Turn it up!
If music be the food of love – play on – William Shakespeare (Twelfth Night)
In our article celebrating the life of Aaron T. Beck we outlined the Cognitive Behavioural Cycle – how our thoughts, emotions and behaviours are intrinsically linked and, in turn, influence each other. We explored how thoughts are expressed in sentences, emotions can be described in one word and behaviours have consequences. When these cycles are operating unconsciously within the psyche, we can fall into repetitive patterns. When the thoughts are negative, the behavioural patterns that we run can be destructive to what we hold dear.
When we engage in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT,) we seek to make conscious changes to repetitive negative outcomes by intervening at some point within that cycle. We can do this in three ways:
1. Choose to reframe the thoughts that evoke negative emotion.
2. Press pause and sit with the uncomfortable emotion. Let it be fully felt. Then choose an exercise such as belly breathing to down regulate the stress response and alter the emotion. Just Breathe (resilientpractice.co.uk)
3. Press pause, and consciously choose a different behaviour from the one that comes automatically.
This week we choose to look at one other very practical way to influence the emotions part of the cycle when we have been unpleasantly triggered.
Let us gratefully explore the benefits of having music in our lives!
In a previous article we talked about music as therapy:
This week, in the context of the Cognitive Behavioural Cycle, we would like to focus on how music affects emotion.
The existence of rock art and ancient musical artefacts tells us that humans have been making and enjoying music for at least 40,000 years. There must be something in it for the soul!
There is no doubt that music is emotive. It can invoke happiness or sadness within us. It can intensify either feelings of togetherness or isolation. A certain beat can appear to give us energy and make us want to dance. Restful music can calm the mind. Songs with comedy in their lyrics can make us laugh. Lullabies can help us sleep.
How often have you been transported back to a very particular time and place, out of the blue, on hearing a tune on the radio?
Why does music affect our emotions in this way?
According to Patrick Juslin in his book Musical Emotions Explained, there are six factors which contribute to our deep emotional connection to music and why certain pieces are more memorable than others:
1. Most music creates positive feeling. This is likely to be caused by chemical changes such as the increased presence of serotonin and dopamine and down regulation of the fight/flight response.
2. The startle effect. Our brainstem reflexes are hardwired for quick and automatic responses to sudden, loud, noise, or dissonant music. These responses are easily remembered along with the experiences that create them
3. Being in sync. In our article Honouring Cycles and Rhythms (resilientpractice.co.uk) we discuss the cycles and rhythms of nature and our bodies. Participating in musical experiences allows us to celebrate a feeling of synchronicity with our environment and people around us.
4. Emotional contagion. Just as we spoke about collective fear in the following article: Collective Fear (resilientpractice.co.uk) we can experience a passing on of feelings of joy when we enjoy music together in a group. This is heightened when the audience has a common love for the band as there is a feeling of belonging.
5. Emotive events. Conditioning plays a huge part in our emotional connection to music. The memory of certain events and associated emotions can appear to be so wired together that we cannot hear a certain piece without those thoughts and emotions being evoked.
6. Musical surprise. Our brains are built for prediction. It is part of the survival mechanism. They do this by collecting vast amounts of data. Juslin states that humans experience strong emotions when the brains predicts incorrectly. This means that the music is more memorable and emotive when there is an unexpected discord or change of rhythm.
What about participating in music?
On their website, the British Academy of Sound Therapy state that the act singing has been shown to reduce adrenaline and cortisol and increase mood enhancing hormones such as dopamine.
They also explore how participating in music creates feelings of community and belonging. This leads to a reduction of the fear of isolation and rejection that is common to all of us. Let us remember also that hearty singing requires us to breath from the diaphragm. There are huge benefits of diaphragmatic breathing to wellbeing - which comes as an added bonus:
Cultivate the habit of regularly checking in with your Observer Self. This is the part of the psyche that bears witness to your thoughts, emotions and behaviour. It is able to narrate them without emotion. It observes the cycle without taking part in it. It does not analyse or judge.
Once you are in the habit of observing your Cognitive Behavioural Cycles, you can check in with any unpleasant emotion that you are feeling as a result of your thoughts. You may feel that your emotion comes as a result of someone else’s behaviour - but it is actually generated from your thoughts about that behaviour.
Remember that emotions are body experiences. For example, we might feel them as a churning in the stomach, a tightness in the chest, a choking feeling in the throat or a prickling in the skin.
Where in your body do you feel that emotion?
Once you have identified it press pause
Sit with it.
Take a few moments to allow it to be fully felt within the body.
Listen to the message.
Practice both gratitude for the communication from you body and compassion towards the Self.
Now imagine how you want to feel.
What emotion would you like to evoke in your body to release it from the unpleasant sensations that now do not serve you?
Which of your favourite songs or tunes do you associate with this emotion?
Which band or musician evokes this within you?
Think of past experiences where you have felt this emotion linked to a song or particular type of music.
Go to the nearest source of music. Whether it is your phone, the car stereo or your smart TV, turn it on and find the music that you need to hear.
Turn it up!
Feel the beat vibrating your bones.
Where do you feel it in your body?
Begin to move.
Tap. Shake. Dance.
Sing out loud at the top of your voice.
If you have a drum, bang it.
If you play an instrument, contribute.
Let the expression of it be a catharsis for all of the negative emotion leaving you and allow yourself to be energised by something new.
Let the process consume you.
Do not stop until you are done.
How do you feel now?
Now sit in silence and deep gratitude with your breath.
You can also try the following:
Compile musical playlists to reflect various moods. For example, energising, happy, joyful, invincible, motivating, nurturing, cathartic, invigorating, relaxing,.
Take up an instrument and play. It doesn’t matter if you have talent you are or how you sound. What matters is that you play or sing. It is clear that beneficial chemical changes take place within the body when we express ourselves through music.
Consider taking music lessons or if you can play or sing consider joining a choir or a band. These activities can add to feelings of belonging and foster positive relationships and regular social interactions, not to mention fun
Music is a gift
Use it - it belongs to you!
For more insights about improving mental wellness see How to Rise: A Complete Resilience Manual: Amazon.co.uk: Mowbray, Chrissie, Forshaw, Dr Karen, Khan, Dr Dr Amir: 9781529370119: Books
Ref: Patrik Juslin PN (2019), Musical Emotions Explained, Oxford University Press.