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Notes From a Mental Health Nurse: Music as a Healer

18 January 20 illustrations: Leosaysays

Each month, our anonymous mental nurse, who has over two decades on experience working in Nottingham, will deal with a specific mental health issue with practical, accessible advice. This month, to fit the theme of our music special, they talk us through how we can use the medium for some much needed peace...

So, here we are. We’ve all survived December and hopefully have not committed ourselves to unrealistic resolutions for 2020. However, with LeftLion championing all things music this month, it seems a shame to shy away from the benefits of this medium when promoting good mental health. 

We are social creatures and our brains have evolved to be highly sensitive to social signals and communication. They are designed to expect and respond to care, kindness and soothing from other people. This capacity can be enhanced or hindered from childhood but can be developed at any age.

Music has the potential to soothe and relax and we don’t have to be with others to develop this.  We can learn to direct attention away from our troubles, no matter how briefly. This musical focus can expand and grow in your awareness, giving you a well-earned break. Even if unwanted and bothersome thoughts creep back in, you can learn to steer your thoughts back to the music. The gift of music is not only the sound but the physical vibes and visual prompts; the trick is to immerse yourselves in all the senses.

 Music is not the only way to self-soothe and relax. You could try one of the following on its own or while listening to your favourite tune:

*Grounding technique: Walk slowly, noticing each footstep, saying “left” or “right” with each step. 

*Eat something nice, describing the flavours in detail to yourself. 

*Focus on your breathing, noticing each breath as you breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Repeat a pleasant word to yourself on each in breath. For example, a favourite colour, or a soothing word such as “safe” or “calm.”

The beauty of these strategies is that nobody else needs to know what you’re up to. Practise makes perfect so, like any new skill, repeating these techniques will help develop good habits while you’re trying to tackle the abandonment of the old ones! Good luck.

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