This article was originally featured in Mindful Melody Issue 5, which you can read here.
The 23rd of March marked a year - a whole year - since a less tousled Boris announced that the UK was entering its first lockdown. A year on, the situation certainly feels a lot brighter, with restrictions gradually being lifted.
But even so, we’ve spent a lot of this past year indoors, and we’ve been unable to go to concerts, gigs, or clubs. I’ve never been a big fan of clubbing, but even so, it was still a good outlet to move around and let off steam.
There’s always been something freeing about dancing or grooving or bopping or whatever the latest term for it might be. If you’ve spent the majority of the week sat at a desk, then going out and dancing shifts you into a completely different headspace, where you’re allowed to just let loose and release any tension.
For the past year, we haven’t really been able to do this. Combine this with a natural sprinkling of worry and general anxiety that comes from being in a global pandemic, and it creates the ideal breeding ground for stress and balled-up nervous energy that doesn’t have anywhere to go.
Numerous studies show that dancing has a positive impact on mental health, and this is put down to a variety of reasons. For one, even though it might not be hugely vigorous, dancing is still a form of exercise, which leads to a welcome release of serotonin - the ‘feel-good’ hormone.
Secondly, it’s a way of just expressing how we’re feeling. We know how cathartic listening to music can be, and dancing is believed to have a similar effect.
The explanation I find most interesting, though, is linked to the very reason why we have the capacity to feel anxious in the first place. Anxiety is a fight-or-flight response, because the mind believes it’s in a frightening situation, and tells the body to quicken the heart rate and get some adrenaline pumping, so that we’re ready to either fight the danger, or run away from it as fast as possible.
However, we often have this fight-or-flight response activated in us when the situation isn’t in reality dangerous, but our anxiety builds unstoppably regardless. So think about the kind of message it sends to the mind if we just start dancing and moving around in a silly way.
If a lion is about to eat you or if you’re about to head into a deadly battle, realistically, the last thing you’re going to do is start dancing (I mean, unless it’s a deadly dance battle, of course).
So when your mind’s activated the fight-or-flight response, but you start dancing, this tells your mind that actually, there isn’t any danger. It helps release the tension from the moment, because you’re acting in such a liberatingly silly and childlike way, that it lets the mind know that there couldn’t possibly be any real danger.
Of course, anxiety is a tenacious beast, and I’m not by any means suggesting that dancing is some kind of magic cure-all, or that it will work in all situations.
But personally, just by moving around and knowingly looking foolish, I can’t help but take myself a little less seriously. That in itself goes a long way towards making me see that, whatever it was I was worrying about, perhaps it wasn’t necessarily as serious or as big a deal as I thought it was.
You don’t have to be a ‘good’ dancer to try this out. My dancing usually consists of sporadic and unexplainable hand movements; a light, half-hearted bouncing on the spot, as if I’m trying to jump, but keep deciding against it at the last minute; and a gentle sway. But not a ‘cool-guy-at-the-back-of-the-disco’ kind of sway, more of a ‘drunk-person-outside-a-pub- trying-to-stay-upright’ kind of sway. Yeah, you know the one.
Also, I’m not suggesting that the next time you feel nervous about a work presentation, you start pirouetting and leaping across the boardroom like you’re in The Office meets Swan Lake.
It’s less about the quality of dancing, or even what you do when you dance, and more about the fact that you’re moving freely and carelessly.
If you’re reading this and you’re in your house, as an experiment, put your favourite tunes on, get up, and do the silliest, jokiest dance move you can think of. A personal favourite is anything from Drake’s hilarious 'Hotline Bling’ video. Don’t worry about looking silly, because part of the fun is how ridiculous it feels dancing on your own in your room.
And notice how afterwards, the moment just feels a little less serious, and a little more relaxed. At the very least, you’re doing your friends a favour by getting in some much-needed practice ahead of your first post-lockdown club night…!
So the next time you’re holding onto nervous energy, take a leaf out of Taylor’s book and ‘shake it off’ by adding some rhythm to those lockdown blues.
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Recently I’ve really been divided about my views on social media. Sure, I, like many others, have accounts on a few different platforms and scroll through them routinely whenever I find a little bit of an empty space in my day. More recently I’ve co-founded an online magazine wherein most of our following and publishing is done through social media. I also love nothing more than seeing my favourite musicians on Instagram and getting a sneak peak of what they get up to in the studio, their writing process or sometimes even just their day to day. You could go on for days with positive stories about social media; reconnected loved ones, forgotten friendships rekindled and the wave of support often shown to positive causes. So with all this in mind why do I still have issues with it?
