Music Therapy As Self-Care: An Exercise for Personal Practice
In this fast paced world of go-go-go, we are often faced with the pressures of keeping the job, raising the kids, making the meals, meeting the friends, getting the grade, paying the loans, cleaning the house, fixing the car, reading the emails, buying the clothes, styling the hair, losing the weight, saving the marriage, pleasing the followers, getting restless sleep, waking up and doing it all over again. Success is measured by accomplishments, zeros at the end of your paycheck, and the professionally edited photos posted online. Success is achieved by constant climbing, striving, clambering up the never ending rungs in the ladder that are rumored to eventually reach the “top”.
If you’ve clicked on this blog, it’s likely that you’re wondering how you can make more time to prioritize your mental health. I’m happy to tell you that you’ve already made your first step in the right direction! One of the best ways to check in with yourself and avoid burnout is to practice self-care.
According to Raphailia Michael, MA, self care is, “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health” (https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/). Self-care should be treated as another scheduled event in your day, and should consist of something that you choose to mentally acknowledge as a time of personal recharging. It should be simple, practical, and easily incorporated into your day. It is important to consider how you can incorporate self-care into your daily routine, as it helps to balance and reset your mental and emotional state in order to keep you healthy. “As psychotherapist Emily Griffiths, LPC, said, ‘The opposite of self-care is self-neglect.’ And ‘neglecting our emotional and physical health leads to increased anxiety, depression, and physical illness.’” (https://psychcentral.com/blog/therapists-share-their-favorite-meaningful-self-care-tips/)
Self-care and music therapy go hand-in-hand, as music is also proven to provide many of the same benefits, including relaxation, decreased anxiety, increased self-awareness and mindfulness. Our musical preferences and backgrounds are as unique as our fingerprint, and therefore, music can be utilized as a personalized form of therapy and treatment. I would like to offer you a practical use of music therapy as self-care, to be used at home, on your own time.
Set aside time to create a playlist of 5-10 songs which soothe you; songs that are easy to listen to, relaxing, peaceful, nostalgic, hopeful. You may choose to listen to the entire playlist for a longer session of self-care, or you may listen to one or two as a midday check-in. As you listen to this music, focus on your breathing. Match your breathing to the rhythm of the music with about 4 beats for an inhale, 4 beats hold, and 4 beats exhale. (Adapt this counting if the song is too fast/slow. Do what feels comfortable.)
Listen to the layers of the instrumentation; the way the parts blend and mold together into the complete piece you are hearing. Listen to the words, if applicable, and ponder their relation to your current state of mind. Feel free to listen with your eyes closed and your feet up, sitting at your desk and doodling, rocking in a porch swing and watching the sky, or in whichever way makes you feel most at ease.
After you have finished listening to the selection of songs, take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions (either answering them mentally, or journaling):
- How do I relate the song(s) I listened to?
- Emotional value of the song
- memories/thoughts while listening
- What do I notice about the world around me right now?
- What will I prioritize today?
- What can I let go of today?
- What/who am I grateful for?
Allow yourself to transition from this self-care activity back into your daily routine, and be gracious with yourself. Know that this time spent practicing self-care will go on to bless those around you as you serve them with a deeper sense of meaning and motivation. Take as much time as you need before you re-enter the world, and focus on incorporating this sense of peace into the rest of the day that follows. Feel free to replay the songs as you go about your day, as a subconscious reminder to practice mindfulness, gratitude, and joy.
The more you continue to practice self-care, the more naturally it will come. At first, it may feel counterproductive to schedule this time into your already busy day, but you will quickly discover the value of these mental recharging times. You will find yourself with more energy and determination. You will learn about yourself, your needs, and your thoughts. The more we know and love ourselves, the more we can invest in and serve those around us. I hope that you choose to prioritize self-care today, and I hope that you are surprised by what you will be able to accomplish tomorrow.