Lifestyle / Psychiatry

A Psychiatrist’s Tips To Survive Summer Music Festivals

{Parker Palm Springs, California}

I’ve been to my fair share of music festivals and several of my patients feel comfortable enough to tell me when they’re attending festivals as well.  As fun as music festivals can be, they can also be exhausting, so some may return home feeling physically ill (I admit that I caught the flu after Coachella this year).  And though strict policies exist regarding illicit drugs, they still make their way on to festival grounds, and some may experience longer lasting neuropsychiatric symptoms as a result of substance use during these events.

Since we’re in the midst of summer music festival season, the following are my tips on surviving music festivals with your health (and mind) as intact as possible:

Prioritize Sleep & Rest.  Music festivals are like a marathon (the typical music festival occurs over one weekend, from Friday to Sunday), so conserve your energy and plan for breaks and naps when needed.  You’ll likely return to your accommodations (camp, hotel, house, etc) pretty late (or super early in the morning), so make sure you get enough rest before heading back to the festival grounds.  More power to you if your goal is to party all day & night, but chances are you won’t have the energy to make it through the entire festival.

Stay Connected.  Most people travel in groups, so minimize the stress of losing track of each other by doing the following:

  1. Set up a group chat (use apps, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, since cell phone reception might be spotty).
  2. Time stamp your text messages — there’s nothing worse than receiving a delayed text (and not knowing it was delayed because there was no time stamp!).
  3. Set a meeting place as a designated spot if you and your crew can’t find each other.

Know where the medical tent is.  I know several colleagues who have worked at medical tents for Coachella and they’ve seen it all — from dehydration to intoxication.  Each music festival should have a medical staff stationed there, so even if you don’t know where they’re located, at least know that medical services are available if needed.

Stay hydrated.  With high temps during the summer combined with a lot of dancing, walking, and possible use of alcohol or drugs that may exacerbate dehydration, it’s important to make sure that you have plenty of water on hand.

Use your best judgment when it comes to drugs and alcohol.  Medically, I’d like to say “don’t drink or use drugs,” but the advice of “just say no” has long been proven to be ineffective.  And also, I don’t live under a rock — I know that illicit drugs get used at these festivals.  So, what I will offer here is my hope that you will use your best judgment, in addition to considering the risk of long-term neuropsychiatric effects that may occur from use of certain substances, especially the commonly used MDMA (ecstasy, Molly, etc).  Due to the massive serotonin release of this drug, tolerance develops quickly, and prolonged use can lead to permanent damage to serotonergic mechanisms in the brain.  I’ve treated patients with panic attacks, generalized anxiety, depression, memory impairment, insomnia, and other sequelae that have persisted even after stopping use of this drug.

What to pack.  Don’t be fooled by social media and assume that everyone dresses in picture perfect outfits and walks around in heels during these festivals (I made this mistake and wore heels to my first festival — worst mistake ever).  Comfort should be a priority when it comes to deciding what to wear and what to bring.  Aside from clothing, here’s a list of other important items to consider packing:

  1. Comfy shoes
  2. Hat
  3. Sunblock
  4. Portal phone charger
  5. Bandana (to cover face in dusty environments since most festivals are in fields)
  6. Long sleeve or light sweater/jacket when it gets colder at night

And last, but not least — my last tip is to let go of any pressures you have to undergo the ‘perfect’ experience because that mentality just adds unnecessary stress. In my experience, once I let go of trying to look ‘picture perfect’ (not every outfit has to be Instagram-worthy) and do ‘everything’ during the festival, I was able to focus on being present, enjoying the music, and having a fun & memorable time.

6 thoughts on “A Psychiatrist’s Tips To Survive Summer Music Festivals

  1. You’re looking better than ever, gal !
    I’m amazed how often you move around. You seem to be sampling everyplace in high-tech California. That;s where the money – and the craziness is!

  2. “And if you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,” as the song for the Monterey Pop festival went. But, I see you’ve got that covered.

  3. As a newbie in the music festival scene, I appreciate and agree so much on your tips. They are fun but could definitely become a nightmare if you are unprepared. Cheers!

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