An Anxious Teacher to Anxious Students in Anxious Times // Julie Dean

Does it take one to know one? I’ve lived with anxiety most of my life, resulting in some unresolved traumas from my childhood. As I’ve learned about and worked on healing from trauma the last several years, I seem to be more aware of anxiety or panic in others. I welcome the anxious clients into my studio. I understand what it’s like. I am sympathetic to their desires to sing and watch how their body’s nervous system betrays them as fear creeps in. My own Somatic Experiencing therapy history gives me insight to help them notice their bodies and how they make sound, anxious or not. 

My studio is having a weekly online song-share on Zoom during this quarantine time. They are hungry for the connection and to make sounds!  It’s funny how much we work on overcoming fear of singing in front of other people, and they want to do it anyway. That’s how I know singing is such a special gift to human nature. While our modern society has created a competition out of an art form that was once just an expression of emotion before that, we still need to sing.  We need to be heard! 

I saw an article recently (one of many) on how to deal with anxiety through this odd “twilight zone” time we are living in. It was titled “Is My Shortness of Breath Anxiety or Coronavirus?” I know the symptoms of anxiety well. I know the symptoms of a panic attack all too well. So, for those of you who have not regularly experienced this in your lives, I hope this is useful information for yourself and for your students. Like you, I’m learning to do new things: moving singers online, transforming our studios (at home!), and finding ways to keep a connection alive with our students who likely desperately desire to be singing at this time.

I’m thinking of you and wondering if you’re noticing the symptoms of anxiety and panic in your students for the first time, if you’re experiencing them together, and what a gift this time is in connecting and reflecting on finding meeting the needs of our singers where they are.  I’m grateful for Jessica Baldwin’s article that came out last week on trauma. She tells us how to recognize the signs and gives us ideas of what to do with students as they may be having a hard time navigating their discipline at this time. 

There is a post going around on social media saying, “If you don’t come out of this with a new skill, you never lacked time, you lacked discipline.” That is simply not true, and to a traumatized person, it can bring about feelings of shame. Being a survivor of traumatic events and working on healing, I can tell you it is not a lack of discipline that keep some of us from honing our craft or learning a new skill. Our brains and bodies are often working overtime in survival mode, trying to find safety, and it is exhausting. Many of us shut down when we are afraid in order to preserve energy. That could look lazy to folks who can’t relate. Read more about trauma survivors worrying about being lazy

Here is some specific information on Distance Learning and trauma informed practices. 

For Your Singers: Be Curious. Be Patient. Be Flexible. Connect.

I’m finding out what my students need right now. I’m wondering how your interaction with them might have changed in recent weeks. Some of my students find the need to be challenged more – some need projects! Some of them struggle to pay attention while on their computer/device and are looking at other things. I’m asking them what they need, how much time they want to spend on something and keep checking in to see how they’re doing with a task. All of my lessons are 50-minutes. Typically they fly by, but these days some folks lack motivation, haven’t practiced, barely made it to log in with me, and most are grateful to see my face, and have this time for them. I’m looking for cues – if they are getting frustrated or bored or listless because they’re having a hard time paying attention. I’m letting them sing the songs they want to sing, with karaoke tracks or with their favorite artists. 

We are not working on performing. Although, we are having song share events weekly. Like many of you, I am using Zoom for some lessons and it’s great with groups. It’s facilitating us to meet in a fun Brady Bunch grid platform where we can listen to our community members sing a song. I’m encouraging my students to share a song for the sake of being in community. Not to be working on performing or perfection or memorizing. This isn’t the time to challenge people who don’t have the capacity for it right now. So I’m asking people to show up and share and not judge themselves as best they can. My singers always say, “it sounds so much better at home!” We are now testing that theory. Are they more relaxed on their couch with their comforts all around? 

For You: Be Curious. Be Patient. Be Flexible. Connect.

You and I are struggling too! It’s an anxious time. I’m practiced at hiding my anxieties; I’m practiced at calming my anxieties. Find out what you need so that you can be a place of peace and rest or good energy for your students at this time. I’m doing slow deep breathing exercises with each of my students each day. It helps calm and center me for each hour! When my clients ask how I’m doing, I tell them. Really. My replies have been varied….  “I had a hard day yesterday.” “I’m not sleeping well, but hanging in there.” “Not too bad.” “Better after I took a walk today.” I think it might help our students to know that we’re all struggling a bit. 

Be patient with yourself as you learn new things – methods, technology, changing set ways. Be flexible with yourself. I’ve had a few ideas not work out as well as I’d hoped. Oh well! I teach a weekly Harmony class that is near impossible to do online. I’m creating/recording sound files to send to students to use live during their lesson/class. Connect with other voice teachers and artists that understand your particular struggle. All of our circumstances are different, but we’re experiencing some of the same frustration and worries. 

While I feel busier than ever in some ways, there is also more stillness for me. I’m hoping that this time of stillness and reflecting and giving comfort to ourselves and one another, also can be a time of less judgment, less comparison, less competition for our art form that at the heart of it, is us expressing ourselves. Sharing our joys, our sadness. Make some music yourself. Sing. Breathe. 

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