A selection of articles from all our issues - go to 'The Magazine' to read them all, including exclusive interviews from Aston Barrett Jr., Niko Moon, Serena Ryder, Canaan Smith and many more...
“All this talk of getting old It's getting me down, my love”
Getting old has never really scared me – in fact in recent years I’ve realised that it is a gift that not all of us are lucky enough to receive. Sure, the bones may become a bit brittle and the joints a bit stiff but in an already short lifetime living it to its maximum is an opportunity that most would seize. My problem was never getting old or growing up but merely the grey area between childhood and adult life. When you’re young it almost feels like once you ‘officially’ become an adult at 18 you’re just another grown up; and people in their 20s are sooo old. What actually happens is that between 16, and for me it unfortunately seems to be stretching to 25 and beyond, you are stuck in some sort of purgatory. At 16 you feel like a grown up, you know everything and you’re old enough to make decisions but in reality,your biggest worries are your zits and whether any girls actually fancy you or not. 18 is much the same except you can drive now, and you may have even cast a thought to the future; thinking about careers, university or what you actually want to do with your life. The student years are a stranger still hybrid of independence, advanced study and immaturity and after Uni some of us find ourselves in the weird place of having jobs, bills and stressful lives but ultimately coming home to have our mums cook us tea. Whilst there isn’t much competition this grey area has been the hardest part of my life. I feel like all I’ve done since I turn 16 is worry. What will I do with my life, will I be happy, what will be the consequences of every minor decision?
"Like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown This time I'm coming down"
One of the hardest things for me was going to University. I still look back on it as a great time in my life; great people, fascinating studies and freedom, but with all the good for me unfortunately came plenty of bad. Maybe it’s my stroked male ego, but in school I’d always been the music guy. I wasn’t necessarily the most talented musician but I was involved in nearly everything the music department could offer and performed multiple times at the school. It was my thing, I was known for it, and I loved it. Like the big fish leaping naively from the small pond into the vast ocean I soon realised at University that I was not the guy at all. I was just a guy. All of a sudden everyone was more talented, everyone was more successful and everyone was just better. I’m sure that’s not entirely true but that is how it had felt. After years of becoming comfortable in the security of my small pond I suddenly felt so insignificant in an ocean full of giant fish. Ultimately my self confidence was in tatters. The harsh realities of the real world, stress and fears for the future rendered me helpless. I’d dreamed of becoming a musician but had convinced myself that if I wasn’t even that good in this one university, imagine how I’d fare against students all over the country, or the world. I’d say I didn’t cope well, but using cope in that sentence at all is giving me too much credit. I avoided social events and developed an unhealthy relationship with food. I’d always been larger and had a big appetite but I’d gone from the slightly too occasional guilty pleasure to eating until I made myself throw up, then hating myself for it. I stopped trying with my appearance, wearing baggy outfits I knew looked awful to hide my self-consciousness under a perception of not caring. I’d occasionally try to make an effort; I remember once getting ready for a Christmas social for my band, catching a glimpse in the mirror and looking away in disgust. I didn’t go, and no one asked why.
"And I hope you're thinking of me As you lay down on your side"
That’s what hurt the most, it felt like no one cared that I didn’t attend, or worse, didn’t notice. Realistically, and looking back now, I realise that I may have been a bit far up my own backside. I am - and was then - a grown man and it isn’t the responsibility of anyone to chase me around. Maybe no one did notice, but it’s not like I wanted them too. I wasn’t staring at my phone waiting for messages so I could tell people I just hated myself too much to make it out of the door. To be honest, slipping under the radar suited me down to the ground. After unanswered invitations and ignored messages eventually saw me drop off of people’s invite lists, I’d gotten what I wanted, I had myself forced the confirmation of most of the things I’d been worried about. I wasn’t good enough and no one liked me. Of course, this was all my own doing. My friends didn’t care that I’d piled on the pounds, hell they didn’t care whether I was as talented as them or not; I’d just created a world where that’s what mattered, made them characters in it and used it to distance myself from them. What I am thankful for in these times is my girlfriend, whom I lived with, and my family. My family knew I was having issues thanks to a small breakdown I’d had over Christmas, but my girlfriend was living with them everyday. I don’t envy the position I put her in and I’m forever grateful that she stuck with me through it. I know in the past she has questioned why she didn’t do more to help; maybe encourage me to stop eating so much or force me out of the flat – but the fact is that I’m an adult. It’s not her responsibility to look after me, and if I wasn’t willing to help myself, I certainly wasn’t going to listen to her.
