Everyone seems to be talking about the best ways to practice “self-care” lately. Some suggest bubble baths, manicures, a glass of wine, or a splurge shopping trip as some of the most effective ways to restore mental and emotional health. While these activities can definitely be a fun way to relax and enjoy some down time, I believe the real essence of taking care of oneself lies a little deeper than merely allowing ourselves to indulge in fun or relaxing activities. I once heard someone say that real self-care is creating a life you don’t have to consistently run away from. This approach to taking care of our minds, bodies, and hearts—our whole selves—can help us create lives that have nourishment and grace built into them. As artists, this is perhaps one of the most important steps we can take as we seek to develop our craft in an honest and intentional way.
With this wholistic approach to self-care in mind, I’ve created a list of 10 self-care activities that, when put into consistent practice, will hopefully inspire and help each of us on our journey towards artistic and personal growth. Curated with the unique needs of singers in mind, these activities can and should be modified and personalized to fit your individual situation. Add some of your favorite self-care practices that you’ve already discovered. Take away any activities suggested that wouldn’t be a good fit for you. The work of developing ourselves is always unique and never universal.
If you haven’t done this practice recently, make a list of your top priorities for the next 5 years. Maybe you want to pay off your student loan debt, play piano well enough to accompany your voice students, sing your dream role, finish a graduate degree, open a retirement account. Whatever your most important goals are, write them out, making sure they are specific and, therefore, attainable. After you’ve made your list, create a plan of attack. Make a realistic schedule you can stick to for making those goals happen. Set aside some time each day for piano practice. Take a hard look at your budget and figure out where you can find some extra dollars to go towards your debt. Explore revisiting this practice every few weeks or months to update and make adjustments to both your goals and plan of attack.
#2 Revisit the Basics
Choose one basic singing technique (e.g. appoggio, diction, agility, messa di voce) and dedicate all of your practicing for one day to exploring how your approach to this technique needs improvement. What can you relearn? Where are your skills lacking? What can you do to improve this important technique? Explore how the technical skill you’ve chosen to work on interacts with the repertoire you’re currently studying. Consider making a habit of regularly revisiting specific techniques and dedicating an entire day of rehearsal to focusing your attention on that technique.
Choose one area of your life that needs a little sorting out, downsizing, or scrapping and begin working towards getting it in order. When we carry around extra items in our lives that we don’t regularly use or receive any enjoyment from, they tend to weigh on our minds and bodies in ways we may not even be aware of. Getting rid of those extra clothes in your closet you never wear can free up not only your closet space, but also your mental and emotional space. What about your music score library? About once a year, I have to reorganize and reevaluate all of the scores and sheet music I’ve acquired over that year. After completing this yearly task, I feel a great weight lifted from my shoulders, and when the need arises, I am better prepared to pull pieces I am looking for as I know what I have and where it is. Maybe your decluttering project needs to focus on emotional or lifestyle excess rather than extra items in your home. Are there some activities or practices cluttering up your life? Some friends or responsibilities you need to let go of? Decluttering can take many forms. Never limit yourself to what you sense everyone else is doing. Get rid of the things that are weighing YOU down.
As working artists, social media is an important tool we almost all use to connect with our audiences, meet potential employers and colleagues, and promote our current projects and musical endeavors. Using social media is part of my daily work routine, as I try to post daily content to keep my audiences engaged, but some days, I catch myself letting these platforms use ME. When I catch myself mindlessly scrolling, comparing the work I’m doing to whatever my friends and colleagues are up to, I know I’ve let an important tool take on a toxic presence in my life. We all need to consider monitoring how we are using social media. Dedicate one day to limiting your social media activity to posting only. No scrolling or comparing. Or, consider taking a day to not use it at all. You won’t lose all of your followers from being absent for one single day. If this doesn’t feel like the right fit for you, you can also experiment with scheduling posts in advance. This way you can share content you prepared ahead of time without even opening up an app.
#5 Escape the Echo Chamber
I don’t know about you, but I often find myself utterly saturated in “singer life” culture. Between teaching voice lessons, going from gig to gig, and rubbing shoulders with a lot of different musicians who do all of these things as well, I don’t get a lot of exposure to other art forms or musical disciplines. Occasionally breaking out of this singer “echo chamber” can be very helpful for my artistic and creative goals (not to mention my overall wellbeing.) While I love what I do and the other singers I work with, it’s important to learn from other perspectives. I love attending a lecture or masterclass outside of my musical discipline. My creative juices are reinvigorated, and I always walk away with some new ideas as a result of approaching music from a different viewpoint. Pull up YouTube and watch a cello masterclass. Attend a lecture in music theory or musicology. Take a painting class, learn to knit, or write poetry and leave the world of music behind for one evening! I guarantee you will still learn so much about your personal craft, and you’ll have some fun being creative without the pressure of being an expert.
