Music and your Mental Health

I think that we are all specially connected to music and can find comfort in it. When we were carried in our mother’s womb we heard her heartbeat and have probably been innately affected by rhythm ever since.

Rhythm

When we tune in to sound or tap into a rhythm I think it can take us to a place of safety and healing where we can switch off from the stresses and strains of life outside. This is good to know as the factor of stress has been widely cited as influencing our mental health and even sometimes bringing on a crisis.

Soundtrack to our lives!

Music has such a presence. It can be like a soundtrack to our life. What would a film be like without its musical soundtrack? Some people work or study with music playing, some people find it helpful to walk through town with headphones on and some people turn to music to consciously relax and rest. I think that it can be a lovely idea to have a personal playlist or songbook of our favourite songs and pieces of music to reflect our different moods and states of mind. It is good to keep on working on this through good times and bad. It is a good thing to identify or search out the pieces of music or songs that make us happy, that help us when we feel sad, that we can relax into or concentrate with.

Your mental health

For help with mental health I think that it is nice to know that music is perfectly harmless and that it really doesn’t matter how long we listen for. As some addictions are very harmful or worrying it is good to know that here is one that can be indulged in to our heart’s content! And there’s always more music to explore. There is power in music. It can change the way we feel or think. It has been said that if we listen to a piece of music by Mozart for example that it can actually temporarily alter the functioning of the brain and boost the IQ. This is known as the Mozart Effect. And babies can be soothed and lulled to sleep by gentle strains of music. We, as living beings, are constantly vibrating in a subtle sense and so if we tune in to the vibration of a pure or uplifting piece of music it can change our own frequency!

Connection

If we are able to make music with an instrument or our voice it can be so beneficial to make use of this gift to help with our mental health. So many people have benefited from joining a choir, joining a drumming circle, singing in church, singing in the shower or learning to play an instrument. Or sometimes it is nice to sing along to a catchy song with somebody else. It can help us to connect. And deeper connection is great for mental health recovery. I really think that music is something we can always turn to in times of mental health difficulty or distress and be helped by. It is a friend. It can nurture us and help us and keep us broadening our horizons.

The Magic of Music

Music is magic

For me there is something primitively soothing about this music, and it went straight to my nervous system, making me feel ten feet tall”- Eric Clapton

Music has saved me so many times, from spiralling into a black hole. I have had my head in a pillow that is covered in black mascara tears wondering how I will ever feel better again, then a song comes on, and I lift my head… I like this song… it’s one of those you can’t help but sing along to. At first- I am singing and crying at the same time, it’s terrible, but by the end of the song I am Stevie Nicks in all her bohemian glory!

Music can make you feel transcendent, like you are soaring through a swirling cosmos on the back of a pink dolphin. Jeff Buckley, Pink Floyd, anything with an epic instrumental solo, it makes you sing, it makes you dance, it can feel chaotic at times, but you feel.

It gives you a cuddle

And even when it’s not as dramatic as all that, it can wrap itself around you and give you a lovely cuddle. I recently experienced a huge loss and am currently trying to navigate my way through a period of grief, its hard but music speaks to me, it comforts me

“Sweet dreams til’ sunbeams find you,
Sweet dreams that leave your worries behind you,
But in your dreams whatever they be,
Dream a little dream of me”

Music isn’t a miracle cure that solves all our problems, but for me, music is magic. What is it that pulls you out of your pillow, what is your magic?

Celebrating the impact of HeadsUp Employment Support

“Thank you for the amazing work you’ve been doing, it’s clear you have made a big impact”

HeadsUp loves the opportunity to scream and shout about the great work we do and the amazing people we support. We did just that at the Suffolk and North East Essex ICS ‘Can Do Health and Care’ Expo2022 last week where we got to speak to lots of different services about what we do here at HeadsUp.

We had a lot of interest from services wanting to work with us, learn from us and thank us – which was amazing! Although we don’t do it for the thanks, it was lovely that services could see the great work we do through our participant quotes, wellbeing data graphs and videos.

Some of the services we got the chance to chat to were Colchester Borough Council Digital Inclusion Team, Open Road, Care Development East, Citizens Advice, East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, YMCA, NHS teams and many, many more!