"Now the drugs don't work They just make you worse but I know I'll see your face again"
The majority of the issues I have discussed came to a head in my third year, but thanks to homesickness I wasn’t feeling so hot in the first year either. The second year was a strange one – I wasn’t really homesick anymore, and I wasn’t at the highs (or lows) of my confidence issues – but I was still depressed. So much so in fact that I chose to go to the doctors. It’s something I’m proud of to be honest, admitting I needed help. I’d always linked depression with trauma for some reason – I’d known friends who were depressed but they’d had other difficulties; problems at home or things in the past. I was a middle-class white kid with a loving family and girlfriend, at University to play my saxophone. I almost felt ashamed to be struggling. What right have I got to feel depressed when there are people with real problems in the world? It did take me a while to convince myself that I did need to see the doctor, and when I finally did he prescribed with sertraline at 50mg. It was like night and day. The doctor told me it may take a few weeks to start to work but after a few days I felt terrific, it was like the world had colour again and suddenly I made a partial return to being the outgoing guy I had been before. I was socialising with my friends, enjoying my life and not really caring. Unfortunately, and what I didn’t realise until after, is the reason that this felt so high is because I’d been so low. The jump up to a somewhat normal level had felt huge just because of how bad I was. What this also meant is that as I got used to this ‘normal’ level the high started to feel as if it was wearing off. Realistically I was just sort of levelling out, but I went back to the doctor convinced the pills weren’t working for me anymore. I blame myself for this more than him, but I do think he could have taken more due diligence before doubling my dosage. It felt like all I’d really done is told him it didn’t feel so great anymore and he was scribbling down the prescription; but it was my naivety that led me there and I certainly wasn’t going to ask questions. Well, one thing I can say is that the double dosage did stop me feeling sad, in fact they stopped me feeling anything. I turned into some sort of zombie devoid of basic human emotions. I was unable to hold onto things in my head, suddenly I was missing rehearsals, forgetting important meetings and even handing in assignments late. My brain was a sieve, but with the mesh cut out. Once again, my girlfriend suffered worse. A total lack of empathy turned me into a foul boyfriend. I ignored how she felt and I didn’t listen. I continued to act in ways that I knew hurt her and what makes it worse is that I didn’t care. I was so in my own head that I disregarded her feelings. I remember going home and telling my friends I thought she was probably going to leave me; frankly I couldn’t believe that she had remained so patient. What made it worse was that people liked the ‘new’ me. I was care-free, cracking jokes and having a good time, so at a distance I was fun to be around. My girlfriend was the only one that saw through it – it wasn’t a ‘new me’, it wasn’t ‘me’ at all, and having spent more time with me than anyone else she saw the full extent of what I was becoming. Of course, continuing my hot streak of being the worst boyfriend ever, I turned this around on her. I told her that she just didn’t like seeing me happy, maybe she only liked me when I was depressed. After all she put up with, all she did for me and all the love and support she gave me my skin still crawls at the thought of that. How could I be so cruel, so thoughtless and so disgusting?
"Now the drugs don't work They just make you worse But I know I'll see your face again"
The takeaway here is not some sweeping statement that anti-depressants are bad or that they make you a horrible person. I made mistakes that led to that, and everyone reacts differently. I just wanted to spill the beans on my journey to where I am today. I ultimately gave up on the pills. An epiphany of sorts woke me up to what I was doing to those close to me, and to myself. I still have them somewhere, I wanted to throw them away but part of me likes the reminder. I still have my low moments to this day, and I’m far from being over my depression, but it’s nice to feel in control again. I look at the pills and remember the lowest times and it reminds me that I picked myself up once, and that I can do it all over again. It also reminds me that I had help. My girlfriend stuck by me through thick and thin (quite literally, especially the thick part) and does so to this day. It reassures me knowing that her love still got through to me even when I deserved it the least. I like the last line of this chorus ‘but I know I’ll see your face again’, it means a few things to me. One of them is my depression – I know it hasn’t gone away and there are times when it will come to ruin my day, but at least I know I can handle it now. It also reminds me of getting through those hard times, and ultimately getting back to myself again. I want to encourage anyone reading to learn from my mistakes. I alienated my friends and my loved ones and ultimately fell even deeper into my depression because of it. Allow those around you to support you, talk to those who can help and offer the same in return.
Spring has sprung and in the typical generosity of UK weather we have already been treated to countless days of sunshine (by countless I mean too depressed to count because there's been like four realistically). In Issue 10 our top ten songs was for songs containing nature and one of my inclusions was Bob Marley and the Wailers' 'Sun is Shining' - an ode to how sweet life feels when the sun is out.
I have to say at around this time every year I always get caught off guard by this. I actually do love winter but when March hits, the daffodils come out and the sun is shining I just feel happier for some reason. I just seem to have a smile on my face and everything seems to be better with the world, but why is that?
Well an obvious and more boring answer would be vitamin D, it's literally like happy juice that comes from the sun. Every spring we leave our houses as sad creatures and photosynthesise literal happiness from the sun. It's a strange concept really but the boost and balance that can be given to us with a little kick of vitamin D really is a phenomenon. OK, so I'm not silly enough to actually think that the moment we step out into the sun we are surged with vitamin D and that melts all of our problems away. The other more simplistic reason is that it just puts a better view on everything. When I think back to sunny days I think of walks outside and packed beer gardens. When I look back on good memories, even just as simple as playing football with some mates, they all seem to take me back to a sunny day.
