Practice anxiety: Tool #10

Colouring is my "safe" activity. Image by Paula Signolfi Cyoia via takepart.

Colouring is my “safe” activity. Image by Paula Signolfi Cyoia via takepart.

Finding safe activities (for me: colouring)

Why? What do you do when feelings of discomfort associated with practice become so intense that the very thought of picking up your instrument becomes distressing? This is a danger zone, and could lead to a period of chronic avoidance, which for me spirals quickly downwards into depression.

It’s tempting to switch out and turn to the usual distractions – scrolling through social media, bumming out on the internet, playing games, and/or binge watching a tv show. But in my experience these things don’t help you deal with the situation at hand, and in fact can worsen it. They’re all fine for when you just need a little bit of time out, and as rewards for some good practice work, but not so much for dealing with more acute emotions.

I’ve already written a bit about what you can do if you’re struck by these kinds of intense feelings: the brain dump, and 30 things to do when practice feels like an impossibility (this second link includes a lot of music-related activities that can still feel okay to do even when practice doesn’t). But this time I want to write about finding a completely “safe” activity that allows you to distract yourself just a bit, calm yourself and hopefully even ready yourself to take the steps needed to get to that place where you can start practice.

What? Recently I was planning activities for a long-haul flight. I developed a fear of flying several years ago in relation to some PTSD (the event which triggered this had nothing to do with aeroplanes, but I flew very shortly after it and so flying became kind of tied up in my brain with the event) and, while I am much better at coping with it these days, I am always anxious when getting on a plane. So I always take about 10x as many things to distract myself with as I could possibly use. Searching the internet for ideas I came across colouring books for adults.

Often these are full of either abstract patterns or pictures of plants, animals, city scapes and so on with much more details than children’s colouring books. I picked up a book like this in the airport in Amsterdam and used the coloured markers I have for marking up scores. It takes some time to finish colouring in one of these detailed pages, but I was amazed at how calm I felt about it. In fact, there’s some science behind it and colouring is now being promoted as a mindful, calming activity for adults with anxiety. It’s fairly low cost (a book costing $10-15 will last for aaaaages, or just do a google image search and print some pages off! And I’m sure you’ve got some colouring pencils or pens lying around) and choosing your colour combinations is oddly soothing. I can do this for a while, and then my mind feels much more creative and open to possibilities – including music practice.

Colouring is a “safe” activity for me. For you it might be something else. Spend some time working out what that activity might be, and then make sure the materials are on hand for when those situations arise (they will).