Kim was excited because after several years of trying to get into the inner circle of solo singers that were hired for holiday jobs, she started getting calls. Not only were there offers for several additional church jobs, but a couple of the smaller instrumental ensembles she had previously performed with were asking about her availability for their upcoming holiday programs. To put it over the edge for her, Kim was asked to sing for the Jewish holy days as well. She was working full time so she knew that squeezing all of these wonderful singing opportunities into an already tight schedule would test her emotional and physical health. But it would mean that she would gain invaluable experience, and might even get a review or two. Another plus was that she would be making enough extra money to do the summer program she had wanted to do last year, but had to put off for lack of funds. She was happy to make the necessary sacrifices. The hardest part was going to be finding the time to get gifts for her family and getting home for at least Christmas day. Her family was important to her and they really wanted her home for the holidays. So she would leave directly after her Christmas Concert, take the red eye on Christmas Eve and be there for the big day. She planned to stay one extra day taking the red eye back, going straight to work from the airport. The only reason she hesitated about this trip was that it would take a pretty big chunk of the monies she had just earned. Another issue was, she knew as much as she loved being with her family, she would automatically fall into that old trap of playing the same old games that included getting her emotional buttons pushed. Oh well, it was going to be great to see everyone. She would get to eat her Mom’s traditional Christmas dinner culminating with all those wonderful homemade sweet treats. When Kim let herself dwell too long on all of this, her job, singing opportunities, and family stuff, it suddenly seemed overwhelming and exhausting. But then it was only for a few weeks. She would make it through. For many of us, the holidays present a mixed bag. As singers, you are often busier than usual with performing and that’s a good thing. But along with having more singing opportunities comes trying to cope and prepare for the traditional holiday festivities that happen within our families and with our chosen community of friends. It often creates a delicate balancing act. Your time, energy and often times, money are put at risk. It can also be expensive emotionally and physically.
“We have to act our way into a new way of thinking rather than think our way into a new way of acting.”
How would it be if you could get a better handle on some of these opportunities before they become real issues? Here are a few tips on how to move through the holidays without as much stress and stay emotionally and physically healthy.
Celebrate with intention. Let the Holidays reflect the shape of your life.
- As we have said before, holiday time can be very stressful. There are so many performances to give, so many gifts to buy, so much food to prepare, places to go and people to see. And often as much as we look forward to going home and being with our families for the holidays, we find ourselves falling back into the same old routine of playing a certain role within the family that feels childish and uncomfortable. No matter how hard we try, we seem to get the same old emotional buttons pushed every time. We react instead of taking action in the game that is being played. The initial glow of our romanticized fantasy Holiday moves quickly into being annoying, unhappy and stressed out. As a singer you might be pressed into service to provide the entertainment. No one cares that you are tired and would just like to relax for a few days. The traditional holiday meals are over the top and that’s great but you are expected to indulge in the eating frenzy. You are trying to maintain your own hard earned eating habits but have the pressure of everyone saying you, “It’s the holidays. It won’t hurt you to go off your diet or change your routine for these few days. Come on, eat!” It’s taken some mighty hard work to have found an eating style that works for you and you don’t want to change it even for a few days. What to do? Because you want to save as much of the money you just made for furthering your career and were just plain old too busy to shop, you starting to dread the gift exchange thing. Or maybe you have gone all out and have maxed out your credit card buying just the right gifts and now are worried about paying it off. It goes on and on.
“There are three kinds of people: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, “What happened?””
~ Casey Stengel
- First, if you simply let your family and friends know that you know what the game is that you have been playing all these years. Let them know you are not going to play it that way anymore, it will stop. It does take courage. So, when you notice this routine is about to begin, that your buttons are starting to be pushed, you can change the game by simply saying in a kidding way, “Hey, I’m not playing that game anymore.” Or, “We’re not going to play that same old tired game are we? I thought we were adults and that seems sort of childish.” And either change the subject or if they are persistent, move away physically. Stay upbeat and fun. They will get it. It might take several encounters, but it will work. What it really means is that you are representing and presenting your Personal Brand in all your relationships, including the one with yourself. Changing the family dynamics can be uncomfortable at first and does take courage. But, everyone will benefit from the change. To cement this change, you have to be consistent in behaving this new way each time you visit.
- Try finding small, inexpensive gifts that will rekindle the memory of a special past event you shared with a loved one. Or better yet, create a beautiful card that has a gift certificate you created inside good for something you can actually physically do for someone else; like a back or foot rub, baby sitting, singing for some special occasion, dinner at your house, etc. Those are the kinds of gifts that one never forgets. How about putting some favorite family recipes together or a clever photo album of a favorite visit or occasion. Or perhaps give your family the challenge of giving interesting and meaningful gifts to everyone that can’t be more than $10 – $25 for each person.
“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”
~ Doug Larson
As the Holidays approach, take good care of your physical self.
- Often, as singers, the Holiday season is a wonderful opportunity to perform more than usual. It means extra money in our pockets. It can also mean eating at odd hours and probably not what is best for us, plus not getting much sleep or physical exercise. Then there are the parties and possibility of enjoying all the family traditions – cookies, cakes, staying out late, enjoying friends who have kids with colds, etc. We can probably struggle through the Holidays, but when they are over, we often fall into not only being a tad physically sick, but often it can be accompanied by a little depression because we have to return to our real lives.