I also think especially in spring a big part of it is just our natural grass is greener complex. In the heights of summer I often find myself dreaming of dark winter nights curled up in front of an open fire, or seasonal cheer and snow, and don't get me wrong these moments can be just as beautiful as a day in the summer heat, but when spring arrives, having spent the last four months in the cold dreaming of the sun, shorts, holidays and just heat in general it always comes as the most welcome of surprises when we start to experiences our first glimpses of warmth. Quite frankly by September I'm usually a little fed up of sweating, overheating and mowing the lawn once a week but after months of separation I really do realise what a good thing I had when it was gone. In fact in early March I was actually excited to dust off the mower and get back to cutting the grass. Our most loyal of readers may remember I often see it as a form of home therapy, putting my music on and admiring a fresh and neat lawn when I'm finished. Of course give it until June when the grass grows so quickly that I can't keep up with it and I'll once again be cursing it, but for now it's a joyous treat of a job on a hot day after months without it.
I really do think that the simple and natural wonder of sunshine is some of the best therapy you can get. Just the thought of it brings a smile to my face and there's not much better than just going out and spending some time in the heat, whether just walking the dog or sloshing back cold beers outside the pub (I said that to sound cool I don't even do it that often). There's just something about spring's ability to cheer us up and bring us together. This magical period of summer anticipation and relief at seeing the back end of winter really is beautiful. In fact the best way to sum it up is Bob Marley and the Wailers 'Sun is Shining', so make sure to give it a listen!
Growing up as a football fan I’ve often sacrificed the back page of a school exercise book for the formation of my dream eleven football team. Many a debate has been had over the years about who should be in the line-up and it still continues to this day. Realistically, it’s not something we will ever have a definitive answer to, but it’s always fun to dream up magical midfield combinations in your head and live in a fantasy world where Gerrard and Lampard do in fact play well together. It’s also a sure-fire way to spark heated debates with your pals and the easiest way to split generations, with your grandparent’s team looking a bit England '66 heavy while your own is more of a Premier League all-stars showing.
As much as I love a football debate, and mainly winding up Man United fans, this is neither the time nor the place. What if, however, we take the same principle and apply it to music? The band to end all bands – a star line-up of musicians coming together to form the greatest super group ever known to man. As with the football dream team, it is likely to cause arguments as everyone has very different tastes, genres and styles – but at the risk of opening myself up to intense criticism, I thought I’d have a go myself and offer an open invitation for you to do the same. The formation I will be using is as follows: lead guitar, bass, drums, keys, singer, producer/DJ, songwriter, and I’ll open up a spot called ‘other’ in case having an accordion or something tickles your fancy.
Lead Guitar – Jimi Hendrix
I’m sure Brian May will be devastated, but even he has in the past conceded that Hendrix is the best. Coming out of rock and roll in the 50s, the guitar had been famously used in a fairly conservative way – strumming rhythmically through a selection of familiar chords. Hendrix didn’t seem to think that way – getting wails, screams and roars from his guitar, sometimes all at the same time. He used the instrument in a way that at the time was unique and has paved the way for a lot of electric guitar playing today. He provided so many iconic guitar moments too – the shredding of the US national anthem at Woodstock to protest the Vietnam war or the iconic intro to ‘Voodoo Child’. Having Hendrix in your band would mean that your guitar could be as wild and creative as you can imagine. He was also a fine vocalist so could provide back-up and harmonies wherever necessary!
Bass – Paul McCartney
Often the most under-appreciated part of the band, it is a lot more difficult to pick an all-star bassist than it is a lead guitarist – however, Paul offers a strong showing. Known more for his singing, writing, piano, guitar and just about everything else there is no doubting that Paul McCartney is one of the most talented musicians of the last 100 years, but his bass playing isn’t really what he was known for. He did however play this role for The Beatles, and they did alright so he must have been good! It would feel wrong to put together an all-star band and not include this pioneer of the British Invasion era of pop. Paul’s talents in just about every other spot in the band present him as a great addition as a versatile team player.
Drums – Phil Collins
Another versatile inclusion, but an icon of drumming nonetheless. The biggest compliment I can pay Phil Collins is that despite years of record sales, acclaim and adoration he is still underrated. Whilst you may know Phill Collins for some cheesy 80s pop tunes or that bit from ‘In The Air Tonight’ the man is an absolute genius. Having read his autobiography, it becomes apparent that there was a thirty year period starting somewhere in the 70s where just about every piece of successful music had Phil’s stamp on it, whether as a producer, singer, pianist or drummer. The man started playing prog rock with Genesis, made a successful solo career in pop and then in his later years decided to pull together some of the best jazz musicians in the world and drum in his own swing band. The man is a musical genius and one of the most gifted drummers of all time. I also love his singing - whilst less iconic than his drumming, ballads like ‘Against All Odds’ demand high levels of vocal power and skill and he made them look easy. If you’ve got a spare moment, I’d recommend watching his performance of ‘In The Air Tonight’ at Knebworth in which the man perches himself on the edge of the stage and sings to hundreds of thousands of people, before taking a leisurely stroll up to his kit sitting down just in time for the iconic fill. Cool as they come.
