Stress is damaging still younger and younger people. Now even teenagers. Average age in onset of depression is 13; it used to be 42!
This interesting information presented neuropsychologist Dr. William R. Stixrud at the seminar on Transcendental Mediation organized by the David Lynch Foundation. He talks about “an epidemic of mental health problems in adults and adolescents as well. Most of them related to stress.”
Stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens between 9th and 12th grade, psychologists say that if they don’t learn healthy ways to manage that stress now, it could have serious long-term health implications – American Psychological Association.
One of the ways to cope with stress is meditation. Dr. Stixrud focuses on benefits of a specific Transcendental Meditation technique, which the famous film director David Lynch and his Foundation bring to schools and to other vulnerable populations.
As I was watching the presentation, I couldn’t stop thinking about music. And I am concerned. Meditation is effective in reducing stress in adults and children, as documented in the presentation. Thus there is a growing push to bring it to schools.
Music, on the other hand, is being pushed out of schools due to the budget cuts and curriculum focused on STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Like the transcendental meditation, musicking can bring similar benefits of stress reduction and relaxation. But as an addition to individuals benefiting from the TM, music has also the power to improve the social interaction and cohesion on top of it. That was the reason why our ancestors played music in the first place. Not for the money, nor the fame. But to feel better, to be together with others, to celebrate and enjoy life.
By no means I am here bashing meditation. In an ideal situation, it would be great to have both mediation and musicking in schools and in life on a daily basis. But as we don’t live in an ideal world, my impression is that one great thing is being replaced by another. Although they could complement each other.
“Optimal educational environment is characterized by high challenge and low threat“. says dr. Stixrud. Meditation represents the low threat in this setting. But high challenge? Maybe at the beginning, when students are learning to meditate. Obviously, successful meditation helps with other challenges in life, stress included.
Learning to play an instrument could be very beneficial as it is challenging for many students. And here I see a problem in that musicking doesn’t represent a low threat for many students as well. Why is that?
The current way of educating and playing music, if not making things outright worse, is definitely not improving them. For a large part of students, studying music represents an ongoing stressful experience. This entail requirements of daily practicing, constant pushing and nagging from parents, too much competition, stage fright and stress from a performance.
Here is one real-life example. My friend’s daughter has been studying and playing music for years. When in the grade 5, she was handed a bass-clarinet to learn and play with the school orchestra. She was a tiny girl trying to produce some sound from such a huge and unforgiving instrument. Clearly a bad teacher’s decision. It caused a lot of unnecessary stress not only in the young student’s mind, but also for her parents.
There is not much fun in such stressful musicking anymore. This is not the role an active music making is supposed to play.
This is one important reason, I believe, why so many young people abandon their music education in the moment they are allowed to make that individual decision. Although there is a growing research evidence about mental benefits of musicking, the number of adult players are not reflecting it.
It would be great to expect that once a music student acquires enough expertise, he or she will keep musicking and reaping those benefits all the way throughout their adult life. Unfortunately that is not the case as many former music students happily drop their instrument, and in a better scenario become active music listeners. In a worse scenario they want to forget the stress and annoyance their musicking exposed them to in their past. So they become purely passive consumers of the music industry products.
Instead of trying to forget your musical education, I will urge you not to stop playing. Or if you haven’t played yet, to start soon. Successful and satisfying musical training can represent such an optimal educational environment of high challenge and low threat, mentioned by dr. Stixrud. And like meditation, musicking can help reduce stress. But on top of it, if you are making music actively and mindfully, other benefits music brings to your life include:
– Keeps the mind sharp
– Enhances coordination
– Regulates mood
– Sharpens reading and comprehension skills
– Improves respiratory system
– Increases listening skills
– Boosts concentration and focus
– Teaches discipline
– Promotes social skills
– Fosters self-expression and self-esteem
– Betters mathematical ability
– Teaches perseverance
– Increases memory capacity
– Refines time management and organizational skills
– Boosts team skills
If you are tempted to try playing a music instrument, why don’t you sign up with Musicably? You will find here information and help that will have your playing in no time.