Lecture 4: Stress and Focus

Instructions: This homework assignment follows the lecture “Stress and Focus” given by guest expert psychologist Adwin Konsten.
There was a lot of information in this lecture, so this page helps you review it all. The short films are fine to look at, as they went by fast at the lecture. Our guest lecturer suggested that you also watch the whole film: “20 signs you are emotionally mature.”
If you missed the lecture, you need to read and watch all the information on this page before answering the questionnaire. You will be reading, watching films, and trying exercises online.

On the questionnaire, you are asked some questions about the concepts in the lecture or on this page. Before completing the lat 5 questions, please do a focus exercise atleast 4 times in one week.
At the lecture we focused on the breathing while feeling our hands resting on our lap. On this page, there are two audio focus exercises made by Adwin Konsten, one on breathing and one on walking.
Please try these and choose your favorite one,and do it at least 4 times this week, before answering the last 5 questions in the questionnaire.

Concepts from the lecture:

Stress reactions are built in to our mind and body to protect us. Yet they can be activated at unhandy moments causing tension that can disrupt us from giving our best performance. Studies show that short-term stress not only charges muscles with extra tension, but also can alter the chemistry of our bodies, changing the balance of our hormones temporarily. Running on our nerves over longer periods can tire us out.

The stress hormones are meant to help us in a crisis, and, if they do not cause us to stiffen unnecessarily, can improve performance. We do not need to be afraid of what we feel. In fact, experienced musicians say that a bit of nervousness before a performance is to be expected and improves their playing. So, in this case, stress helps focus. It only becomes a problem if the stress reactions affect our functioning, our playing or singing. In those moments, stress gains the upper hand.

That’s why a healthy communication between mind and body is essential for performers to master. Science has now proved that we can learn to maintain our balance by practicing over time. There are thousands of apps for mindfulness, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and other forms of body/mind practices, some better than others. How to choose? At school you are offered courses in these topics and lessons in the Alexander Technique, which also address these issues so important to musicians, who use their minds and bodies in their art.

In this lesson we learn something about the nature and origins of stress, the importance of self-monitoring and social intelligence, how repetition is required to learn new habits, and the effect of positive or negative feedback on our performance.

We are very lucky as musicians! Music itself has a meditative, coordinating quality if we are calm enough to be open to its message. It gives us a reason to focus, something outside of ourselves to strive to meet, and motivation to learn more about the relationship between music, mind and body.

Watch this short film about stress:
The fight, flight, freeze response

Social Intelligence:
The basis of social intelligence is being able to monitor and take care of yourself and others. In this film, you can learn about what being mature in this is like:

20 signs you are emotionally mature

In order to practice lowering stress, focusing or monitoring ourselves we need to practice. Watch this short film on the nature of education:
Why We Only Learn When We Repeat

Self-fulfilling prophecy
How we perform and learn can be affected by what is expected of us, by ourselves and by our teachers. In this film, you learn about a study done in the 1960’s and repeated many times in may settings. It tells about what happens when a teacher thinks a student is a “late bloomer.” A late bloomer is someone who seems not to be functioning at a high level in their learning, but blooms in time to be a excellent student. If teachers are told (randomly) that certain students are late bloomers, they treat them differently. The study shows that this changed treatment actually makes students do better, and score higher on IQ tests.
The Pygmalion Effect and the Power of Positive Expectations

Focusing exercises
Read this explanation by our guest teacher:
Mental Design, how to focus your mind

Psychologist Adwin Konsten has created recordings online for you to focus and calm the mind in order to be able to concentrate more effectively. You tried the focusing with vision in lecture 3. Here are more options to try out. Try each option here once and then you can pick which one you like best to repeat four times this week before answering the last part of the questiononaire.
To begin: Read the explanation page for each page, and then try the exercise recorded for you by the psychologist.


Read this article called: Struggle with anxiety? Breathing is best, new studies show
Recent research at Yale University shows that using breathing techniques helped student meet challenges and maintain balance in studies and life. These studies made again the link between physiology and psychology. Please read this short article, and pay special attention to the quotes of the students at the end, who mention improvements in their emotional state as well as their ability to meet both physical and mental challenges in learning.
To improve students’ mental health, Yale study finds, teach them to breathe.
Now answer the questions about these articles in the questionnaire part one, and save your answers in your computer.

Steady Breathing Exercise:
There are a lot of reasons to hold our breath in daily life. Rushing around, over-concentrating, trying to get a lot of things done, going on too long, worrying about it all. When we do not breath, we set up a chemical situation in our bodies that helps continue the path of stress. By steady breathing, letting Oxygen in, and releasing Carbon Dioxide, we re-set our body chemistry, releasing it from an emergency stance to a state of calm which allows us to experience and interact on a higher level, both in our performance and our enjoyment.

In the audio file below, you are guided through a simple, slow, rhythmic breathing exercise known to bring rest and focus. You can practice this anytime. Psychologist Adwin Konsten has created this audio file for us.
Try the audio file:
Steady Breathing Exercise

Once you have tried the exercise several times with the audio guidance, you can use the technique on your own in the morning, to prepare before practicing, during a break to refresh, or after working to shift to a new activity.

Read this:
Focused walking
Now try this:
Focused walking (English)
Gefocused wandelen (Nederlands)

Now it’s time to practice:
So, during the coming week you are asked to do a focus exercise at least once a day on four different days. Schedule it now in your agenda: plan 5 minutes before you practice, when you get up, during a break, or at any time that you choose, to click on the link and do the few minutes of focus.

Why are we asking you to take time to try these focus exercises several times during one whole week? It is just like practicing, you need to do it more than once!

This type of work has been known to change brain scans, showing that the mind takes on a calmer setting. This effect on brain function can occur even after only 8 weeks of practicing short focus exercises. This means that to make then truly effective over time, you would need to practice these short exercises 3-4 times a week during an 8-week period. For now, try it four times this week.

How to fill in the questionnaire:
After completing the reading and viewing on this page, answer all concept questions and save your answers on your computer
-Then, work for one week with the focus exercises (4 times).
-At the end of the week, open your document, and add your answers to the final practical practice questions.
-Put the completed questionnaire on your project campus file.

Click here for the Questionnaire.

If you are interested to learn more about applied psychology, you are welcome to visit the website of the guest teacher Adwin Konsten, psychologist. the text is in Dutch, but the films are in English: Mental Design His book “Mental Design” is also available in the school library.
You can also explore the School of Life learning series online.