Keys – Duke Ellington
This was a tough one, but it was really only a matter of time before I injected some jazz into the line-up. Duke Ellington is one of the the greats of jazz piano and a quick listen to his laidback yet technical solo at the start of 'Take the A Train' should have you convinced. If his piano playing wasn't enough for you he was also the leader of his own swing band, widely recognised as one of the greatest of all time and iconic for a more laidback swing feel than other bands were offering at the time. He is truly a great and can offer his skills as both a pianist and a leader into my dream band. A special mention goes out to Scott Joplin, the pioneer of ragtime piano, who was my number two pick. You may think you've not heard of him but go on YouTube and listen to his music, particularly 'Maple Leaf Rag' and 'The Entertainer', I guarantee you've heard those!
Singer – Elvis Presley & Hannah Reid
Speaking of lead vocals – the spot with the most candidates and that will likely cause the most debate. I did have to cheat and put two in, but I feel a male and a female would offer more range and depth to the group. I think Elvis speaks for himself. A beautiful man with a beautiful voice and one of the most naturally gifted performers of all time. The king of rock and roll can tenderly vibrato his way through a powerful ballad as well as he can blow away fast rock and roll tunes. Elvis’ voice remains unmatched to this day and his natural charisma makes him the perfect front man. An icon of mine for as long as I can remember, this really wasn’t a tough choice, despite how many legendary male vocalists there are. After putting so many legends in the band it felt time to include something more modern. This is an inclusion that for me comes from pure talent and voice alone rather than status. It would have been easy to throw Adele in there, and don’t get me wrong she has a superb voice, but in music today, in my opinion, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who sings as beautifully as Hannah Reid. The vocalist for London Grammar, Hannah’s voice is absolutely haunting. I’m a big fan of the group but it was Hannah’s voice that drew me in. I explicitly remember hearing it for the first time and being blown away, such was the ineffable quality of her sound. A big call to make for such a highly contested spot, but I’m very happy with my decision.
Producer/DJ – Dr Dre
This is a tough call. Dr Dre is an absolute legend, his contribution to rap music stems from the 80s and since then everything he has touched has turned to gold. From producing hits with N.W.A to rapping on them himself, to discovering and producing for up and coming artists such as Eminem and 50 Cent, and even starting his own headphone company. The man is a true legend and his eye for detail, sample selection and experience all give him more than enough on his CV to warrant an inclusion. My main concern now is considering how the group would come together. Having worked mainly in rap and hip hop music it’s tough to see how Dre would work with this particular band I have concocted, but I’d be interested to find out.
Songwriter – Bob Dylan
This really is a tough one – and considering the songwriting talent already scattered throughout the group we could have left this spot vacant. Bob Dylan is a perfect fit for me though. A prolific songwriter and an unrivalled lyricist, Dylan has often been described as more of a poet than a performer, and has even won poetry awards for his songs. His musical talent was never what made him great, but we’ve already got plenty of that in the line-up, so I’m happy for Bob to sit with a pen writing verses before passing them on to the rest of the band.
Other – Saxophone – Leo Pellegrino
This is my band and I was always going to include a saxophone. Leo Pellegrino really is one of a kind; the bouncing baritone player of ‘Too Many Zooz’ fame is a unique performer - and I don’t just mean his outfits. Underneath all the dancing and funky basslines you can tell that Leo is an extremely technically adept saxophone player and having seen various pieces of his work is equally as effective in a jazz or swing setting as he is in a funk or dance tune. He can also make some really weird and wonderful noises that he somehow seamlessly fits into his music. I implore you to watch his performance of ‘Moanin’ at the BBC Proms 2017. Letting Leo loose in the middle of a song for a sax solo is bound to produce some insane results and his natural charisma and dancing make him as entertaining as anyone. He would be the unique cherry on top of my dream band line-up. I was also tempted by Lindsey Stirling, whose unique style of music puts her incredible violin playing at the front and centre of EDM and dubstep songs.
So that's my line-up - interesting to say the least, but full of great talent. I would be intrigued to see how the egos would fare in a band made up almost exclusively of stars used to having their own names in lights. How would Bob feel being asked not to sing? How would Phil feel being pushed back to the drum kit? How would Jimi and Paul feel standing back whilst Elvis and Hannah share the spotlight on centre stage? Based on talent alone though, even excluding the reputations of these artists, I think we could be looking at one of the best bands of all time, in my humble opinion obviously. I'm sure you've been scoffing all the way through this at some of my selections so I'll open up the floor for you to have a go yourself, it's a lot tougher than you think!
As 2021 draws to a close it’s now a year since I wrote my first one of these articles. Sat in my room last December wondering what the new year would bring feels like an unbelievably long and short time ago simultaneously, and my June review feels as if it could have been this morning.
