By Felicity Turner
As your local choir returns to rehearsing in person, how can you deal with any anxiety about singing next to people again?
It’s been 18 months since we were allowed to stand shoulder to shoulder and join together in song. And with all the upsetting and unsettling events of the last year-and-a-half on our minds, it’s understandable that many are experiencing some mixed feelings as they head back into the choir stalls.
Many are reporting this anxiety about returning to pre-covid activities, often termed ‘re-entry anxiety’. While there’s no doubt we miss our families, social lives, and in-person singing sessions terribly, after so long removed from it, many people are feeling nervous about a return to normal life.
Here at the Stay At Home Choir, we’re super excited to carry on offering our unique opportunities to sing with top artists and connect with people all over the world. But we also want you to enjoy singing in person with your local choirs as soon as you’re ready. Read on to see how you can soothe re-entry anxiety as the world returns to some sort of normal.
What’s more, these tips don’t just apply to choir practice. You can apply them to your everyday life – so why not share them with someone you think might benefit from them?
1. Seek advice on running in-person choir rehearsals safely
For the choir leaders out there – knowing you’re doing all you can to mitigate any risk for your singers can help curb extra anxieties for everyone. Whether it’s keeping the chairs slightly distanced, all singing in the same direction, increasing ventilation, or asking that members test before arriving, lots can be done to help everyone feel safer about rehearsing in person once more.
And if you’re a singer – don’t feel shy about asking your choir leader what safety measures they have in place for your return to in-person rehearsals. Keeping an open line of communication will help everyone feel more relaxed by removing any extra uncertainties.
While we’d love to give specific logistical advice on the best way to run your in-person choir rehearsal to limit any re-entry anxiety, restrictions are so vastly different all over the world and changing all the time. So we advise seeking help from your local government body to make sure you’re up to date with the current guidelines in your area.
And remember, the Stay At Home Choir isn’t going anywhere. As we transition from your lockdown choir to living side-by-side with your in-person choir, the SAHC community is always here to offer moral support and help you feel good about lifting your voices together again.
2. Remember that re-entry anxiety is normal
Re-entry anxiety isn’t a new phenomenon. Many people have dealt with it after having been ill for a long period, or when going back to work after maternity leave. It’s important that you understand your feelings are completely normal, and that you’re not alone.
Many of us haven’t stood within two metres of our friends and loved ones for 18 months, yet alone sung next to people. Our sense of ‘personal space’ has changed, and even though we’re allowed to stand close together now, we’re still adjusting to what feels normal.
Talk to somebody about how you feel. You’ll most likely find that there’s someone else in the choir who’s feeling the same. Perhaps you can buddy up and help each other through the re-entry process – supporting each other as you go. Or why not start a conversation on the Stay At Home Choir Facebook Group for some moral support from your friends across the globe?
3. Re-enter at your own pace
The difference between this re-entry and some of the other examples is that we don’t really know what we’re entering back into in the same way. We’ve also had moments in the last 18 months where it felt like we were returning to normal, only to find ourselves back where we started. So the answer? Take it slowly and allow your body to adjust.
If you haven’t left the house a lot in the past 18 months, going to an in-person choir practice straight away is likely to feel like too much of a scary step. If you know you want to return to choir practice but need to work your way up to it, how about planning a step-by-step re-entry plan in advance?
Ask some friends to go for a walk with you, then have them round to your garden. Maybe organise an outdoor singing session. Then work your way up to being inside with people again by inviting a trusted friend or family member round for dinner and gradually sitting nearer to them until you feel more comfortable.
4. Counter re-entry anxiety with mindfulness
Being mindful is simply the ability to stay fully aware of the present moment without becoming overwhelmed by our thoughts or what’s going on around us. As a result, we’re able to enjoy what we’re doing without being distracted by worry and anxiety.
One of the main elements of mindfulness is not judging your thoughts and feelings (see Tip. 2!), instead allowing them to come and go without you reacting to them as ‘bad’ or something to feel ashamed of. Once we accept that our re-entry anxiety is normal, we can allow it to come and go while we focus on the present moment.
And how do we do this? Well, funnily enough, some of the best ways to stay in the moment include being aware of your breath, staying grounded, and gently focusing on a task outside of yourself. And these are all things we do while singing. So, whether you’re in an in-person choir rehearsal, or joining one of our projects, you’re in the right place to work on those mindfulness skills!
Sing with a cappella sensations The Swingles in our current project, ‘Home’
5. Exercise compassion for your fellow choir members
Just as you remind yourself that your feelings are normal, it’s as important to extend that generosity to others. Remember that everyone has their own context and reasons for being where they are on their own re-entry journey.
During the pandemic, many of us haven’t been exposed to people with differing views to our own as much. While this may have meant less friction in our everyday life, we’ve had less of a chance to practice compassion and empathy. But one of the brilliant things about choirs is that by coming together with others to sing, you feel closer to people who are different to you while you share something special together.
Enjoy the opportunity to practice your understanding for others through being able to sing together in a room once again, and allow everyone to go at their own pace without judgement.
6. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help
Hopefully, you’ll find that with each baby step your re-entry anxiety fades over time. But if that’s not the case, it’s vital that you seek professional help.
We’ve included some numbers you can call in the UK and the US to speak to someone about finding your feet in the next few months, and a link to phone numbers in other countries around the world. Alternatively speak to your GP or healthcare provider, or a trusted friend or family member. Please don’t suffer alone.
There’s never any shame in asking for help, especially during strange and unsettling times such as these. And the people on the other end of these phones are there for precisely these situations – they’ll be so glad you decided to reach out.
Mental Health Support Numbers
Mind – 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday 9am-6pm) for advice and support on a wide range of mental health issues;
Samaritans – 116 123 (free, at any time) for anybody experiencing suicidal thoughts.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – 1-800-950-NAMI(6264) or [email protected];
Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained counsellor and receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message;
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 0800-273-TALK(8255) (toll-free, 24/7) for anybody experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Rest of the World
Find a number to call in your country on the United for Global Mental Health website.
Share your tips
Do you have some tips for helping to soothe re-entry anxiety as we start to head back to choir practice in person? Comment below and share them with other Stay At Home Choir Members.
And if you’ve found these tips helpful, please share them with fellow choristers where you are. We’d love to hear how you’re getting on at our next Stay At Home Choir rehearsal!
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We have been very quiet and risk averse. We have restricted physical contact to ‘first line family’ who all live at a distance. But we recognised we need to re-enter the world with baby steps. My first live choir I wore a mask and was apprehensive. Week two I realised I was calmer, appreciated the steps our director had taken, zig zag seating, director and accompanist behind perplex screens, seat wiping before and after. I still wear my mask so that as another SAHC member said, that as long as someone wears one we won’t forget the ‘new normal’ and if we have new members, to say it’s ok to wear a mask. My first day back volunteering in a shop was more scary as it involves people I don’t know. But masks and sanitisation work their magic in providing comfort. We still haven’t been out for an evening meal but perhaps that’s the next ‘baby step’. It’s ok to feel not ok, as they say. I’ve also started to practise mindfulness, basically sitting quietly observing nature, listening to lovely choral music, letting my thoughts go onto the clouds which disappear in rain. Take care all.
Thank you for this – we are all experiencing this anxiety. Our choir (Coro-Dante in Cambridge MA) has resumed with safety being a primary goal. We have required proof of vaccination, are singing masked, and spaced out in a large auditorium. This has permitted us to return to make music together and helped us to feel safe! We will reassess things as the season progresses, but are planning for a holiday concert in December. Viva la musica. Stay at Home Choir has been a lifesaver during the pandemic – long may it continue!