Thursday, February 23, 2017

Anxiety and Choir: My Struggle

I woke up this morning in the worst of moods.
"Why did I keep screwing up silly things I've practiced at rehearsal last night?" 
"Why do I deserve this solo?" 
"I keep getting looks from the conductor. Oh no."
"Why am I so cranky when I should be happy to be singing and surrounded by friends?" 
"Stop apologizing all the time, it's annoying!"

"Why am I such a failure?" 

After being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I've been struggling with a strong bout of it lately and realized how it affects my singing/managing abilities in rehearsal and in a social setting. 

I love my choir fam and I work hard to make sure their choral experience is optimal. As a choir manager, occasional soloist, arts administrator, and friend, the responsibility often weighs heavy on me and my brain forces me to over-analyse my behaviour in rehearsal and in interacting with others. 

Here's an example:

In May 2016, I got a huge solo in Paul Mealor's Stabat Mater. Being a mezzo-soprano and an alto in the choir, completely switching gears to solo-mode with high A's stressed the crap out of me.

It's not that I couldn't do it - it was because I was petrified of disappointing myself and my peers because of my role and responsibility in this choir. 

I worked my butt off, took lessons, and received many compliments. However, my mind was stuck on the "negative" aspects of my performance. 

I listened to the recording and just cringed at any point where I "may" have been off-key or not in line with the orchestra. I felt defeated despite everyone telling me it was great. 

Fast forward to January 2017: I'm chatting with my artistic director over wine and explained to him how I was feeling and apologized profusely for any actions that may have made the performance less-than-perfect. He was so surprised to know how this affected me for so long and reassured me on how much he enjoyed the performance and the positive feedback he received from everyone. 

But why is my anger on my performance STILL in a constant loop? Why can't I just let it go? What am I so afraid of?
We are all guilty of knowing this feeling of being our own worst critics. But with anxiety, I've noticed it trickle into my criticism towards other singers. I hate it. 

These are my friends and I make it my goal to cheer and encourage them as much as I can. But lately, I don't have the energy because I'm so exhausted from my self-deprecating thoughts on my own choir "flaws". 

This devilish inner monologue distracts me and causes a negative reaction when a fellow singer supposedly "can't get their shit together" in rehearsal:

"Just chill out. It's ok, Amy just - OMG WE'VE DONE THIS BEFORE WHY CAN'T YOU GET THE RIGHT NOTE!"
"Calm down. This is not a big deal. Remember why you're here and why you love choir." 
I go home. I go to bed. I kick myself for being so critical, hoping no one noticed and judged me. 

Most days are good and then there's days like today where I feel like calling my friends to apologize for being so cranky and critical of myself and others in rehearsal. 

So how do I overcome this? 

To be frank, I'm still working on it. In the meantime here's what I got for my mental first aid kit (in no particular order of importance):

1 - Working out: My personal trainer is aware of my GAD and is very supportive when I am having a bad day. After a workout, I feel calm, alert, and proud I did something for me. I also sleep better! 

2 - Understanding my anxiety and calling it out on its crap: I have to separate the anxiety as something that's other than me. This separation keeps the demons at bay.

3 - ALL OF THE BIG BREATHS! Yoga helps too. Namaste, friends. 

4 - Vocalizing my anxiety with someone I trust: Isolation is my go-to so I try to do the opposite and talk to someone who's opinion I value. Even just being around people laughing and enjoying the evening without talking about my anxiety really helps. 

5 - In busy "pull my hair out" times, I focus on gratitude instead of anxiety: 

“If you feel like you are a servant to your calendar then I think you’re going to be stressed out,” he says. Instead, try “to feel like: I do a lot of things and feel good about them and I have a really full life.” - Ryan Howes, PhD. 
This is 100% accurate for my love and appreciation of all the choral projects happening in my life. 

6 - Step back, take a breather and binge-watch mindless movies/shows: I completely steer clear of high-intensity or stress inducing thrillers because it triggers my anxiety at times. I tend to watch a comedy or light drama that doesn't require much thinking. It allows me to turn my brain off and finally relax on the couch. Hello Buffy and Spike showmance!

All this being said , this is definitely learning experience for me and I know I will overcome the life chores that are laid out for me. 

I love you all and thanks for hearing me out. This post wasn't easy to write but knowing I poured this information out there, I can finally breathe this morning. Namaste. 

- Blonde in the Choir  


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