The theme of part one, released in the February issue, was bittersweet to say the least. Still shrouded in restrictions and lockdown it felt like there was no end in sight. As a usually fairly negative person it was surprising looking back that I managed to be upbeat about the whole thing; deciding to head into 2021 with a forced smile and the realisation that the only way is up.
The June review was riddled with uncertainty. Although describing something outside of 2020 as a ‘strange time’ feels like an overstatement, the crossover from Spring to Summer certainly wasn’t ‘normal’. With the goalposts constantly moving and promises of freedom being ever delayed it was so difficult to know where to be. Whilst a return to the office for myself had reinstated some stability in my day to day it was hard to be upbeat. Despite being promised our freedom it seemed that every day there was a new rule to replace the old ones, just re- packaged to sound a bit less scary. Despite the situation being far improved from the first piece I was actually pretty negative this time around, being unable to fully enjoy our first tastes of normality in 18 months due to souring it with worries about how long it would last.
So, what is in store for part 3?
Well, I have to say I got it right the first time. The tag line of my first piece was that whatever happens in 2021 it just cannot be as bad as 2020, therefore anything will be an improvement. Now, when I wrote this, in my head there were images of being able to gather in groups of more than six and stay out past half ten – not something I do often being as boring as I am. Despite the first three months of the year being in lockdown and the feeling that the following nine months could be a bleak continuation there was an ineffable spirit, encapsulated in the attitude that it can’t be that bad. Having endured 2020 it felt like we could make it through almost anything.
The second time I wasn’t quite as accurate. Having had a good few years of false promises from the government (I’m still waiting for Nick Clegg to drop tuition fees) I was choosing to take all of the talk of returning to some normalcy with a pinch of salt and despite the reports of better days on the horizon I’m ashamed to say I didn’t really buy it. This goes back to my original point about perspective as to why 2021 would feel good after 2020. I was able to write a positive piece about the future during a national lockdown, but my piece during a time that was relatively restriction free ended up being more negative. This is because during the lockdown it was easy to look forward and look up; once again I found myself thinking it can’t get much worse, so you have to aim better. In June when things were easing it felt like we had so much to lose again – instead of enjoying it I lived in fear that at a moment’s notice we would return to being locked in our homes.
Whilst the current situation looks to be heading on a downward trajectory - and Boris is fuelled by a determination to ruin everyone's Christmas (except his own it seems) I am trying to remain upbeat.
I’ve learnt my lesson – I am choosing not to engage in the Covid worry too much. Despite constant speculation in the news and from people around me about future lockdowns and case numbers, I’m completely shutting it out. I don’t want to make the same mistake I made in June and waste my remaining freedom worrying about when it might end. If we do get locked down again I don’t want to have to look back at the past few months with regret wishing I’d just taken the time to appreciate things as they were.
So, was I right to be optimistic about 2021?
In a word, yes. There are two reasons – the first being that it has actually exceeded expectations. During the Summer of 2020 we had a brief spell of optimism which was then followed by a swift return to lockdown, so it was easy to look at any sort of progress with suspicion. With this in mind I completely believed that 2021 would follow suit, even in the summer when things looked better I was still convinced that a repeat of 2020 was on the cards, and that by the winter the country would once again grind to a halt. Therefore, when presented with the ability to return to football matches, perform at gigs with my band, travel and meet up with friends again I was overjoyed. Although the year didn’t start off overly great, and may not end particularly great, the position we were in for a few months was beyond expectations (although as I write I realise how dystopian it sounds that my judgement on a good year is just being able to go out).
The second reason is my 2020 vision. Not only does that mean I have good eyes, but also that they are rose tinted. As predicted in my first article any small improvement would feel major after such a terrible year and that has certainly been the case. Absence makes the heart grow fonder - and indeed it has. All the things we took for granted before Covid that are being exposed to us again feel so much better than before. Even watching my team get trounced 4-0 is a happy day just because I was able to be there, amongst people. A combination of the fact that the year has actually been a good one in the circumstances, and that any improvement is increased tenfold after the perspective of 2020, means that I can’t help but look back at 2021 with a smile on my face.
Recently we released a ‘Slow Down and Simplify’ issue of Mindful Melody inspired particularly by country music and its message that we should all take some time to appreciate the little things in life. Having based a whole issue of my writing on this theme I’d have thought I’d be a pro by now, but I’m actually quite the opposite.
In a modern world where everyone else’s success is constantly broadcast on social media and we are being encouraged to always just want that little bit more, it can seem that we are never going to be happy with where we are at. This isn’t a new thing, and it isn’t a rare thing. We all go through that age in our lives where we go from scoffing at people telling us youth and school days are the best of our lives, to then telling people younger than ourselves. Year after year doubters turn to believers as young people hit their twenties and realise that everyone wasn’t lying to them - only to be laughed at when passing the wisdom to those younger than themselves. Realistically though, what are we supposed to do with that information? It isn’t like I’d have really done things differently, and the highs and lows would have still been highs and lows even if I was accepting of the fact that these were the good days. It seems less to serve us in enjoying the present but more as a warning that it is all downhill from here.
