Do Touring Musicians Suffer from Stress Disorder?

Good evening Red Deer!

There is the classic scenario where the touring musician shows up on stage and obviously has no idea where he or she is. Even worse, they say good evening to the wrong town!


I think lots of fans put that up to too much drug use or drinking along the way.

But I’m here to tell you I have been that guy. And it’s not because I party hard on the road. It comes from months and months of travel where every day goes like this…

  • wake up and remember where you are and what tour you are on. Sometimes this takes a few seconds and can be very weird.
  • make coffee or tea, your ritual.
  • pack up room (the room becomes your inner sanctum of sanity where everything has it’s place and is where you carefully unpacked it the night before)
  • do dummy check to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything
  • figure out the days travel: planes,trains, automobiles, ferries, buses, border crossings, time changes
  • get moving
  • talk with your touring comrades about what/where the next meal will be – this becomes a highlight of the day as it is one of the few things that breaks up the boredom


  • find the venue and do soundcheck
  • find your hotel for that night, do whatever media stuff you have to do and try to do some business for the next tours
  • eat as early as possible so you aren’t full on stage
  • greet who you have to at the gig
  • do the gig
  • socialize for a few minutes with whoever you have to
  • tear down
  • try to get back to the hotel asap so you don’t burn out – avoid the invitations to go party or jam
  • go to bed
  • next day, same thing, different place

We often jokingly call it ‘living the dream.’ And it actually is for quite awhile. You get to play music all over the world. You get to play on the streets of Prague and for Presidents and Prime Ministers. You get to play stadiums and ship sinkings.



But, here’s the hitch… when do you hit the overload switch? When do your senses break down from too much new input every day? When does the ‘it’s all about you, every day’ stuff take it’s toll?

I don’t have an answer for this but it does lead to the question, do touring musicians suffer from some kind of stress disorder after years on the road? Can they ‘get normal’ when they get home? I’m not sure this subject is discussed enough for the sake of our health on the road.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 10.45.36 AMCheck out my old friend Valdy’s Road Song about this subject

I’d love to know what you think!

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5 thoughts on “Do Touring Musicians Suffer from Stress Disorder?

  1. Great essay, Doug – you speak for many of us, accurately describing “life on the road” and “living the dream” – truly, it’s a challenge and not for the faint-of-heart.

    In addition to all the excellent pointers you provide in your piece, here are a few things that have helped me to get make it back home in one piece after a tour:
    – Whenever possible, stay in a place where you can cook your own meals; restaurant food is probably more responsible for artists’ breaking down on the road than drugs and/or alcohol. Cooking for yourself on the road pays three benefits: 1) it’s better for you, 2) it’s cheaper, 3) it makes you feel grounded.
    – Build into the tour itinerary a free day before the first gig and a free day after the last one; this gives you time to ramp up at the beginning of the run and wind back down at the end.
    – If you can manage it, try to build days off into the tour – use them for doing ABM: Anything-But-Music – go bowling, if you have to, or hit the local pitch-and-putt. I like to go to art galleries and book stores.
    – Get outside for some fresh air every day. Touring usually involves breathing lots of processed interior air. That can kill you as a singer or wind-player and really tire you out on any other instrument. Fresh air is key.
    – Call home every day and don’t forget why you’re doing this.

  2. Hey Doug!

    I’d say it really depends on the kind of musician you are, what kinds of places you play most, and how you take recovery time. Stress disorders usually result from some kind of traumatic incident, and I don’t think that is the case with most musicians. There is a lot of emotional labour that comes with the road – high frequency of social engagements, long periods of time away from family, financial stress, band dynamic stress, etc. When it builds up with no break in the repetition, I think over exhaustion sets in. Planned days off are usually a good anxiety or fatigue diffuser, but can be challenging mentally to take when you’re trying to make the most from your tour. I’ve been there and learned the hard way. I have to take at least 1-2 full days rest a week during a busy tour schedule, otherwise I get sick, or feel weird when I come home. Another good thing to do is to take a grace day (minimal to no social contact with others) when you return in order to recharge your social fitness abilities. I think the key to it all is recognizing your boiling point, and staying under that. Takes going over once or twice to know what your limits are.

  3. Some nice observations from Tim Williams on Facebook –

    I have totally done the “Great to be in Portland” or “Thank you…(insert town name here after long pause and maybe some prompting).” Travel writer Tony Cohan (author of On Mexican Time and more) discusses at length in one of his books the “dissociative fugue state ” where motion becomes the norm and being stationary is an abnormality. I usually take small things with me that remind me of home, and put them where I can see them. I also like to leave my instruments out of their cases in the room with me…close friends I can touch and converse with. I try to tour in little bursts, with time at home in between. This means, in the eyes of some presenters, that I play here too much. It occasionally costs me some very nice gigs in my hometown but it’s part of the trade off one makes to stay grounded.

  4. and from Garnet Rogers…

    I once did a tour that started in Virginia and and went to the West coast of the US and then up to Northern BC, to Kitimat then back down through the prairies, through Duluth,, then into the Midwest, finally ending up in Maryland. 37 shows in 40 days. . I think it took a couple years off my life. Gail pointed out to me once that I have worn out 5 Volvos and a pair of vans…each going over 500,000 km or more, and one which went over a million. She said, “do you seriously think that isn’t having an effect on you too?” It’s nice to be able to say no to road work most of the time now.