#6 Parent Yourself
“Self-care” is really about taking CARE of ourselves, right? That means we actually have to do it, but it doesn’t have to be exhausting, time-consuming, or require you to get up at 5 am for an hour-long workout. It just has to feel like someone is making sure you’re not making bad choices on a daily basis, like someone is “parenting” you. Guess who that someone is? You got it: YOU. A good parent wouldn’t let you stay up until 3 am when you have to be up by 6 am. They would make sure you at least occasionally ate some fruit or vegetables, and would remind you to get up and get some exercise after you’ve spent most of the afternoon on the couch. Be that good parent to yourself. No one else will (or should) do it for you.
#7 Plan Enjoyment
How often do you actually do the things that make you happy? While “too much of a good thing” is a wise rule to live by, intentionally making space for the good things in our lives is also an important practice. What really relaxes you and helps you let go of stress? For me, it’s things like taking a walk, being outside, enjoying a good book or movie, or a quality conversation. Prioritizing things that make you happy can have the profound and totally unexpected result of . . . making you happy. Who knew? Schedules are busy, but we all have five minutes to go sit on the porch and just breathe in some fresh air, or make a quick phone call to catch up with a friend or family member, or read one chapter of a good book. For me, making this time means limiting things I think are relaxing to me, but are actually draining. E.g. scrolling through social media. Five minutes of screen time for five minutes of outside time is more than a fair trade.
#8 Tend to Your Instrument
As singers, taking care of our voices should be a top priority. When my instrument is unwell, my mental and emotional health suffers too. Taking care of the voice requires discipline, and other people might think you’re kind of a drag, but you’ll be singing circles around them in the nursing home someday if you make your vocal health a priority now. Vocal health experts say for every 90 minutes of heavy voice use, you need at least 10 minutes of vocal rest. Don’t eat within three hours of bedtime to avoid acid reflux. Refrain from talking when you’re in a noisy restaurant. Ditch the alcohol and caffeine. Stick to acetaminophen rather than blood-thinning aspirin or ibuprofen. (These can increase risk of vocal fold hemorrhage.) If you are experiencing some vocal trouble, be bold and brave enough to take a break and rest. There is no shame in taking care of one of your most valuable gifts.
#9 Ditch the “Diva-tude”
I’m not talking about being a “diva” so much in the traditional sense. We’re singers. Being a little dramatic now and then is just how we practice for when we’re on stage. I’m talking about letting our guards down and being real people. I rarely hear other singers admitting their musical weaknesses or faults to one another. This kind of culture is so damaging to our whole singing community. We create an environment where we can’t learn from each other or even admit we’re struggling because we know we’ll be judged and possibly excluded. Do you have trouble sight-reading? It’s OK to admit that. It’s really hard for many singers. We should be able to talk about that with each other. Have you ever had a vocal injury, or do you sometimes struggle with vocal fatigue? You should be able to talk about that without being made to feel less than. When we refuse to talk about our weaknesses with each other, we perpetuate issues that we could be helping each other work through. We miss out on the solidarity we could experience together. Pretending to be perfect disrupts both our and our colleagues’ mental health, and it destroys any possibility for an honest and truly compelling performance.
#10 Be Yourself
This should be obvious to all of us by now, but we still seem to struggle with this idea, especially as artists. We think we need to conform to what our audiences will enjoy or expect. The comparison game runs strong with us, and we end up confused and concerned about who we really are. Maybe finding success as a singer is only possible if you present what you uniquely have to offer. Your journey doesn’t have to be conventional to be valid. Unapologetically embracing your special gifts, perspectives, and desires for your life and career will allow you to blossom as both a performer and a person.
Practicing genuine self-care isn’t always easy. It involves hard choices, discipline, and some honesty we sometimes aren’t ready for, but I believe it’s worth it for cultivating lives we can wholeheartedly enjoy and embrace. What are some practices and habits you regularly engage in to practice self-care? Let me know in the comments section!