Taking a broader look, it just seems that we are all programmed to want something that we can’t have, or at least not now. I find myself in my early twenties with a life of uncertainty in front of me and it is terrifying. I often look at people in their 50's, settled into a house with a nice car and a good job and find myself longing to just skip to a part of my life where I have a similar state of stability. I am sure, however, that people in their 50's often look at those of us in our twenties and envy our freedom, our youth and the fact that we have so many options ahead of us. It really is a cruel part of life that every part of it seems inferior until we get to the next part – then we look back with fondness and envy. As Andy Bernard so eloquently put it in the finale of my favourite show - the American version of ‘The Office’ - "I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them." It’s such a simple sentiment, yet it strikes a good chord with all of us. Thinking about it realistically, though, it is impossible. The good old days are the good old days because we aren’t living them anymore. All of our problems that seemed so big at the time have probably been and gone by now, so it’s easy to look back and say, ‘Why was I so worried?’
It seems that in the journey of life we are all so focused on the destination, or where we have already been. My envy of people who are settled into the golden years of their lives is simply me worrying about my own destination. I have no idea where my life is going, where I will end up or what I will be doing and that is terrifying to me. So many people my age are so consumed with trying to establish a good career, working for the next promotion, then the next one immediately after that. It seems that we have let our lives become controlled by this idea of a destination and a laser focus on the quickest way to get there.
This is why country music is so special, and why I get so much from it. The idea that we should enjoy the ride is a novel one to many of us but it is the key to leading a happy and stable life. If we spend our whole lives looking for the next thing, then the fact of the matter is that we will never get there. Nothing will ever be enough, and the moment we achieve one thing, it will be about accomplishing something else. I myself am guilty of this – constantly birthing big ideas and striving for the next phase. If we want to get some enjoyment from our lives, and, as Andy suggested, enjoy the good old days whilst we are in them, we need to learn to be more appreciative of the journey we are on.
There are so many small wonders in our lives that are happening around us all the time. A sunny day, time with family, time with friends, even down to a good cup of coffee. This is the here and now, and if we spend all of it worried about what happens next we will lose it. In terms of mental health too, I often feel like I will never be happy as I have an awful habit of thinking the grass is always greener. I am never settled where I am and put so much pressure on myself to achieve the next thing. If we spend our whole lives being unsettled and unsatisfied with things as they are now, what can we expect for the future? We put this pressure on ourselves that once we achieve the next thing we will be happy, but ultimately once we get onto this hamster wheel it is very hard to get off, and we will then be focused on what is next. I can’t really offer much encouragement or advice on this, seeing as I am extremely guilty of it myself. However, what I have been trying to force myself to do more recently is to take a second and look around. Be thankful for what we have right now and for the things we love in our lives. If we don’t allow ourselves to settle, we may never reach our destination. So, enjoy these days, because it may not feel like it now, but one day they may be your good old days.
Humanity’s relationship with ‘leisure’ and ‘free-time’ is complicated. In the early stages of the digital age, when exciting new technological advances were being developed, experts predicted that in the future we’d only be working a couple of days a week, because computers and phones would enable us to complete our tasks so efficiently.
However, fast forward a few decades, and people are generally working more, not less. But why, when technology means we can get things done so much faster?
Personally, I love the buzz that comes with being productive and working towards a project. It makes me feel like I’m maximising - true to my name - my time, and I’m doing everything in my power to make the project as good as it possibly can be.
And I don’t think there’s an issue with this, because working hard to achieve your goals is great, and leads to a rewarding sense of satisfaction and pride when you reach your creative destination.
But once I accomplish the particular task I’ve been working towards, what happens then? Well, I move swiftly onto the next one - once again chasing that hit of productivity that my brain craves. If I take a break that lasts too long - i.e. more than a day - I sense a nagging feeling of guilt creeping up on me, inwardly reprimanding me for being lazy and unproductive.
I think a lot of people share this in-built productivity compass, especially in a world where there are millions of different things vying for our attention at any one time. You can’t even read an article online without being bombarded by pop-up ads and subscription offers and other ‘articles you might like’. When that feels too chaotic and stressful, we then turn to our phones for some idle scrolling, where, once again, there are hundreds of images and videos desperately trying to win over the brain’s attention.
My point is, even when we think we’re taking a break, it often doesn’t feel restful. I love checking what my favourite artists are up to on Instagram. But does half an hour of scrolling really make me feel recharged? I can’t say it does.
The other problem is, when we take a break, it’s usually still with productivity in mind. When I’m tired from too much essay-writing or research and feel my brain slowing down, I take a TV or music break. All well and good, right? But the only reason I’m taking a break at all is for the purpose of getting myself back to a state where I can work effectively again.