The first is one that is openly talked about; and rightly so. Whilst social media may seem like a great window into other people’s lives it is ultimately a small window in which we only see what others want us to see. We all do it; I’m not going to post a selfie of myself on holiday if I feel I look particularly fat, or my skin looks bad and so on. The picture you will probably end up seeing is handpicked; the lighting may have an effect of polishing the turd of my appearance; the background may suggest a more flamboyant and amazing experience than what was probably had. It’s natural; we all want to show our good sides to the world. This isn’t a new thing either. Think about when you see or hear from an old friend and give them the bullet points of your last few years; it’s most likely that the whistle stop tour only really stops in the nice parts of town. The thing with social media is that this has become amplified to us all. We log into our Instagrams and see people looking better than we do, people doing better than we are and people who on the face of things appear to have a life void of flaws. As we all know from our own lives the reality is very different but for someone who may already be having doubts about their looks, their career or their lifestyle a constant bombardment on social media of other people’s façade of perfection only drives us down. This is something I’ve experienced recently first hand; having graduated from university and being in my early twenties I feel a real pressure that my life by now should be heading towards something and this always gets worse when I head over to my socials. I am there met with an array of posts and pictures of people younger than me achieving their life goals or embarking on an adventure they’ve always dreamed of and of course it piles on this sense of inadequacy in my own life. The reality is of course the only real gauge of success in life is how we feel in ourselves and not a bar set by others; but ultimately when greeted with this information on a constant it is hard not to bring that bar that has been set into your own life and ultimately compare yourself to it.
My other issue is opinions. I’ve always been a fence sitter and my only political stance is that I don’t have a political stance. Whilst there are opinions or schools of thought that I tend to disagree with I also respect that the people who choose that way probably have their reasons, as I have my reasons for my own opinions. Social media has seemed to bring an end to this type of thinking though. I remember back when I was younger (typing this phrase made me feel old) and my parents taught me that asking people who they voted for is rude. It seems logical really, no one’s opinions are really more valid than anyone else’s and everyone is entitled to have one, so why start trying to dissect other people’s? The reality now is very different. I remember during the last election in the UK I actually removed Facebook from my phone for a while after becoming fed up of political posts. The reason I log into my socials is usually to relax and kill time but instead I would be met with turmoil; people engaging in arguments and accusations ultimately over opinions; the thing we all have. The reality is without social media if a political election was approaching I would seek the opinions of those I trust or care about; my family and maybe some close friends. We would discuss our viewpoints and why we take those; a political debate may ensue but ultimately, I would recognise their opinions and their reasons as I’d expect the same in return. The issue today is that going onto social media during politically pressing times is just an absolute minefield. People engage in arguments with people who they have never met; people accuse people of being certain things because of something they have said with no real knowledge of the context or reasons. I still to this day remove people from my social media network as soon as I see a post of this nature as it really isn’t what I’m there for. The truth is, and with respect, if I don’t ask your opinions it's probably because I don’t need them. I of course acknowledge whatever it is you believe and your reasons for doing so, but by forcing political stand points down people’s throats and suggesting that people who don’t agree are ‘uneducated’ and so on, you are not extending that same respect to others. What is even more frustrating about this recently is that social media platforms have too began picking sides and now instead of the once free ‘social’ media platform it was it seems to have become a bit of a machine of propaganda; only showing us what it wants whilst banishing everything else or marking them with fact checker labels which do no more than to state that whatever it is doesn’t quite agree with the opinion of whoever it was that checked it.
So what is my solution?
Social media has become a huge part of our modern society and as I stated before it does have many benefits. I think what we should do is firstly approach social media with the rose coloured spectacles firmly removed; we need to accept that not everything we see is exactly as it seems and that as with our own accounts people only display what they want to display. I think the opinions argument is a tough one – my problem is not with people having opinions or occasionally sharing them but instead when people start to get pushy, nasty or aggressive. Opinions are in their very definition someone’s own beliefs and because we all have different upbringings, experiences and personalities there are bound to be differences. People are all entitled to have an opinion and no one’s is more valid than anyone else’s; therefore, there is really no grounds whatsoever in which anything more than a polite debate should occur. We need to return to a time where we don’t all always feel the need to share our opinions all the time; if you ask I’ll tell you but I’m not sure we need to publish it to that person we met on that school trip that one time six years ago, right? Ultimately if everyone wasn’t so quick to argue about their opinions the whole platform would become a much friendlier place and this pattern of strangers bickering over something that affects each of them in entirely different ways would be removed. In terms of the recent social media bans on political figures; a lot of the people who were removed had opinions that I don’t agree with; but does that mean they need to be banned? I don’t live in a world where I want anyone who has any views that oppose mine to be censored because ultimately isn’t a good democracy based on debate, contrast and balance? In order to make social media the positive place it really has the power to be I really think we need to be more honest and accepting with ourselves and others; and we also need to learn to respect what others have to say without feeling the need to judge everyone else for their beliefs; at least not without fully understanding and empathising with their reasons.
Let's be positive on Social Media in 2021!
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As well as filling this magazine with our thoughts and opinions of mental health in music, we thought we could also talk about mental health and music in our own lives. Every issue we will both write more personal pieces where we talk about ourselves and our experiences. This is my first installment and I hope you enjoy!
Seeing as mental health is such a personal issue, we thought it was only right that we talk a bit about our own experiences with both mental health and music. Each month, we'll write a blog-style piece where we open up about something personal to us. This is a little daunting, but we hope it will serve to highlight the importance of expressing your worries and emotions, rather than feeling like you have to deal with them alone.