I haven’t written a new post in ages. It’s been a full several months. My husband, sons and I took a semi-sabbatical in Jerusalem, Israel from September 2014 to July 2015. My new book, Everyday Healing: Stand Up, Take Charge and Get Your Health Back . . . One Day at a Time was published by New Page Books this past July. Most recently, I just got back from a successful three-week trip to New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to promote the book and its message of self-empowerment, inter-connection and our innate ability to heal.
Whew! It has all been fantastic and I have so much to be grateful for. But, you know what? For most of the last nine months I have struggled with a lot of darkness. I understand from other authors that it’s not uncommon to experience an emotional nosedive after a manuscript is turned in or when a book is finally published. From my own history I also know that transitions can be tough for me. Old feelings of anxiety and depression sense the opening created by new uncertainties and barge right in to take over.
For me during these last several months, that anxiety and depression manifested itself as very thin skin. Tragic news stories or challenges in my own and loved ones’ lives felt overwhelmingly heartbreaking and could semi-paralyze me with fear and grief for days. Any perceived failure or negative feedback cut me to the quick and took days to recover from. I was not my usually resilient self and was suffering for it, as were my two sons, who had the thankless job of managing Cranky Mommy.
I’m happy to say that, after nine months of mercurial emotions, a lot of tears, and difficulty working, I have come out the other side. Not surprisingly, I wound up using the principles from Everyday Healing to get me through. The same practices that helped me heal from my six-year illness all helped me pull myself out of a pretty debilitating mix of anxiety and depression.
Since I’m often asked how the practices in Everyday Healing can impact mental health, in the next few weeks, I want to share how I applied some of the ideas in the book to my most recent healing effort. Before I do, I want to say that depression and anxiety manifest differently in everybody. What I was experiencing was quite debilitating for me on many days and may have been worse than any depression some people have experienced. On the other hand, it may be only a drop in the bucket compared to what others have lived with for years. We are all different and all have unique experiences and our own paths to full health. As always, I share these experiences in the hopes that pieces of it can inspire you or others you love in whatever way works for you.
I’ve been doing a variety of things to crawl out of my hole of darkness, including diet changes, exercise, socializing, meaningful work, peer counseling and more. Today, I want to share a simple intervention that has made a big difference for me. Music.
Day 37 in Everyday Healing is titled “Increase Your Joy.” That is easier said than done when one is anxiety-ridden and depressed. Among other things, Day 37 encourages us to find time for the small things that give us joy because they can make such a difference in our physical and mental health. For me, dance music is one of those small things.
Dance music with a good beat does one of two things when I’m anxious or depressed. Either I’m in such a dark place that it just grates on my nerves and I get so frustrated that I get a good healing cry out of it. Or, it lifts my mood and I find myself bouncing along in spite of my internal darkness. If I listen and move long enough, it sends some light into the darkness and moves me a step towards recognizing the good in the world.
It’s not just me. Research has shown that so-called music therapy where one listens to, makes, or moves to music can be a useful treatment for depression. Here and here are a couple articles on the topic.
Here are a few examples of how I’ve been using music to heal my emotions recently. Please be forewarned that, while I love indie music and the blues, they often make me cry. So, when I need a pick-me-up, I am an unapologetic hard core Top 40 fan. That might not be your jam. Choose whatever music lifts your spirits.
- I have my iPhone cued to upbeat songs and play them first thing when I wake up to help me get out of bed. (Pharrell’s Happy and American Authors Best Day of Your Life are good ones.)
- I bought a speaker for the kitchen and connect it to my computer with Pandora.com on a fun station (Adele and Madonna are two of my favorites) to ensure that I have music to move to while I cook and do dishes.
- Instead of watching TV at the gym, which had been my habit on the rare occasion I made it there in the last several months, I switched to motivating dance music to keep me cranking out the miles on the treadmill or the weights on the machines. (Beyonce is one go-to here. All the Single Ladies, Crazy in Love and Get Me Bodied all work for me.)
- Most times I am in the car, I either play a CD I can sing along to or find good music on the radio. I avoided news for a while, but am now back to my daily NPR fix.
- If I am doing work that needs a little less focus, I play rocking music in the background on my computer. Adele, Fun, Taylor Swift are good candidates for this. If I need to focus, I put on Chopin piano concertos. Very soothing, and not as emotionally volatile as Beethoven or Mozart, at least for me.
Combined with many other interventions, creating an uplifting, dance-able soundtrack to my daily life was one of the things that helped me shift my mood, at first temporarily each day, and then in the long term in a more sustainable way.
Maybe the key for you is listening to music with meaningful lyrics that lift your spirit or classical pieces that enable you to deeply relax. Everyone is different, but, in conjunction with other healing work, music does have a powerful ability to help us shift our perspective and reframe our experiences. When you get stuck in dark emotions longer than is healthy for you, music is one great tool to have in your toolbox to help pull yourself out.