Making beautiful music can strike a sour note

By • Published: November 16th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Professional musicians are accomplished artists at the top of their field. And although their job is glamorous, health practitioners are tuning in to the fact that it can be stressful, too.

Consider the orchestra. It’s not unusual for members to sometimes be gripped by stage fright, or worry about becoming disabled and unable to perform. Their work can be physically demanding, and requires high levels of stamina.

Job frustration, a workplace hazard shared by many of less lofty vocation, is another source of a veritable symphony of stress. One reason? Musicians must deal with the frustrating combination of being highly skilled and accomplished while often having little authority about what and how to play. This can take its toll in various ways, but musicians must find ways to cope so they can keep making beautiful music.

A pain in the neck… or the back or the shoulders… is one way stress can strike. But in a new Norwegian study, orchestral musicians did not have higher levels of those complaints than others. That might be because people whose pain is debilitating would resign from the orchestra.

Members were more likely to complain about gastrointestinal problems, mood changes and fatigue. And those complaints were linked to higher stress, as evidenced by high saliva levels of the hormone cortisol.

It turns out that even coping mechanisms are linked with stress levels. Musicians who dealt with work-related problems by seeking social support or distractions had higher stress levels than those who tackled problems directly and tried to look for solutions.

Tuning in to maintaining good mental and physical health is important for handling daily stresses. And it certainly is key for musicians and music students who want to keep the music playing.