You may see us out and about at events in the future and if so feel welcome to come and say hello to our friendly members of staff who are happy to take the time to chat to you about everything HeadsUp.

The most rewarding job I ever had

Is only been 3 months but I can already see the difference we make in participants’ lives. Dealing with mental health is difficult, how can you explain something we don’t understand, even when it is happening to you? Physically you are fine, emotionally fantastic, family all really good so why do you feel like you can not get out of bed? Have you ever had that feeling? I had and people around me didn’t understand. Is so easy to judge until it happens to you. The most important thing I’ve learned is that you are not alone like our participants, we are here to guide them all the way . Seeing how after a meeting their confidence grows , just making the effort to come and see us when they have been feeling they can’t get up, makes my job the most rewarding job I have ever done.

Giving something back

When we ask our participants what they’re hoping to achieve, we very often hear that they want to “give something back”. Many are drawn directly to support roles, such as peer support or care work. For others, volunteering within the local community means that they can continue to grow whilst helping others. In many instances, “giving something back” becomes something they do alongside the day job.

Mr Universe Musclemania 2013

Take Ty for example: he left a career in financial services to become a world champion bodybuilder, he then landed his own television show in Kuwait before moving to the USA to pursue a career combining fitness and music. His passion was always to show people that they can achieve their goals. To this end his role as a fitness instructor to a diverse range of individuals, meant that he could turn his own success into something tangible for others- whatever their individual aims.

Helping others

When Ty’s own health started to suffer he returned to the UK. After a while he enrolled on HeadsUp, and almost from the start he stated that he wanted to help others. We explored what this would look like for him personally, encouraging him to use his existing skills to help build back his confidence. When the time was right he started working as an instructor at a local gym; and as he left HeadsUp he spoke of how he wanted to use his own journey to help others who may be struggling.

Inspiring your peers

In March 2022, Ty was one of the guest speakers at the West Ham United Foundation and Hackney CVS event, 21st Century Black Man. The event aims to inspire and encourage young black males in Newham and Hackney, by bringing them together with successful people from a range of backgrounds. Ty spoke of his own journey and success, discussing how he dealt with his own mental health and depression. This willingness to openly discuss mental health had a positive impact on attendees. One attendee spoke of his own struggles, and how hearing from role models about their own journeys gave him hope.

The 21st Century Black Man event was part of West Ham United Foundation’s “Moving On Up” programme, which has been supporting young people from Newham for three years. For more details, contact AOmedeyi@westhamunited.co.uk . To see more of Ty’s journey, follow him on Instagram @tyoghd .

By showing others how he overcame his own mental health challenges, Ty has definitely “given something back”.

Keep calm and carry on they say

Staring out of the kitchen window I noticed that at last glance it was bright sunshine and within minutes I am trying to comfort my terrified cat as he cowers from deafening claps of thunder.  In a matter of a few minutes and pretty much without warning, everything changed.  This got me around to thinking about where we all are at the moment.

I’ve been around a few years.

As I child I lived through the Cold War, watching the standoff that became the Bay of Pigs.  I was a teenager when the country was battling power cuts and three day weeks. In the glory days of my 20s we had ridiculous interest rates and high unemployment. In the 90 the property crash – my very flashy sports car was probably worth as much as my flat that it was parked outside. The noughties, the global recession. Now I have just lived through a pandemic and I am observing a war in Europe between a shark and a minnow, neither of which I expected in my lifetime. Worrying about a cost of living crises as we all are but I’ve lived through and survived three recessions.

Curved balls

The thing is, we can’t make provision for everything that life throws at us as life will always throw us a curved ball when we least expect it. What I have learned about facing mental health issues on a daily basis is that we have a remarkable amount of resilience, probably far more than we ever credit ourselves with. Leaping out of bed, excited for the day ahead is not something we are accustomed to. It can be a slow crawl with mental gymnastics on how we are going to do the everyday tasks, make that phone call, open that letter you have looked at for three days…….get to the shops…..put the laundry on.  Oh I’m getting exhausted just thinking about it!

