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MENTAL HEALTH TOOLKIT FOR TOURING MUSICIANS

For most musicians, going on tour is the ultimate dream! The rush of setting out on an adventure to perform in front of new audiences every night, sharing your music with the world, and making new friends along the way can be exhilarating. It’s also a welcome break from the monotony of regular life, especially if you take time off your day job to make it happen.


But as magical as touring can be,  it can also be very difficult and taxing – both emotionally and physically. Constant travel, erratic schedules, a steady diet of Taco Bell and gas station taquitos, living in a van with the same people for weeks on end, distance from your partner, family, and friends, and the relentless pressure to make enough money to get to the next city can and will take its toll. 


The good news is, if you put effort into prioritizing your mental and physical health, touring can be a beautiful, life-changing experience you can sustain for years. Here’s a list of survival tips put together by SMASH staff, members, and musicians.


MENTAL HEALTH TIPS FOR TOURING MUSICIANS


Communicate Your Needs


Establishing solid, respectful communication with your bandmates is always a good idea, but it’s especially important on tour.  Before you hit the road, have a pre-tour meeting where everyone can communicate their needs and boundaries. Discussion topics might include dietary restrictions, your alone-time needs, how you want to spend days off, physical accommodations or limitations, preferred sleeping arrangements, when everyone likes to shower, how you’ll designate drivers, etc. Hell, even questions like “Who gets to pick the music?” could prevent big arguments down the line. Regular check-ins once you’re on the road are also important for making tour life a more positive experience. Touring blurs lines – which is part of the adventure! – but setting boundaries and respecting others is non-negotiable. And remember: If you want your bandmates to hear your feelings and respect your needs, it’s also important to do the same for them.




Establish a Routine


Routine on tour? Sounds like an oxymoron, right? But trust me, it's your new best friend. Try to wake up and hit the sack around the same time each day – yes, even those ungodly hours count. Even with a packed schedule, you can find ways to fit in a few touchstone activities you do each day to reconnect with yourself. Your body and brain will thank you for the predictability amidst the chaos.



Maintain a (Somewhat) Healthy Diet


The temptation of the Cravings Menu at Taco Bell is real, but it’s important to balance it out with real nutrition. When you find yourself near a grocery store, take the opportunity to stock up on fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains. Even the deli’s hot/cold bar will nourish your body more than the average fast-food restaurant! Stash healthy snacks like nuts, fruits, and protein bars in the van’s nooks and crannies to stave off those fourth-meal cravings. Not only will your intestines be much happier, but it also keeps everyone in a better mood! No one is very much fun when they have a stomach ache. 


Prioritize Sleep


Sleep is your secret weapon at home and on the road! An all-nighter every once in a while is good for the soul, but doing that every night on tour will tank your health and mood. As often as possible, aim for a solid 6-7 hours of shut-eye. When good sleep is hard to find, focus on the elements of good sleep hygiene that you can control, like using earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, a light-blocking sleep mask, and your favorite pillow from home. If you still struggle to sleep, try deep belly breathing, meditation, or listening to some grey noise



Stay Physically Active


Exercise isn’t just for bodybuilders and yogies; it’s your mental health savior. Even quick workouts can lift your mood. Toss resistance bands or a jump rope in your luggage, hit up hotel gyms or local parks when possible, or even take a 15-minute walk around the block. Even a little bit of movement helps. And don’t forget about stretching – your tour van-bound muscles will thank you. 



Take it Easy on the Partying


Touring can come with easy access to booze and drugs, but moderation is key. Alcohol might seem like a great way to unwind after a show and help you fall asleep faster, but it disrupts the quality of your sleep by interfering with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is crucial for regulating your mood. If you’re using substances to cope with the stress or anxiety of touring, it might be time to evaluate your needs and communicate them to your band. It’s always worth it to seek support from a licensed mental health professional, too – whether your goal is sobriety or just healthily balancing life’s stressors. 



Prioritize Alone Time 


It's crucial to carve out some alone time on tour for your mental health. Amidst the constant buzz of travel, sound checks, and shows, finding a quiet moment for yourself can be a game-changer. Alone time allows you to recharge, reflect, and reconnect with your inner self, helping to manage stress and prevent burnout. These moments of peace are essential, whether a solo walk, a quiet cup of coffee in a cozy corner, or simply shutting your hotel room door for an hour of solitude. They provide the mental space needed to process your experiences, maintain emotional balance, and remain grounded and energized for the journey ahead.



Think & Plan Ahead


We all have needs, and planning accordingly when you have a 10-hour drive in close quarters with other people is one of the best ways to keep yourself and the group content. Not hungry when everyone else wants to stop for lunch? No big deal – grab a snack you can eat later. Don’t have to use the bathroom when you stop for gas? Might as well go anyway and prevent unnecessary stops down the road. Feel yourself getting grumpy because you haven’t had alone time in days? Make a plan to take a solo walk after load-in so you can take care of yourself.


Stay Connected


On the flipside of finding alone time, we recommend finding time to connect with your loved ones at home. Tour life can get lonely, and even the strongest among us can get homesick! It helps to keep those connections to home strong. Set aside time to connect with your loved ones via phone or video. Posting on social media and replying to DMs is great, too, but nothing replaces proper catch-ups with the folks you love. Chances are, they’re missing you, too! 


Pick Your Battles, and Handle Conflict Directly & Respectfully


Conflict and irritation between bandmates is totally normal and almost inevitable!  But if you find yourself getting irritated at small things, and the issue isn’t really worth getting angry about, try to let it go and remember we’re all human. Unnecessary grouchiness adds up, and it can be detrimental to tour morale, communication, and your performance – and ultimately doesn’t do your mental health any favors. 


With that said, in the event that an issue does need to be talked about, handle it quickly and directly. Try not to be passive-aggressive, talk behind people’s backs, or let things bottle up.



When Needed, Seek Professional Help


If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t try to tough it out alone. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many therapists have offered virtual or phone sessions. If you already see a mental health professional regularly, try to maintain your cadence; Tour is not the time to go it alone. 


Did you know SMASH offers free and low-cost access to mental health treatment, including telehealth, for musicians? Learn more and sign up here.


HAVE FUN, and Remember How Quickly Tour Goes By


Before you can even blink, the tour will be over, and you’ll all be back home wishing you were still on the road. Anything that seems like a huge deal at the moment will soon be a long-forgotten memory. 


So…enjoy. Be a goofball. Make memories with your best friends. Throw yourself wholeheartedly into the adventure, and take everything – good AND bad – as a valued lesson. It’s how you learn; every bit of it will make you a wiser, more seasoned touring musician.


Touring doesn't have to cost your mental well-being. You can maintain energy, creativity, and emotional balance with a few thoughtful adjustments and a commitment to self-care. A happy and healthy mind is your greatest asset, both on and off the stage.

2 comentários


Gregory Charles
Gregory Charles
10 de jun.

I appreciate these insights into the reality of touring. It's easy to romanticize life on the road, but these tips shed light on the challenges musicians face.

tunnel rush

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neil jiohu
neil jiohu
30 de mai.

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