Are we all lost stars?

Updated: May 20, 2019, 08:06 IST | Karishma Kuenzang

A recent survey revealed that 73 per cent of independent artistes have suffered from a mental health condition. Mumbai musicians open up about battling the self-doubt and anxiety that comes with creating quality content, juggling schedules and perfor

Are we all lost stars?

Fans of pop duo Parekh & Singh were in for some disappointment when the Kolkata artistes cancelled their India tour last week. And when Nischay Parekh put up a post admitting that his decade of playing live music has come with anxiety, stress, and now depression, citing that the logistical challenges have pushed him over the edge, he was showered with nothing but hope and consideration from fans.

The development finds resonance in a recent Swedish survey, which revealed that 73 per of independent artistes have suffered from mental illness and a third from panic attacks. A fact that comes as no surprise considering the uncertainty that comes with the job - figuring out what music you like and want to create, and if the audience will reciprocate, while also making sure what you compose helps you earn a living. As Jivraj Singh, the other half of Parekh & Singh puts it, "It's exciting because of the freedom of following your dreams of living your life as a musician, but it comes at a cost."

Pursuing a career in the creative fields often comes riddled with similar problems that independent musicians face. Here's how they take them on.

Parekh & Singh
Parekh & Singh

Money matters
As most musicians are freelancers, they don't have a steady income, which is a constant cause of stress. "Then comes the challenge of balancing gigs that cater to your creativity and those that pay well. If you do way too many corporate shows that pay more but you don't like what you are playing, it affects your creativity," says 24-year-old singer-songwriter Sharvi Yadav, who has overcome her share of panic and anxiety attacks. "This conflict has been a source of anxiety for me," shares Singh.

"When you are constantly travelling for gigs, make sure you get enough sleep, water and nutrition. It's easy to just play a gig and chill over a beer. But seven nights in a row and you won't be able to function. Try and eat healthy and on time, or your serotonin and dopamine levels run low and you could suffer from anxiety," says city-based bassist Abhinav Khokhar.

And when there are dry spells, you can focus more on creating music instead of getting anxious, which is what Yadav does. "I channelise my anxiety instead of worrying about not getting any gigs. If I dwell on the situation, it will only make things worse. So I also jam with musician friends, which helps put me in a positive space," she adds.

Abhinav Khokhar
Abhinav Khokhar

Great expectations
"The expectations start with the fact that you are breaking away from societal norms and taking a leap of faith that you have to defend later," shares Yadav. And if you have a successful first album, then you feel obligated to make another one. "There are expectations from the audience, and those of your own as you look at other people's careers. But it's crucial to remember that no one is judging you as hard as you are judging yourself," shares Singh, who has been playing for more than a decade.

"When you're working on your art, you are also trying to figure out who you are, which you may not be able to do in your 20s. Have realistic goals and don't imitate someone else's career. Things don't pan out at the same pace for everyone," points out Khokhar. Many also think depression is a two-week affair, and ignore it given the escapist tendency wherein you decide to just get busy and hope you'll get better. "But it just gets magnified. So, figure out exactly what is getting you down. Take a break. There is no shame in not playing and figuring out [your health first]," adds Khokhar.

Sharvi Yadav
Sharvi Yadav

It's also crucial to remember that the number of gigs you play isn't directly proportional to your skills as an artiste. "You could be among the top three instrumentalists but you might not get as many gigs. So, try not to question yourself or beat yourself over it," shares Khokhar.

"I do a daily check on myself. I felt I was getting overtly anxious recently so I took a break and went back home for a bit. I also started doing some daily exercises, yoga and reading more. You have to ask yourself, is it worth it?" shares Yadav.

Performance pressure
And then there's performance anxiety, which can range from getting overwhelmed by a huge crowd or getting disappointed at a small one. "Most of the time, it goes away in the first few minutes on stage as you realise that you are doing much better," says Dr Amrita Joshi, a city-based psychologist. What helps is having a back-up plan. "Have a five-minute break or a song planned, so you can just step off the stage if it gets too much. Just the fact that you have a plan can reduce your anxiety. Also, use your past stage experiences to remind yourself that it will be okay because you have done it before," says Dr Joshi.

Dr Amrita Joshi
Dr Amrita Joshi

Singh, who has found seeking professional help useful, concludes, "We get caught up in the expected results of our work but we don't have control over everything. We need to focus on the work at hand, not the outcome. For, if you invest too heavily in what you think is going to happen, you are opening yourself up to disappointment."

Tackle panic attacks
* An anxiety or panic attack lasts three to 10 minutes. It's crucial to not try to calm yourself down and instead focus on doing something else to tide through that time. Walking helps as does taking deep breaths.
* Ensure you have an alternative creative outlet. Start expanding the scope of your work so that you don't feel stifled and some other passion can give you a sense of joy.
* Having reminders of your own past performances, any positive feedback from people, even on social media, helps.
* Get some fresh air. Don't smoke when anxious.

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