That’s how

Here’s the thing though, because those everyday things can be such a challenge to us we’ve developed tenacity and skill which are finely tuned to deal with change even if we can’t always see it.   We walked side by side with it, embraced every morning and mostly come out on top even if it takes time to get there. Of course there are days when it really does just feel it is all too much and those are the days to give yourself a break and just don’t challenge – roll with it, take a break because tomorrow you will be stronger. That’s how we keep calm and carry on.

Are you happy?

Are you Happy? It’s a question I have asked and been asked just this week.

I was talking with a long-distance friend that moved out to America a few years ago, it got me thinking how do you measure it? How do you answer that? Realistically it probably depends on the person you’re speaking to and how honest you can be.

When I asked this question to a friend, he described it as a ‘Loaded Question’ which made me rethink my measure of success in life. Instead I said, are you content? This made me think about my own life as well, no one can maintain happiness all the time but to be content is a success. To be content in the moments in our lives, simply walking outside and feeling the sun on your face, or watching the rain, new episodes of your favourite show and speaking with friends. Finding those content moments how ever small in everyday life is a true measure of success.

Good mental health at work

For many of us, work is a huge part of our lives, both in time and mental capacity. Having a fulfilling job, and a job you enjoy can be good for both your mental health and your wellbeing. It also brings structure and a sense of teamwork into your life.

Sometimes it gets on top of us

We all want to be able to leave work at work, but sometimes it can get on top of us. It could be deadlines, travel, learning something new or a company culture not being what you expected. But along with the many ways you can help yourself stay well (covered in a different blog!), there are various things that your employer can or should be doing too .

Employers Responsibility

Mental health first aider

Many companies have a “mental health first aider”. Their role is to be a first point of contact for someone who is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. The contact could range from an initial conversation, or supporting the individual to get appropriate help. Ask your line manager if you have mental health first aiders within your company.

Employee Assistance Programme

Many companies offer something called an Employee Assistance Programme (or EAP) provided by different companies across the country. An EAP is a confidential programme that supports employees with personal and/or work related problems that may be affecting your performance at work or your mental wellbeing. Each EAP is different, but many offer similar services including:

  • Confidential 24/7 helpline
  • Counselling sessions (this usually has a limit)
  • Access to a website with various well being tools (i.e. videos, or worksheets)
  • Access to a range of advisors (I.e. financial, legal)

Information discussed during any sessions with the EAP is 100% confidential. The company you work for will not receive any information disclosed during your meetings.

Duty of Care

Employers have a duty of care to their employees to do everything they reasonably can to support an employee’s health (both mental health and physical health) and well being. This includes:

  • Providing 121 time between the line manager and the employee, to give the employee the opportunity to discuss any issues that may arise.
  • Ensuring the working environment is safe.
  • Ensuring that all team members have the correct tools to complete the job role.
  • If necessary carrying out risk assessments, and putting into place any required reasonable adjustments.

Reasonable adjustments are sometimes required, and are something that can be discussed with your line manager, this is great example of the importance of communication as very often it’s quite straightforward to tweak arrangements without impacting your ability to do a good job. This might be a later starting time, whilst an individual settles into new medication that affects their sleep, or increased working from home time in a hybrid working environment, as travelling could increase anxiety. This could also mean a temporary flexible working contract (if the company allows) to help with something on a short term basis, or increased breaks. The key thing is to talk, and to take forward your questions before anything  starts negatively impacting your mental health.

Where to go for help

It’s a big topic, but if you feel things are getting on top of you always talk to your friends, family or GP. You might also find useful information in the following places;

Acas is a great support for further help. https://www.acas.org.uk/supporting-mental-health-workplace

Mind also has some great information.

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/how-to-be-mentally-healthy-at-work/work-and-mental-health/

What is normal?

Covid has had a huge impact on how we now think, work, and interact with each other.

