21 sanity saving tips for pianists
It’s autumn in what feels like the longest year of our lives. We’re swapping recipes, book titles, and movie and streaming options with each other. And, as we struggle to juggle family, work, and finances while staying physically and mentally healthy, we’re sharing ideas on how to maintain balance and peace of mind.
I’m no paragon of pandemic mental health and I don't always successfully live all of the suggestions listed below. But I do know that feeling helpless and overwhelmed by the flood of bad news and political strife (I live in a hotly-contested “swing state” in what is the most acrimonious presidential election in recent American history) isn’t healthy. While we can’t control the world around us, we can take steps to calm our reaction to it. These are some of the things that work for me. If you find one or two of them helpful, give them a try; they might work for you too.
Consume less social media
Yes, we want to stay in touch with each other, but sometimes the barrage of Other People’s Problems (and conspiracy theories…and religious and political positions) poisons us. Know you limits (and learn how to “unfollow” people).
Consume less news
Quick, when was the last time you heard or read any good news? Exactly! As with social media, know your limits.
My husband and I have designated our home as a politics-free zone. If we didn’t, it would be too easy to wind each other up over the inane actions of our blessed politicians.
Stop arguing with people who disagree with you
Repeat after me: they won’t get it…they won’t get it…they won’t get it. Remember Mark Twain’s famous words: “Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of your time and it annoys the pig.”
Stop trying to run the world
I routinely fail at this, but when I remember to just let go and let people (and society at large ) bumble into whatever messes they insist on bumbling into, I’m calmer, happier, and less angry.
Take control of something—even if it’s just cleaning out a cupboard
There’s sanity in creating order out of chaos. My closets and cupboards have never looked better, and every time I donate a load of stuff to charity, I feel like I’ve lost weight.
Yes, I know, everyone suggests this. That’s because it works. Even just a short walk a day releases anxiety from large muscles, clears the mind, and helps keep weight under control—not to mention what it does to relieve a bad mood.
During sleepless nights, breathing exercises are some of the few things I can do to calm my racing mind. My two favorites are 4-part breathing and alternate nostril breathing. You can find directions to both here.
Learn to cook a few healthy recipes. Limit prepared foods. Try to keep most “junk food” out of the house. It sounds annoyingly nagging, but we all know we feel better when we feed our bodies real, whole food.
Eat less sugar
True confession: I fueled my summer with Wisconsin ice cream. That said, I feel better, think better, and function better when I limit my sugar intake.
Monitor alcohol intake
I’m really not a killjoy. I love a good drink and I live in a place that, several years ago, was voted “the drunkest city in America.” But if I’m stressed out or depressed, it’s too easy for that extra drink to become a habit and that habit to become a health problem.
Ask for the help you need
No matter how competent we are, none of us can do it all alone. Reach out to family and friends. Contact professionals where needed. Be it anything from household tasks to mental health, help is available.
Work with your hands
Some of my friends paint. Some quilt. Some make craft project. Some garden. I cook. When my mind is spinning and my emotions are stormy, there’s nothing better than being absorbed in a task that gets me out of my head and into my body.
Create something beautiful
Take a beautiful picture. Re-arrange a corner of the house. Create a music video. Arrange flowers. Whatever it is, make it a way to put beauty into your world.
Learn a piece by the composer who taught you to love the piano
This isn’t for an audience or for career advancement. This is for you. Find a piece that reminds you why you wanted to play the piano, learn it, and love it.
Call the old people
Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle, family friend—doesn’t matter. Most of them are isolated and alone in their homes or nursing homes and live for outside contact with people they love. I find those conversations always help me keep my own (much smaller) problems in perspective.
Text, email, call, message, or Zoom the friends you cherish. Just one or two words or sentences can make a friend’s day better.
Make room for silence
Turn off every noisemaker in the house (from the TV to the phone) and spend a few minutes listening to nothing but the ambient noise and the sound of your own breathing. Pretend you’re performing John Cage’s best-known piece and do this for 4’33”.
Spend time alone every day
If you’re lucky enough to have room for this, find a space you can retreat to that’s just yours. If not, look for ways to squeeze some solitude into your day. Take a walk by yourself. Get up before anyone else in the household. Or, if all else fails, lock yourself in the bathroom for an extra-long time.
We don’t lack for people who are eager to share bad news and bad moods. But there’s no reason why hope and love can’t be shared as easily as despair and hate. Be one of those who reminds others of all that’s good in people and the world.
Right now it seems like everything is conspiring to divide us against each other. I don’t believe this can be done without our permission. If every one of us chooses to make our communities stronger, more courteous, and more compassionate we can unite the world one neighborhood at a time. Buy local. Smile at the neighbors. Help where needed. Be the courtesy we wish to see in the world.