too loud.” And almost instantly it is also thinking, “should I say something about it?” Then after this step your mind is assessing whether or not the person you are about to speak to would be receptive towards what you would have to say or not. Your mind makes judgements about it. And then perhaps if you have assessed it would be safe to do so – you think the individual would be non-aggressive, perhaps unaware of the anti-social behaviour he or she is causing – then you think of the best way to phrase your words. Or if you don’t, your mind castigates you for not having the courage to stand up for yourself and you start evaluating your own life history for such previous instances. Your mind has gone into overdrive simply because someone has played loud music. Just that one trigger has become a stressor and caused you mental overload.

So when someone is stressed, they could have a lot of mental information to process. Let them talk it out. Don’t offer advice initially because they have then to process it, consider your words and their own thoughts. Only when you feel they have emptied themselves, should you then start to think about offering advice. Be a listener for your friend. Not a stressor. No matter how well-intentioned you are, you may inadvertently cause more problems for your friend if you are too keen to dispense advice!

On Forgiveness

Forgiveness does not mean that we suppress anger; forgiveness means that we have asked for a miracle: the ability to see through mistakes that someone has made to the truth that lies in all of our hearts. Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness. Attack thoughts towards others are attack thoughts towards ourselves. The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.

Marianne Williamson

The laws of physics state that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Many of us bring this law into our lives in the form of retribution. If someone has done us wrong, our natural tendency is to pay it back in equal measure. After all, if we follow some of the axioms around us, such as “What goes around comes around”, they would seem to suggest that we “get what we give” and “give what we get”. Or if we are taught to “do unto others as you would others do unto you”, you might feel that if someone has wronged you then they should get a taste of their own medicine.

Can you see how many axioms I’ve quoted in the previous paragraph that seem to support the law of equal force or return? We are predisposed to react in a certain way, and in certain situations a lack of an equal response may be viewed as being a pushover. If someone punched you, and you stood there and turned the other cheek, they might have just taken it as a sign to keep on doing so, because in their minds they would only stop when they get a response, because that is what they assumed most people would do – give a response.

So it may be difficult when someone suggests that when you are wronged, to forgive the other person. After all the law of equal measures means that there is a force that must somehow be suppressed or dissipated within you. This is exactly why it is suggested that we see forgiveness not as a suppression but as a miracle. Somehow, somewhere, we need to absorb the injustice by looking beyond our natural instincts. And we need to let it go.

We live in a world that is high on stimulus. Our world is filled with various things that fight for our attention – work stresses, texts, social media, social injustice, anti-social behaviour, advertising, entertainment – that our minds are more heavily bombarded than those of our parents’ generation. There is so much stimulus going on that we need to filter things out rather than bombard our minds with more triggers. So “attack thoughts” towards others are actually stressors on our own minds. Forgiveness is not often easy but it is a long-term way of saving ourselves.