Before Covid we were commuting, clogging the roads, trains, and buses. Enduring the lengthy travel time and having to stand on public transport when you’ve paid a small fortune. Being faced with an armpit on the tube or watching 2 road users exchange hand gestures as one got an inch further. Before Covid, we were just popping in to see Nan, having to make time for the gym or to do the dreaded weekly food shop. We were physically attending appointments – yes face to face with a human! Being available to attend Johnny’s school play and dare I mention the word ‘Holiday’ and taking a break with the family. And yet this normal was ‘how it always was’

Normal has a new meaning

The past few years has given ‘Normal’ a new meaning, a new way of working, a new way of interaction. For all the growth and change and adaptation that has happened in the past years, it is hard to even define what a post-pandemic normalcy might mean. The dictionary defines it simply as conforming to a standard — usual, typical, or expected. Can we go back? Do we want to go back to that normal?

What’s your normal?

So, here we are ‘Getting back to Normal’ what is your normal? For me impossible things have become possible: maintaining relationships online and now Nan has a tablet and is learning all this digital stuff! Uncle Jimmy chats to his brother in Australia using his device and our children are doing homework online. We now attend GP appointments over the phone and not waiting in a surgery sitting next to someone coughing and spluttering, having to take time off work or asking Aunty Mary to please come ‘Sit with the Kids’ whilst you attend.

We’re enrolling on college courses and learning online and don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to meet and chat with fellow students, but we now have more time for us and the whole work life balance thing. Technology has embraced the new ‘Normal’ and things are more accessible to everyone these days and that’s a good thing, right?!

Slowing down

Life has slowed down just a bit and if we sit back and think about it, has everything been bad? For many of us, the pandemic has given us the opportunity to slow down a bit and focus on the essentials. Whether it be spending more quality time with our children, taking time to phone a long-lost friend or relative, or having a video chat with friends and family, chances are we have had the opportunity to reconnect with people you haven’t talked to in a long time. We’ve thought about more than just ourselves.

Through the pandemic, it was easy to go into despair. But many of us have found a way to do good for others, whether it be by delivering groceries and prescriptions to our elderly neighbours that were too high-risk to go to the grocery store to donated to a GoFundMe site for a family in need. Stories of people doing good for others have been on a historic rise over the last year, and that’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

So, what is your ‘Normal?’ I’m liking this new ‘Normal’ and I’m gonna stick with it!!

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sadness SAD and the effects of our environment can all become contributing factors on our wellbeing and mental health. When we encounter individuals with this condition, it’s important to remember that it’s not as straightforward as it may appear.

What is SAD?

The commonly used acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s sometimes confused with a generic dislike or displeasure with the winter months. For instance, we may hear somebody comment flippantly that they “wish it was sunny” or that the weather was more like the Caribbean. However this disorder has a visible and impactful effect on people, who find they suffer with an assortment of physical and psychological symptoms. They may exhibit insomnia, become anti-social or they may adopt a feeling of hopelessness leading to a decline in their energy levels.

Working with participants with SAD

It’s really important to reassure individuals that it’s okay to feel sad and to take their concerns, anxieties and thoughts into account. It’s critical that participants aren’t made to feel embarrassed or to have their anxious sentiments discarded. Helping to make them feel they’re not alone is an effective start in supporting somebody. Assisting a participant with Seasonal Affective Disorder can be difficult because of the effects from the outside environment. It can be challenging – because of shorter days and less sunlight – they might not wish to speak about how they’re feeling.

Support methods

Helping someone to think optimistically about our outside environment can help. At first glance, during the winter months in this country, the trees, foliage and natural vegetation can seem decayed, bare and skeletal. The bright greenery is replaced by darker, more melancholic tones and the temperatures make it difficult to feel like going outside. Yet in this situation, it’s beneficial to remind a participant that the natural environment is only moving through a phase of rejuvenation and regeneration in the winter months. A array of vibrant colours will return again. Altering a perception of the colder, darker months to instil a sense of hope is crucial in changing viewpoints that are central to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The strength of our imaginations

We can remember that everything has an opposite and that out of difficulty lies opportunity. We should encourage participants struggling with the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder to see the beauty in the natural environment, reinforcing the fact that colour will return. Trees are just nurturing themselves for the spring when they will once again flourish; we too can grow and heal. Reminding the participant that the natural environment is preparing itself for spring and new beginnings. We can simply try to instil fresh hope and reassure that brighter days are always ahead.