ryan dusick co-marriage and family therapist, mental health advocate and book, “Harder to Breathe: Memories of Making Maroon 5, Losing Everything, and Finding Healing” (BenBella Books), out. he is a write regularly about Health for Variation.
The term “awareness” was a huge perversion for me the first hundred times I heard it. As a classic overthinker for most of my life, I thought the last thing I needed was to be more “attentive” or to concentrate more on the things that were causing my anxiety. Overthinking, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsiveness greatly contributed to my downfall as Maroon 5’s founding drummer, and my solution to most problems had been to try harder. However, these attempts to control put more pressure on many of the challenges we faced during our four-round campaign to support “Songs About Jane.”
However, the word awareness is a bit of a misnomer. When I recovered from anxiety, depression, and alcoholism, I learned that the practice of mindfulness is actually a very simple process of sitting in the present without judgment or taking action: it’s a radical exercise of acceptance, not reactionary thinking. Both in my work as a mental health professional and in my personal life, the application of mindfulness as a philosophy, a meditation, and a daily lifestyle is not only beneficial for mental health but physical health as well.
When talking about my latest book, “Harder to Breathe: A Memoir of Making Maroon 5, Losing It All, and Finding Recovery,” I’m often asked what I could have done differently if I had the chance to go back and relive my touring years. . . The most practical answer I can give is daily mindfulness practice. During that time I was under an enormous amount of stress, and half of that was imposed by external factors – the nature of the animal, performing every day, every month, without a significant break. But the other half of my stress was self-imposed – performance anxiety, dishonesty syndrome, control issues… It was all just part of my daily inner grind, with no effective way out or healthy coping mechanism to release its grip on my psyche. If I were to do this again, instead of just giving in, forcing another set of shows, and then “relieving some stress” with a night of festivity, I would instead focus on cultivating the mindfulness principles of Non-Judgment. Patience, the Novice Mind, Confidence, No Effort, Acceptance, and Letting go, as described in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s foundational book on mindfulness, “Living with Complete Disaster” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013).
Known for popularizing mindfulness as a tool for coping with chronic pain and stress, Kabat-Zinn writes in her book: “When you direct and modulate your attention in this way, you will experience a quicker recovery of your mental balance. (allostasis)… As relaxation and peace of mind become more familiar to you through formal meditation practice, it becomes easier to call upon them when you need them. When you are stressed, you can allow yourself to transcend stress waves. You will neither have to shut down nor run away… Greater resilience in the face of stressors and reduced stress reactivity are characteristic of people who meditate regularly” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013).
Organization Amber Health, which aims to provide mental health resources to touring professionals, recently published a study in the journal “Psychology of Music” that asserts the power of mindfulness not only to cope with the stress of touring, but also to prevent the most tragic consequences. malfunction with touring – depression and suicide. Their study, “Continuous mindfulness plays a protective role in the positive associations between stress, depressive symptoms, and suicidal behavior in an at-risk population: Music industry professionals tour” (Bergson, Newman, George, Beitz, & Zemon, 2023), finds that depressive symptoms with mindfulness practice and a significant relationship between alleviation of suicidality. More work is needed to establish a direct causal link between these factors, but this preliminary research sheds important light on a phenomenon that has not been adequately studied before and suggests that this effective tool may be particularly useful for the traveling community.
If you dream of a Buddhist monk-like lifestyle sitting in the lotus position all day with your eyes closed, you might be surprised. Mindfulness practice begins with a daily 20-30 minute meditation session aimed at fixing yourself in the present moment, but the ultimate goal is to seamlessly integrate the experience of mindfulness into daily life. The meditative state creates greater resistance to stress, and you don’t have to meditate all day to see positive results. Mindfulness becomes a way of life – a Zen-like state where you can flow through the rigors of the day like water around a pebble in a creek.
I won’t claim to have mastered this mindset and still not fall into old patterns of reactivity and stress from time to time. However, even if life feels a bit unstable, my overall ability to stay centered and balanced is much greater than it was when I was in the middle of the Maroon 5 storm in 2002-06. As someone who is prone to struggle with this level of stress due to my anxious and perfectionist nature, I would greatly benefit from mindfulness practice to help balance the imbalance inherent in this lifestyle. The demands of a big promotional touring campaign can still be overwhelming, but at least I wouldn’t aggravate its effects with poor coping skills. An improved state of awareness can be the most sustainable anchor for a long, healthy and thriving career, allowing an artist to stay in a state of flow more easily.