Music is getting me through this pandemic — a hobby can do the same for you

"I’ve been writing songs, playing my guitar and even making music videos. It has made my daily life better."
Gaetano DiNardi

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By Gaetano DiNardi

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased anxiety and stress to such an extent that some experts are warning of a looming mental health crisis.

While the United Nations and the World Health Organization are making resources available to help with this, experts are also offering important advice. One key piece I’ve taken to heart comes from the Mayo Clinic: “Enjoy hobbies that you can do at home.” After all, “a distraction can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression,” and doing “something positive to manage anxiety is a healthy coping strategy.”

Mayo isn’t alone in this. Numerous experts are encouraging people to return to the hobbies they may have left behind. For some, it might even help ward off a temptation to turn to alcohol.

But for many of us, these days can be extremely hectic. Perhaps you’ve got children at home, and are working to make sure they get educated online while also trying to do your job. Maybe you’ve got sick family members you’re trying to care for.

I’m remotely managing a team of six, and can easily feel that I always have to be “on.” And because I work in tech, people are relying on us more than ever. My company helps businesses move their phone systems to the cloud, which many are doing in the era of COVID-19. It’s a time filled with pressure.

To take care of my mental health, I’ve set aside time to unplug from work. I’ve used that time to recommit to music. I’ve been writing songs, playing my guitar and even making music videos. It has made my daily life better.

Any artistic pursuit can be therapeutic, which explains why many are used as part of therapy programs. And during this pandemic, music has played an especially important role for millions of people. As the World Economic Forum pointed out, crowds have been singing and playing musical instruments from balconies and joining virtual choirs online. (Jon Bon Jovi even gave a shout out to Chicagoans who sang “Livin’ on a Prayer.”)

If you don’t have a creative outlet, now may be a good time to start one. StoneSpring Hospital in Virginia says, “Now is the time to pick up a new instrument, learn how to paint or try a new cooking technique. If you’re not sure where to start, search YouTube for instructional videos.”

Whether you have an established interest or are just dabbling with a new one, here are three tips I recommend for reaping maximum benefits from it during this pandemic:

1. Schedule it

No matter how hectic things are, try to schedule time for your creative outlet. Then, do all you can to stick to it. It could be an hour a few times a week, or a block of a few hours once a week.

I scheduled my music time based on when I start to feel drained mentally. In general for me, that’s Thursdays. So each week on Thursday, I stop working at about 4pm, then spend the rest of the day doing music production and songwriting.

It’s a powerful way to recharge. I perform much better in my work on Fridays when I do this.

If you can seal yourself off in a room somewhere and be away from other people in your home during this time, that’s ideal.

2. Consider your personality type

While your hobby time is yours alone, in which you don’t have to take care of anyone else, you can share it virtually with people who have the same or similar interest. For example, if you want to make music together with a friend over video chat, you may find that fulfilling.

I’m introverted, specifically what Myers-Briggs calls INTJ. I’m experiencing Zoom burnout (also called Zoom fatigue) already. So for me, during a stressful week, the most therapeutic practice is to get in a zone and jam out alone.

3. Create a goal

I find it helpful to not just write and play music for fun, but to specifically have projects I want to accomplish. I look forward to these, and they help incentivize me to pull through on my scheduled time for music.

So I decided I was going to finally edit the music video a friend and I shot for a song we co-wrote, and I’m working toward an EP, a collection of five songs.

If you have children at home, some of these same steps may be very helpful for them as well. I know that music was important to me when I was growing up.

“It’s especially devastating to think about students who rely on music classes to get them through the school day. Or the students who could easily fall through the cracks without the safe spaces they’ve found in band, choir or orchestra,” an activist for music education wrote in a column republished by the Washington Post.

It’s a difficult time for all of us, and there are no easy answers. But if you commit to a pursuit you love, or discover a new one, you just may find that your week gets less exhausting, less stressful and more fruitful.

Gaetano DiNardi is director of demand generation at Nextiva, and shares his music at officialgaetano.com