- Before the Holiday games begin, take the time to explore and then decide on what you want and need to stay healthy. Make sure you eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water. This can happen even if you are crazy busy. It just means setting it up in advance so you have some of the good stuff around when you get the munchies because you didn’t have time to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner. Even if you are out running from one gig to the next, take some fresh fruit, trail mix, nuts or veggies with you. Eating regular meals, 3 regular or 6 mini ones, keeps your energy up and your mind alert. If your family insists on pressing you to eat more or something you have cut out of your diet, say a happy “no thanks” and change the subject or walk away. Being firm about your own habits is OK. It doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the celebration and have a great time. So eat but don’t eat too much in one sitting; it can zap your energy. Also, eating too fast can make you swallow excess air, which can result in gas. Eating when stressed, can cause re-flux. So, slow down and eat mindfully as you enjoy your food. Also, wash your hands every chance you get or use some of that bacteria killer (Purel) you can keep in your bag. Keep some Zicam on hand so if you feel the slightest hint of a cold coming on you can use it immediately.
“Aspiration creates inspiration, which, for the artist, is the breath of life.”
~ Edward Abbey
Your breath is the storehouse of emotion. It can teach you how to let go.
Problem: We often react to everyday events without noticing how our breathing responds to our emotional states. It is a powerful tool to be able to recognize that breathing responds to how you feel. Getting a grip on your emotional state through your breathing will help you monitor your emotions before they sabotage your mood or behavior. You can learn to use your breath as the signal to become less reactive to stressful situations as they’re happening. Here are some breathing patterns I think you might recognize. You might notice that these are some of the tools we use when acting, whether it be intentional or just instinct.
|When you feel:
Inspired or pleasantly surprised
Hopeful, Joyful, Content
|You will often:
Gasp, inhaling deeply and suddenly
Huff, exhaling suddenly and sharply
Stop or hold your breath
Exhale with a long, deep sigh
Breath rapidly and shallowly
Breathe evenly and deeply
Solution: It has been my experience that yoga breathing (pranayama) is an amazing solution to many of our reactive patterns that occur in our everyday lives. I also believe that we as singers are very lucky to have learned how to breathe deeply and completely in order to sing. Have you noticed that you may be angry, in a bad mood, tired or any other things you can think of, but when you start singing most of that goes away?
Here is an example of one simple yoga exercise that will create a calm center within you. This is something you might also use just before a performance or audition.
- Set the timer for 3-5 minutes. (Before you use this exercise for calming yourself for an audition or performance, its better if you have practiced it enough so you can simply close you eyes for just a few minutes to gain this centeredness.) Sit on the edge of a chair with your feel flat on the floor. This keeps your spine erect and tall. Let your hands rest on your legs. Allow the back of your tongue to relax. With your eyes closed look and feel down into your chest, back and belly. Watch, feel and listen from the inside as your ribs in front and in back and your belly expand and fall with each inhale and exhale. Focus all your attention on breathing only through your nose.While breathing through your nose, start to lengthen your breathing. Inhale on a count of 4: exhale on a count of 4 all the while feeling the breath enter and leave your body. Visualize the in-breath as blue and the out-breath as red. Gradually lengthen your breathing until it can be done on a count of 7 both in and out. Make it one smooth, continual movement. You want to slow the breath down, not stop it. Focus all your attention on your breathing. If thoughts come into your head, let them come in and let them drift out like small, white puffy clouds floating by. Relax the back of your tongue and let your eyes physically move as if you were looking down into your chest. Refocus on watching, feeling and hearing your breathing as you notice your chest and belly expand and contract with each breath.
When the timer goes off, return to your normal pace of breathing. When you feel ready open you eyes and notice how relaxed and present your feel. You are centered and ready for whatever lies ahead.
“Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”
~ Groucho Marx
Stay in the present moment.
With so much on your plate, it’s hard to separate one project or activity from another. They seem to blur together and overlap each other. As you move from one activity to another it seems like your mind keeps leaping either backwards toward what you were just working on because you didn’t quite complete it, or forward toward what you need to be doing next. It’s hard to focus on just this moment and what you are doing in that moment. Not being able to concentrate while in the present moment might leave you feeling frustrated and even angry like you are not accomplishing anything.
As you work on what is in front of you at the moment and start to feel your mind moving to something in the past or future, stop, get up and do something physical like spending a few minutes playing with your pet or stretching. Then as you go back to what you were doing, take one minute to close your eyes and when they are closed, allow yourself to look down at your feet. Take a very deep breath in through your nose and blow it out quick and hard through your lips, like you are going to blow out a gigantic candle, so you feel your gut work. Then immediately open your eyes and you will notice your head is clearer and you can focus more easily on what is in front of you. Then get to it.
As you work, allow your attention to rest where the working surfaces meet.
If you are singing, let your attention rest where breathe and sound come together.
If you are using your computer, let your attention rest where your fingers meet the keys.
If you are memorizing the words to a piece, let your attention rest where the words on the page meet the understanding in your heart.
If you are walking down the street, let your attention rest where your feet meet the sidewalk or ground.
You get the idea. It’s all very simple, just not easy. It takes being mindful.
No one said this was going to be easy, but the sooner you start taking charge of your life situations, the sooner you will be able to give real service to yourself and others.
I hope these tips will help you enjoy the holiday season even more than usual. It’s my all time favorite holiday of the year and I have learned through my own experience that if I don’t focus on what I think the outcome should be with traditions, family and friends, it gets better and better for everyone each time it rolls around. So, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.
“Christmas gift suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.”
~ Oren Arnold
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Ciao until next time, Carol