I think in many ways we’ve forgotten how to just do nothing. Try it now - stop reading this article, set a timer for five minutes, and just sit there doing nothing but staring out of the window.
It’s hard, right? After barely a minute, I have the urge to check my phone - just in case - and sitting with my thoughts just turns into a mental checklist of all the things I need to get done. After a few more minutes, my fingers are itching to click the ‘Gmail’ tab on my laptop, even though I already checked it ten minutes ago. We’ve trained our brains to feed off the feeling of being productive, and this often prevents us from being able to properly and truly relax without feeling guilty.
I’ve just finished my Masters degree, and everyone told me that’s a worthy cause for a short break from work - and I took their advice and took a little time off from the non-University projects I have on the go. But even on the days where I would just hang out with friends or watch TV, I still couldn’t shake that constant feeling that there was something productive I should’ve been doing instead.
Okay, so we’ve established there’s a productivity problem. But is this too deeply entrenched in the modern mentality, or is it something we can unlearn?
As I said, productivity is of course beneficial in healthy doses, so we shouldn’t completely ditch it and start sitting on the couch doing nothing every day. It’s more a case of knowing when to stop, so that you can allow yourself guilt-free leisure time.
To an extent, I think the hardest part is acknowledging when it’s become a problem, and when it’s encroaching onto aspects of your life that shouldn’t be associated with the need to be productive. For example, I’d argue that being with loved ones is the most emotionallyproductive and rewarding ways we could possibly use our time - so if even these moments are being tainted by worrying about emails and to-do lists, then this definitely isn’t healthy.
The other thing that helped me personally is - unsurprisingly - music. As you might have guessed from the title of this magazine, we’re also big fans of mindfulness. I found that a form of ‘mindful listening’ highlighted how the constant yearning for productivity was slowly and surely burning me out.
What I mean by ‘mindful listening’ is taking a step back and looking at your current listening habits. This might not work for everyone, but I found that the songs and albums I was listening to on rotation were, amidst others, the likes of 'Sunshine State of Mind' by Brian Kelley; ‘Beer in Mexico’ by Kenny Chesney; ‘More Time Fishin’’ by Thomas Rhett; ‘Tequila On A Boat’ by Dustin Lynch and Chris Lane; and so on.
Okay, so I’m listening to summery music in the summer. Big whoop, right?
But the overriding themes behind all these songs are wasting time, doing nothing and just chilling without a care in the world. That told me that deep down, even if it was being drowned out by my productivity-guilt, I was drawn to the idea of just letting go for a little while and not being so uptight about work.
It’s a simple enough conclusion to reach, but seeing my suspicions confirmed in my listening history gave me the nudge I needed to just take it easy sometimes, and not be so obsessed with being productive.
The best part is, for any other productivity junkies out there, switching off won’t be as much of a culture shock as you might think. That feeling of guilt when you’re taking time off appears because you’re conscientious about getting all your tasks done, and you’re disciplined and methodical about this. So - why not use this same mentality for leisure time? Start by scheduling in breaks and periods of rest - in theory, because you already have a conscientious mindset, it’ll be easier to stick to this schedule.
Turn your craving for productivity into a craving for relaxation.
Of course, it’s never quite as easy as it looks on paper. I’m only just starting down this road, so I’m still more often than not opting for work over relaxation, even when there are no urgent deadlines I’m trying to meet. But I’m getting a little better at it, and with practice, I’ll be able to strike a better balance. On the flip side, we shouldn’t start feeling guilty for being productive, because like I said, it’s a largely positivity attitude to have in life. It’s more about being kind and compassionate to yourself, and listening to your mind and body when they’re telling you to take a breather.
In my previous ‘Music, Mental Health and Me’ article on gratitude, I mentioned how, at the end of each day, I take a few minutes to list things that I’m feeling thankful for. Nearly always, the moments I feel the most gratitude for are times when I haven’t been productive - for example, spending time with family and friends, seeing a beautiful sunset, hearing an awesome new song, and so on.
The time we spend working is stressful enough as it is, so we definitely don’t need any added anxiety about notworking during our free-time. The likelihood is, if you’re worrying about not working enough even while you’re taking a break, you’re probably the kind of person that’s definitelyworking hard enough.
Check out my Unproductivity Playlistbelow for the perfect soundtrack to kicking back, taking a well-earned, guilt-free rest, and having another metaphorical ‘Beer in Mexico’ (even if, in reality, it’s a ‘Beer in My Back Garden’. Hmm, somehow that’s just not as catchy…).
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Well the fact that you’re at the start of an article would suggest that the answer is neither a simple yes or no. My theory back in February was that 2020 had set the bar at its absolute lowest; that the year had been so completely dreadful that even if 2021 wasn’t a whole lot better it would still feel like a big step. I do think 2021 has lived up to that promise at least – it hasn’t exactly been a fairytale year but I’d still not go as far as comparing it to the deep dark depths of 2020.
