May is Mental Health Month – 3 ways to reinforce mental health you haven’t thought of

If you’re anything like me, your mental health has probably taken a beating throughout the pandemic and beyond.

At first, the collective attitude was to just “wait it out” until things somehow “got better.” Then, 6 months to a year into it, we realized we needed to learn to adjust to the “new normal” of uncertainty – in our work and our personal lives. Now, two years later, we’re learning to live with a kind of shift – we’ll never go back to the way things were, but we’re ready to assume some level of risk to resume our lives and do more of what brings us joy.

The big question has always been, ‘how do I do that?’

How do we move out of that headspace from two years ago – disruption, isolation, trauma, illness, and in many cases, death?

There’s no easy answer, but the best advice I’ve received is to try different things out and see what fits for me, for my family. I can remember where I was two years ago – in my parenting journey and with my pandemic-stalled business – and find ways to enjoy where I’m at right now.

Below are three unique ways to support your mental health that you maybe haven’t thought of. Or, if you’ve already experienced them, maybe you can back up these claims. The point is, don’t be afraid to mix it up.

Clean your house

Oh, it’s not what you were expecting?

Various studies show that a cluttered house or work space may contribute to depression or fatigue, as well as an inability to focus. Clutter can also promote feelings of “confusion, tension, and irritability,” as well as a general feeling of unfinished business.

So cleaning your house? It can promote a sense of calm and control over your life that maybe you didn’t feel before. Plus, you’re moving your body, getting some exercise, and ridding your space of the stuff that promotes illness or allergies, like dust, mold, and dirt.

Rediscover your inner child

Everyone has an inner child. How deeply is yours buried under the responsibilities of adulting?

Why do most young kids have such a great attitude? Because life experiences are new to them! They often have an open mind about most things (excluding toddlers, which, ahem, as a mom of a toddler, I can attest to). When I was a kid, I did things I would never even consider doing today as an adult – running through grass barefoot, inner tubing off the back of my friends’ parents’ boat, and riding the Steel Phantom rollercoaster at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh.

But what if I did decide to do any of those things today? I might rediscover a new interest or, at the very least, say I tried something new or revisited a great memory.

Talking to or writing to your inner child is also a great therapeutic tool for exploring past experiences and sorting through the associated emotions. You’ll strengthen the bond between your current and past self and, in the process, hopefully be able to resolve some lingering issues.

Get a pet

This is just my opinion, but I think many dog lovers will back me up on this – the world is just a better, happier place because of dogs! Our furry friends keep us active, engaged, and loving. Ever come home at the end of a long day, only to see your dog staring at you with ‘walkies’ eyes? Next thing you know, you’re outside with your furry pal, stopping to let them sniff along the way, suddenly feeling just a bit better about life.

New research shows that when our canine pals stare into our eyes, they activate the same hormonal response that bonds us to human infants.” It’s an oxytocin loop similar to maternal infant bonding.

Studies also show that dogs “reduce stress, anxiety and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. For example, people with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease.”

One other aspect I’ve enjoyed as a dog owner is the socialization aspect. Our Goldendoodle Gracie is a very social dog – she loves to play with other dogs, and she love love loves to get attention and scritches from people (she’ll roll over for them in the middle of the sidewalk). Since having a dog, we’ve met and befriended people we might not have gotten to know otherwise. During the pandemic lockdown, when we were isolated, we still got to see our friends and neighbors out walking their dogs (and sometimes even hanging out with their outdoor cats), and say hi and chitchat in the street. This was a big boost to my mental health during an otherwise incredibly stressful time.

What works for you?

Maybe these ideas don’t hit the spot for you. Don’t be afraid to try something a little different and see what works. Recently, I discovered a lovely little nature spot in our neighborhood that is peaceful and calming for me. I can drive there in 3 minutes and just sit, read, relax, and take a short break before getting back to life.

Be kind and patient with yourself and with others. Your body and brain will thank you for it!

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Women in business: we see you! In honor of Women’s History Month

I thought being a business owner was tough enough, and then I also became a mom.

As a solopreneur, I didn’t get a “maternity leave;” I was simply lucky that the timing of our pregnancy was such that the postpartum months were slow (mostly unpaid) ones for my business. This gave me a chance to establish a round-the-clock nursing routine with our son, feeding him every 2-3 hours, and to figure out how to deal with his extremely intense colic and reflux.

I can’t imagine the new levels of stress and anxiety we all would’ve gone through if I’d have had to go back to work in an office environment with a 9-5 schedule. I feel incredibly lucky that we had those first few months (and then subsequently a painful pandemic lockdown) to bond and establish a routine. And, I have immense respect for the mamas that do leave their little ones to work outside the house, taking them to daycare or caregivers before they’re ready.

