The violinist and educator Gregory Harrington shares 8 tips for keeping fresh from visual fatigue during the current pandemic
Over the last month, I’ve spent many hours engaged in Zoom meetings in various capacities – teaching students, giving masterclasses, having conference calls with conductors and organisations, connecting with friends at the end of the day in different parts of the world, and the regular morning coffee call with my neighbour only one block away here in the Covid capital of New York City. While the terms ‘social distancing’ and ‘sheltering in place’ are now part of our lexicon, there’s a warmth of human connection in being ‘up close from a distance’. However, as time passes and we progress through this pandemic, I’m beginning to notice a certain lack of energy – and occasionally enthusiasm – for the people with whom I am most looking forward to connecting. The emotional strain of being on Zoom all day takes its toll – and as every musician will attest, you know that something is off when you are just not up to practising after being on Zoom!
So, here are the things that have been helping me to keep refreshed and recharged through this time for teaching, connecting, collaborating and playing:
1) Above everything else, the most important thing you can do is to be good to yourself and to allow yourself to feel. Creating the space to have alone time and talking though your emotions with others is so important.
2) A simple audio call. As Seth Godin says, ‘We get writer’s block, but we don’t get talker’s block!’ After being in front of a screen all day, it is so nice to free up the senses and visually disengage. It’s hard to be visually ‘on’ all day and it requires a different energy than we are used to giving. Dictate your messages and texts, and if you can, add the benefit of getting some exercise, pop in the earbuds, take a walk and chat away with friends.
3) Allow the mind to escape. Find the one thing you love doing that you haven’t had time to do. It might be continuing education and exploring French lessons online, or trying a different Jamie Oliver recipe over the weekend – or every few days, if you love to cook. Your partner will think you’re a genius so it’s a win-win.
4) Don’t multitask. The temptation while engaged in a Zoom session is to check texts and send off some emails. Not only does it hinder your focus and attention, it has a negative effect on your long-term memory. It’s also better to resist the urge, as you are not present in the moment for others. Put your phone on silent or turn off the notifications!
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- Read: 10 ways to motivate yourself to practise during lockdown
5) This sounds basic enough, but take care of your eyes! We are all focused on the lighting in front of us and how we present onscreen, but make sure that you have enough lighting around you. Minimise glare and adjust the brightness and contrast settings on your screen. Some basic eye exercises help for a few minutes every morning.
6) As a musician, don’t forget the lost art of sitting back, closing your eyes and listening to a full album. Now is a beautiful opportunity to reconnect with how recordings were supposed to be listened to – when artists spent so much time and thought taking the listener on a journey from the very first note, through every piece, right to the very last note. This can have an incredible emotional pay off. Pick an album from a genre that you don’t know and hear the beauty in how different greats create their sound. My go-to at the moment is Miles Davis’s ‘Kind of Blue’.
7) Take calculated breaks between Zoom sessions. If it’s a 30 or 45-min lesson or session, it can be nice to get some water and decompress or take ten minutes to write notes. For longer meetings that run back to back, have that refreshing pause in there to help you through it, as it helps with energy.
8) Lastly, don’t forget to move. It’s great for the mind and there are so many online classes and apps to choose from: Yoga to Pilates, weights to bodyweight exercises or whatever (socially safe) physical activity you enjoy. Alternate these exercise days with simple stretching. It’s so important for the mind to keep moving, and all the better if it’s outdoors.
In summary, plan your breaks and get an emotional rest from the screen. Connect with others, listen to your mental health and most importantly plan time for fun and activities!
Gregory Harrington is a New York-based concert violinist, educator and speaker. For more information visit gregoryharrington.com or follow him on his socials – ig: @harringtonviolin / fb: @harringtonviolin / In: gregory-harrington