Blog #2 in the Soothing Series: Gentle ways to regain your composure and find some inner peace
For years, I commuted to Boston. Driving home after a particularly aggravating workday, I realized that everyone had irritated me: my supervisor, my colleagues, and even my patients. I found myself muttering about what I could have said, should have said, and did not say. In reflection, from this distance, I am glad I said none of those things. However, during this drive home I was right in the middle of some destructive mind- muttering. Not wanting to carry this mood over to my evening with my husband, I considered my options. It is tough to do tai chi, yoga, or other active relaxation techniques while keeping two hands on the steering wheel. I was too grumpy for deep breathing. My gaze fell upon the CD player. Ah ha! Music!
Sometimes, attaining a state of relaxation seems impossible. Even if you know the benefits – quality sleep, resistance to infection, less muscle pain, better problem solving – you cannot get to a relaxed state from your stressed state. Fortunately, even if relaxing seems unattainable, soothing yourself can reduce your stress level by a degree or perhaps two.
If your mind-muttering is particularly negative, then soft soothing music is not going to hold your attention or sooth you. The iso-principle, in music therapy, states that you need to match music to your mood. For about 3 minutes, play something that matches your mood. Then gradually progress to something a little more soothing.
My favorite songs for soothing are by Bob. If you appreciate the rock and roll of the 1970’s, you know who I mean. We had our own artists with first name recognition. I will not say the times were simpler – they were not. But the names were simpler. Bob. Mic. Bruce.
How can rock and roll be soothing? It isn’t, to all people. During my teen years my mother frequently hollered, “Turn it down.” My husband rolls his eyes. My dogs understand; they prance and dance with me. The point is, it is my favorite music, and no one else need agree.
Research has shown that determining individual preferences and responses is essential to the effective therapeutic use of music. I find some of Seger’s tunes relaxing, but you might find that they raise your blood pressure. Try listening to different types of music. Get comfortable, and evaluate your current mood, breathing rate, degree of muscle tension. Listen to a selection for 20 minutes or so, and then re-evaluate how you feel. Were you soothed? If not, try another.
My favorite soothing Segar tunes are his ballads about life, about seeking more, about growing up or older. Sometimes it’s the words: “I woke last night to the sound of thunder. How far off I sat and wondered.” “I could go east, I could go west, it’s all up to me. Just then I saw a young hawk flying…” Other times, I hardly hear the words. The deep resonant beat of “Like a Rock” clears my mind and renews my connection to the earth.
Music we associate with positive times or positive events is pleasing. Songs or kinds of music associated with troubled times or bad memories are not. I used to enjoy Frank Sinatra’s music. At Saint Anselm College, the pub DJ always ended the night with “My Way.” A few years later, when I needed to be at Salem Hospital for the 7am to 3pm shift, I grew to dislike Frank. The landlord’s son lived in the apartment next door. A bartender, he returned home in the wee hours of the night with a few of his cronies to blast Sinatra songs until dawn.
Maybe your favorites are by Mozart, Norah Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, or even Mickey Mouse. Play your favorite songs. Fill your mind and spirit with music, leaving no room for worries or fear. Enjoy the company of your favorite music as you would enjoy a friend’s company. Play, sing, smile, and dance along. Get your muscles moving and release that muscle tension.
At times, simple soothing strategies are not going to meet your needs. When you need it, get expert help. Call your doctor, your therapist, your pastor, or get yourself to an emergency room. Be safe.
Have you had an aggravating, stressful, or tiring day? Are you still recovering from the holidays? Soothe yourself. Play your favorite music. Play it in your car, on your CD player, on your iPod. Just play it!
Previously published as the cover story in HealthcareReview Northeast Network, Issue #10, December 22, 2008.