8 Ways to Keep Your Mental Health in Check at Summer Music Festivals


We’re in summer music festival season. This can be a great thing for those of us who love music. There are great festivals with a variety of bands and artists doing unique things. These festivals also offer the opportunity to see, hear and discover musicians and groups one may have never come into contact with or may not have known about. It’s a real time of discovery and being able to have a very unique and unprecedented experience.

With that in mind, I just returned from Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, IL. It was a great time with the opportunity to see a lot of the bands I really love, as well as discover some new ones. However, as I was there, I realized there were some things I needed to do in order to keep my mental health in good shape. You see, I struggle with bipolar 2 disorder and anxiety. This means that my everyday life can be difficult at times, let alone my life at a music festival. But, after being home a few days and reflecting, I think there are a few things that people with mental illness can do to ensure they have a great music festival, as well as keep their mental health as intact as possible.

1. Prepare.

One of the most important things you can do for a music festival is prepare. Being prepared means you have the stuff you are going to need while you are there, as well as understanding how the festival works. For example, at Summer Camp Music Festival you do not camp near your car. Instead, you have to haul all of your stuff into the camping area while you leave your car out in the parking lot. This means it is imperative to pack as light as possible while also having some means for transporting your materials into the park.

It’s important to prepare and know what the policies of the festival are. I think it is important to get the lay of the land and understand the way that the festival works, at least as much as possible. This comes with the caveat, though, that you can never really “know” the festival until you experience it. But, being as prepared as possible is important for keeping your mental health in such an environment.

2. Try to stick to your routine.

Many people, like myself, have routines at home that help them manage their mental illness. This includes when I take my medication, when I sleep, when I eat, etc. There are also things I do at home, like meditation and/or quiet times, that are necessary for me to maintain my mental health. It’s important to maintain these things as much as possible while at the music festival. I understand you’ll probably be staying up later than usual and your food might not be quite what it is at home. But, try to maintain your routine and practices as much as possible.

3. Sleep. No, really, you have to sleep!

One of the things that can cost someone their mental health incredibly quickly is to mess up one’s sleep. Now, I say this knowing full well that there are late night concerts and shows that people want to see and hear. I did the same thing. But, it’s really important that you get sleep, and get enough of it. And, this might mean making difficult choices.

For example, at Summer Camp, I knew that I needed to get good sleep. I was working a booth for my organization Here/Hear during the day. Because of that, I could not sleep all day, so I needed to make a few tough decisions on late night music. This actually cost me the opportunity to see a band that I really like called Turkuaz. I wanted to catch their set, but they started at 2 a.m. and were not ending until 4 a.m. I just could not catch them and then work the booth. So, I had to skip their set. It was a tough decision, but was important for maintaining my overall mental health at the festival.

4. Find safe spaces.

It seems that there are places of quiet and safe spaces at every music festival. It is important to find those spaces, or create them, so that you can have moments where you allow your brain to be quiet and slow down. My safe space at Summer Camp was at our campsite. We had our tents up and a canopy tent that allowed us to simply sit and be quiet. We would even go back after different concerts we had attended just to catch our breathe and recharge a bit before going to the next concert. It was a great way for me to allow my brain some quiet moments in the midst of what was an overstimulating four days.

5. Make a daily plan.

One of the things my compatriot and I did every morning was make a plan for the day. We had to work the Here/Hear booth, so we knew what we were doing most of the time during the day. But, when the booth closed and we started to hit the music, we needed to have an idea of what we were doing. So, we made a daily plan. This gave us an outline to the day. We did not always follow it to the letter (we like to improvise at times), but it gave us an overall flow to the day so that we did not get stuck making decisions in the middle of a concert or a throng of people. By making a daily plan, we had a strong idea of what we were doing while not being completely tied down to that plan.

6. Respect yourself if doing drugs is not for you.

This sounds simple, but music festivals are grounds for a lot of drugs. It’s easy to get caught up in the vibe of the festival and begin trying mild-altering chemicals, including drinking too much. I don’t want to sound like a killjoy, but it’s important to remember that your mental health is a delicate balance and it’s important to not imbibe things that are going to upset that balance. This means that even drinking too much alcohol can mess up your mental health. So, it is very important to be quite mindful of what you put in your system and not do anything that that can mess up the delicate balance that is one’s mental health, especially if you have a mental illness.

7. Do your (prescribed) drugs.

When we get outside of our comfort zone, one of the easiest things for me is to stop taking my medications. This happens a lot when I am on vacation because I am out of routine. So, make sure that you continue taking the medications that you have been prescribed. It is necessary for you to continue doing as your doctor has told you so that you maintain your fight against your mental illness. It’s easy to simply put aside your meds and do other things over the course of a music festival. However, you have to continue taking your meds and doing what is necessary for your mental health.

8. Have fun.

Last, but most important, have a good time. Actually, have a great time. Embrace the festival and enjoy every minute of it. Be a part of what is going on and embrace all that goes along with it. This is important because you have probably spent a lot of money to be there and you want to enjoy it. As well, it is important because your mental health will be better if you are having fun and enjoying what the festival has to offer.

So, these are my tips for navigating music festivals. What are your thoughts? Anything you would add?

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Thinkstock photo via  m-gucci


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