Women business owners, CEO’s, essential workers, those that are trying to find a job to support your family – I see you.

Moms working at home, and those of you educating yourselves for a better career – I see you.

Stay at home moms, and those caring for an elderly or sick family member – I see you.

Mamas who’ve been out of work raising children are are re-entering the workforce, sometimes with few opportunities – I see you.

Mamas experiencing guilt for working, or for not working – I see you.

LGBTQIA+ women, transgender women, and gender nonconforming individuals – I see you.

Women and individuals experiencing identity or racial microaggressions at work – I see you.

I recognize that each of us has her or their own path to walk for personal and professional gratification, each of us with unique challenges and experiences that are downright painful or unfair. I know many times it seems like we’re taking one step forward and 100 steps back, professionally, politically, and societally.

But, I’m also proud to be living at a time when we have, and are creating, more opportunities for ourselves and for future generations.

Women, you’re out there every day kicking butt in so many ways. I am so proud, and so grateful for you.

 

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Drumming & health – a curated list of clinical studies

Late in 2020, after a harrowing year of COVID, I led several groups of hospital chaplains in a self-care group drumming activity. This was a group of frontline workers who, while not strictly in the medical profession, worked day in and day out comforting patients and loved ones during a particularly scary time in the pandemic – pre-vaccine.

Then, in the spring of 2021, we were feeling a bit more hopeful as the vaccine became widely available for adults in the U.S. I led an evidence-based group drumming workshop for two teams of Emergency Department doctors, nurses, and staff members. The atmosphere was more relaxed, but I could see the stress and burnout of the past year written on everyone’s faces.

And recently, I led a virtual drumming and wellness session for a local healthcare organization’s Adaptive Sports and Recreation support group. Virtual programs are old hat now and the group’s rapport was so strong that I felt I fit right in. I applauded them for showing up for each other and themselves.

What did these three groups have in common? They came together – to support each other, live in each other’s experiences, and take care of themselves. And they believed in the clinically proven ability of rhythm to provide them with real health benefits.

So, I’ve rounded up a list – a curated list of clinical studies highlighting the various physical, mental, and emotional benefits of drumming as a group. I invite you to use this list in a few ways:

  • For your own education – to see how adding rhythm to your life can enhance your health
  • For your organization – to highlight the importance of group rhythm programs for employee wellness initiatives
  • For your community – to start a regular drum circle in your community for bonding and stress reduction

Drumming to improve health outcomes in cancer care

My colleague, percussion and professor John R. Beck at Wake Forest University, conducted a 4-week study in 2021 with a hospital oncology department for patients receiving treatment.

The numbers don’t lie; the drumming program improved patients’ mood and relaxation state and decreased pain: “100% of participants reported that the drumming sessions increased their satisfaction with their hospital stay.  Patient energy improved in 81% of the sessions, mood improved in 88%, relaxation increased in 84%, and 49% of the sessions resulted in decrease in pain. Patients’ distress decreased in 63%, and anxiety decreased in 68% of the sessions.”

Read more here.

Drumming to increase social resilience among mental health service users

A 10-week group drumming study conducted among mental health services users in 2016 showed that “group drumming could improve depression, anxiety and social resilience among service users compared with a non-music control group.”

By week 6, participants reported decreases in depression and increases in social resilience, with further improvements in week 10, along with significant improvements in anxiety.

Read more here.

Drumming to improve social-emotional behavior among low-income children

In 2011, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) conducted a study of 101 5th-grade students on the effects of drumming on social-emotional behavior. The 12-week counselor-led program focused on social-emotional problems linked to chronic stress that are often found in low-income youth populations.

The study found that “participation in group drumming led to significant improvements in multiple domains of social-emotional behavior. This sustainable intervention can foster positive youth development and increase student-counselor interaction. These findings underscore the potential value of the arts as a therapeutic tool.”

Read more here.

Seminal studies in immune response, stress response, bonding, and more

Lastly, the Remo percussion company conducted a series of clinical studies in the early 2000s that focused on specific outcomes in a variety of populations. From this data, they were able to develop and hone their evidence-based HealthRHYTHMS(R) protocol, which is utilized in environments from classrooms to boardrooms around the globe.

Remo conducted studies on improving immune response in older adults, reducing anxiety and depression in mental health service users, reversing stress on a DNA level, and more.

Read all study abstracts here.

A parting note

Reading study abstracts can be daunting, especially if your background isn’t an academic one. Just Add Rhythm’s goal is to provide opportunities for you to experience the benefits of group rhythm firsthand. We want to empower you to learn how to use rhythm to reduce your stress or anxiety, lower your blood pressure, make more meaningful connections, and rediscover your inner child.

Reach out to us to learn how we can bring rhythm to your organization or community. You’ll love finding your beat!

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