How to look after your mental health at a festival

by Taylor Bradshaw
Mental Health at Festivals

It’s hard to keep your brain from leaking out of your ears after four days of being a mess in a field, but it is possible.

Festivals are a wonderful experience, a brief but welcome escape from the constraints of reality that allow us to venture outside of the norms of society in an explosive celebration of music, friendship and culture.

A rough week after a music festival is sometimes the price of a good time. Festivals can be extremely draining and many people return home feeling physically ill (festival flu!).

But what about the psychological after-effects of an extended period of hard partying? With one-in-four adults experiencing mental ill health at any time, many festivals have introduced dedicated mental health support services.

Chill Welfare co-founder Michelle O’Loughlin said in 2016: “It’s a typical mental health scenario: people with a recent diagnosis, feeling overwhelmed in that environment but with minimal knowledge of self-care techniques so they need support.”

It is easy to neglect our most basic needs when at a festival, they are an overload of the senses in every way. Drug and alcohol use, sleep deprivation, and fatigue are extremely prevalent among festival goers and all contribute to a decline in psychological wellbeing.

Physical health and mental health are intertwined, meaning the more that you look after your body, the more you’re looking after your mental state. Keeping this in mind will help you to keep both intact.

Sleep and fatigue 

Sleep and fatigue, poor mental health at Glastonbury Festival

Although taking time to rest isn’t often a priority for most festival goers, sleep deprivation has a huge impact on our psychological state.

Lack of undisturbed sleep can influence levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones within the body which can have lasting negative impact upon mental health.

Basically, good quality sleep is essential for your brain to be able to effectively regulate emotions. There is no easy solution for getting enough rest at a festival other than trying not to worry about missing out and go to bed when you feel like you need to, you’ll feel a lot better in the long run.

Being comfortable will help in a big way and so it is wise to take a good quality waterproof tent, an airbed or roll mat, and some decent earplugs.

Eat or you’ll be sad

Boomtown / Mental Health at festivals

Eating is so important. If you haven’t eaten anything all day and you’re still not hungry, try to eat something anyway.

If you haven’t eaten properly for days, your appetite is probably a bit messed up, but remember that your body needs fuel to function.

Low blood sugar levels can contribute to mood swings and irritability and a lack of nutrition is always gonna leave you feeling pretty rubbish at the best of times.

Watch out for dehydration

A WaterAid volunteer refilling a water bottle at Glastonbury

Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluid than you put back into it. Your brain needs to be approximately 85% water to be able to function.

Water deficiency in cells of the brain can lead to all sorts of psychological and physiological problems including anxiety, fatigue, and lethargy due to a cut in the brains energy supply.

Alcohol can be an easy solution to feelings of anxiety in the short term but ideally shouldn’t be used as a way of suppressing negative symptoms.

Most festivals have free water taps that you can use on site so it is a good idea to bring a water bottle with you that you carry around, but also take back to your tent when it is time to go to bed.

Try to get any drugs tested

The Loop Drugs Testing Sample Submission Boomtown 2018

Although there are strict policies in place on bringing illegal drugs onto festival grounds, copious amounts of various substances nearly always make their way inside. So much so that many festivals are now taking a more responsible approach to drug safety, using testing organisations such as The Loop.

The Loop are a non-profit organisation, run by volunteers, offering free drug testing and harm reduction services at festivals, nightclubs and events.

They are the UK’s only front-of-house drugs testing service, aiming to educate attendees about what exactly is in their substances before they take them, thereby reducing the harmful effects of missold drugs and premature deaths.

Earlier this year The Loop identified a heart-shaped pill containing N-Ethyl-Pentylone being sold in Bristol just days the popular festival Love Saves the Day, echoing prior studies that have found that MDMA users may unwillingly be consuming legal highs containing novel psychoactive substances (NPS).

Pentylone is a highly dangerous substitute cathinone, an active substance that leads to feelings of euphoria much like MDMA, but with highly distressing and long-lasting after effects. These include intense paranoia and insomnia.

Welsh Government drug testing service WEDINOS accepts submissions from across the UK. Send a small amount of your substance alongside a ‘sample & effects’ form and reference number, and they will publish the results of the tests online detailing exactly what is in your sample.

Know your limits

Poor mental health at festivals: passed out

To a certain extent you need to ignore what your friends are doing when working out your own dosage.

Maybe it seems obvious, but if your 6ft tall, 14 st friend is double dropping pills but you’re 5 ft 5 and 9 st than it is not a good idea to try and match their dosage.

It’s also a good idea to have some knowledge about what combinations of drugs and alcohol can do to your body.

Tripsit Drug Interactions Chart
Click image for large version

Check out the awesome Tripsit drug interaction chart and keep an eye out for warnings of contaminated substances around the festival and on their social media channels.

Check out the mental health support on site

Download Festival Peace Guy

The Samaritans provide emotional support at over a dozen major festivals every year, including Glastonbury and Download. Some provide additional services, such as Boomtown’s mental health response team that can come out to anyone in crisis.

Download Festival have introduced a series of events in the Doghouse tent each day, dubbed ‘Mind the Dog‘. A mindfulness program which includes activities such as stretch and restore, elevate your evening and conscious breath work.

Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn reported: “It only made sense to offer an on-site programme for mental health, as well as physical. By introducing Mind The Dog this year, we are hoping to provide a mindfulness haven in The Doghouse across the weekend, with meditation, sound baths, and more. I couldn’t be prouder of how much Download Festival has accomplished already.”

Don’t expect to have the perfect festival experience

Shindig Group Perfect Festival Experience Wellbeing

Don’t try to have the ‘perfect’ festival experience, it’s too much pressure.

Embrace waking up in a muddy field, embrace the music, accept that you might not see 100% of the music you want to see.

But above all, enjoy yourself, festivals are good for the soul, especially if you take the time to look after your body and your mental health.

Image credits:
Eat or you’ll be sad – Gareth Thomas
Peace sign – Kyle McLoughlin / Download Festival
Water Kiosk – WaterAid
/ Ben Roberts
Perfect festival experience – James Hitchcock

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