5 Ways to Keep Your (or your Friends') Mental Health in Check This Festival Season

Article by: Evan Sakrison

Fri August 03, 2018 | 11:00 AM

Our minds don’t always live in harmony with the world around us. The festival community knows this just as well as anyone, and yet we’re often blind to the struggles of those who live behind the guise of a smile. After all, festivals are designed to be euphoric experiences, and UK’s Independent recently reported on a study which reveals that 20 minutes at a show “can lead to a 21 percent increase in that feeling of well-being.” Unfortunately, our inner demons travel with us everywhere we go, including festivals, and believe me, we try our best to keep them at bay so as to not ruin the vibe.

The thought of attending a festival can be overwhelming for anyone who struggles with their mental health. In 2017, I wrote a piece about keeping your social anxiety in check at a festival, and I thought it would be beneficial to expand on the subject and reach out to everyone who struggles with mental illness (or knows someone who does).

Create Your Own Safe Haven

Campsite Makeover Tapestries Cuethedanger
Photo by: Cue The Danger

It can be exhausting to maintain our composure for an entire day, let alone a whole weekend, in an unfamiliar environment. Nobody’s perfect; if we had the whole world to ourselves, we’d break down wherever we pleased, but finding happiness in a hectic world is a tall order for many. That’s why you need a safe haven to retreat to when festival shenanigans become too much to handle. Not all festivals have designated mental health teams or spaces to accommodate people in the midst of an episode, but there’s been an increased presence over the past several years. Zendo Project, according to its website, “Provides a supportive environment and specialized care designed to transform difficult psychedelic into valuable learning opportunities, even potentially offer healing and growth.” While their focus is on drug-related incidents, they are willing to help anyone experiencing psychological trauma. Also, the world-renowned Burning Man has the Black Rock Rangers, trained volunteers in conflict resolution who go through a rigorous curriculum to help diffuse mental health situations.

When I went to UTOPiAFest in 2017, I was unaware if any such service existed, so I found comfort chilling in my tent for a solid 20 minutes despite listening to the chaos happening outside. It felt like I was safe inside my head as soon as I zipped up the flap. I even gave myself a pep talk: “You can do this. Nobody wants to hurt you. They want you to have fun.” Of course, only you know where you feel safe and can regain control.

Don’t Forget to Sleep

Arise Festival 2015 Juliana Bernstein   35

According to the Sleep Health Foundation in Australia, current research suggests that 60-90% of patients with depression have insomnia. From the same article, “People who sleep poorly are much more likely to develop significant mental illness, including depression and anxiety, than those who sleep well.” For some, catching Zs is damn near impossible at a festival. FOMO and loud festival action rear their ugly heads and we decide to sacrifice quality sleep in exchange for late-night DJ sets. However, adequate sleep is imperative whether it’s a one-day or multi-day festival. Do your best to get a good night’s sleep the night before a festival, and especially the first night you’re there. It’s not uncommon for people to go all out on the first day; doing so may completely zap your energy and set a bad tone for the rest of the experience. There’s no shame in taking some down time during the day to recharge so you’re feeling good and well-rested.

Be Open and Honest

Desert Hearts 2018 Galen Oakes    1 Of 30 (27)
Photo by: Galen Oakes

Effective communication is key. It’s also a two-way street, so this tip applies whether you have a mental illness or not. Your friends want you to have a positive festival experience, so if something’s not right, don’t be afraid to tell them. It’s also important to remember that you’re not dumping your problems onto them either; if they’re true friends, they will go out of their way to ensure you’re taken care of. When someone feels respected and heard, it often has a calming effect that can help relieve the situation. If you’re rolling with a friend who struggles with mental illness, ask them how they’re doing and consider what they have to say. And should things go haywire, keep calm and do what you can to help your friend.

Practice Empathy

Arise Music Festival 2017 Courtesy Of    1 Of 6 (3)

There are times when being empathetic is easier said than done, but it’s also one of the most important relational skills you can learn. Whether you have a mental illness or not, it can mean the world to those who do when you make an effort to understand their condition. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “Learning to practice tolerance, acceptance, kindness and service to others has a very positive impact on mental health and contributes to mental and physical wellness.” Just know that despite their daily struggles, they want to be like everyone else and enjoy the festival.

Practice Self-Compassion

Suwannee Hulaween 2017 Mandi Nulph    1 Of 7

It’s often said that empathy is a gateway to compassion, but we also can’t forget to acknowledge the power of self-compassion. Think of it as treating yourself like you would a good friend; it’s just as important to direct these feelings inward as you do outward. When you’re at a festival, take a moment to recognize your own strength for purposely putting yourself in an anxiety-provoking situation. Even if you start to feel overwhelmed, don’t trash yourself for succumbing to your feelings – accept it. Self-compassion is an element of self-acceptance, even in the face of perceived failure.