Here are some strategies I'm trying with my students (and myself) this week to help combat end-of-the-year stress and tension.
1. Start with a deep breath. Let yourself be where you are - your lesson, class, at home, the car. Take in a deep breath and let it out to help focus your attention in the present moment.
2. Start lessons and practicing with physical warmups and SLOW, deliberate movements. Take a few minutes to focus on your basic technique. Let your body settle into sync with your instrument instead of just launching into your piece.
3. Prioritize. Decide what the MOST important things are to you this season, and give them your all. For everything that is less important, find a little time each day to devote to your assignments so you can maintain your skills/pass the test/complete your work, but let it go from your mental load for the rest of the time.
4. Be compassionate to yourself. You can't do everything equally well. Celebrate yourself for your strengths, and recognize those things you truly love that you're doing well. Try not to beat yourself up for the other things. Recognize that you're doing the best you can.
5. Be compassionate to others. Everyone is stressed. Everyone is busy. Your busy-ness/stress isn't more important than someone else's - not to them - so don't use it as an excuse. Communicate clearly with your teachers, coworkers, friends, and family. Take a deep breath before you respond to something. Realize that everyone is tired and stressed right now, and be someone who make someone else's day better, not worse.
6. Create a 10-minute Practice Plan. Practicing an hour every day might not be possible when you're finishing up end-of-the-year projects and studying for exams. Pick one warmup for each hand, a few spots in your recital piece, and plan to run through your piece every day. This will help you stay fresh and maintain your skills. (Note: You can't cram performance prep - your body can't handle it!)
7. Reflect on the progress you've made. Think back to the beginning of the school year and how you played then, and compare to how you played now. What are things that have improved about your playing? What are things you've learned about how to practice effectively? What have you learned about yourself? Take a few minutes to jot these accomplishments down and to savor the feeling of progress. (Bonus: Write three goals for your summer and look ahead, just a little).