One of my main points of hope for 2021 was that COVID would become somewhat less of a burden on our lives and give us some more of that freedom that we all crave. Even this in itself is not a cut and dry answer. Whilst we were all promised the ‘freedom’ date of June 21st, then eventually July 19th, my expectations that life would suddenly return to normal were far from realistic. With cases rising and concern brewing, it hardly feels like freedom, and I wouldn’t be confident betting against another lockdown by the end of the year. Even with the supposed dropping of restrictions we are each week met with a series of new ‘must haves’ and 'must dos’ moving forward that really makes me feel that this isn’t progress but merely a repackaging of the hammer blows we have been dealt in the past. Of course if we can stay in some sort of state of relative freedom then I’ll trade abiding by a few little extra rules, but this is hardly a guarantee considering those of us who have spent two years abiding by the rules already have only been met with more lockdowns and restrictions throughout. I must admit that whilst I am trying to focus on enjoying the somewhat free will of today, my mind can’t help but wander to a future that looks bleak. The way that things are being announced it seems to me that never again will we get back to normality, but instead will spend the rest of our lives categorised over injections and forced by politicians to bend over backwards in exchange for a small shred of life as it used to be.
Despite my gloomy writing though, I must admit that this year could have easily been a lot worse. England put in an admiral campaign at the Euro’s (despite my consistent lack of trust in Southgate) and temporarily united a nation threatened with division. And even though in my classic pessimism I packaged it as insignificant – the fact that as I write this I am able to work from the office, mix with people and go out and socialise feels pretty special. As I said in my last article, if 2020 was good for anything it was making us appreciate the small things and it has done so and more. 2021 has not been the bumper year we were all hoping for, but thanks to its abysmal predecessor I’d say that most of us feel pretty good about where we are at right now.
In my ‘Am I Right to be Optimistic about 2021?’ article, one of the things I mentioned was the insane pressure we put on a new year as being some sort of fresh start or clean slate when in reality it is just another day. Once again in 2021 I do find myself willing for 2022 to approach. It seems sad that I am wishing my time away like this, but like most people I feel a desperation to get this infamous period put behind us and to move forward. I fully believe that COVID will still be the earworm of 2022 and possibly for years to come, but I’m hanging on to that separation that a new year brings. Being able to put 2020 and 2021 in a box together and bid thanks but no thanks will be a refreshing moment for all of us, even if in reality 2022 will be no more removed from 2021 than any day is from one to the next.
So – was I right to be optimistic about 2021? It’s really hard to tell. When I focus on COVID and the current, previous and potential future situations I can’t help but feel pessimistic about what this year has offered. Like myself, many people hung their hopes on 2021 being a fresh start away from COVID, and at this current time it feels like we are years away from that. Putting COVID to the back of our minds however there is something in the air in 2021. People seem to be generally happier and, although incremental, freedom is slowly making its way back to us. We’ve all put 2020 in our rear-view mirrors and are focusing with bright eyes at the future with a greater appreciation of the small things we have now. In the sense that you have to hit rock bottom to appreciate just above rock bottom, yes, 2021 has been pretty good; but in the wider scheme of things the jury is still very much out.
From the moment the first shops were closed, the first concerts were postponed, and the first social restrictions were imposed, we’ve been eagerly counting down the days until they’d all open up again. Then a roadmap of dates was dangled tauntingly in front of our Zoom-weary eyes, which only heightened the sense of anticipation.
And who can blame us for looking forward to this? COVID restrictions have been a major cause of stress and anxiety, so it’s only natural that we can’t wait until they’re condemned to the past.
On the other hand, this fast-forward mentality has made it much harder to stay present. It’s been difficult not to wish away the days as the roadmap deadlines draw closer and closer, as we universally tried to press the ‘skip’ button on 2020.
Long before COVID, we were already living in a world that was encouraging us to spent the majority of our time thinking about the future. Every stage of life - school, University, job, promotion, etc. - is portrayed as another rung on the ladder as we gradually progress towards…well…if we’re being honest, no-one really knows what it is we’re even trying to reach.
I’ve always been quite a cautious person, which means if given the choice between something that will benefit me right now, and something that will help me in the future, I will nearly always choose the latter. We’re praised if we anticipate and plan ahead, and of course, thinking about your future-self undoubtedly helps us in the long run.
However, it’s of course equally as important to slow down and appreciate each day for what it is. Not everything needs to be a stepping-stone, and the pandemic has helped me realise this.
Which brings me to the main topic of this article - gratitude. I’d read about Buddhist monks practicing daily gratitude meditations, and there are various references to the value of giving thanks in their texts. But what really sparked my interest in this was the fact that over the course of the pandemic, there seemed to be an increasing number of Country artists releasing singles, EPs and albums that centred around one key theme. Frustration at not being able to tour? Cabin fever from being stuck at home all day? Anxiety about the future?
Nope - the recurring theme was gratitude. Each week, new Country songs emerged about feeling grateful for getting to be with family and loved ones, and having the time to pick up old hobbies that touring and recording schedules usually wouldn’t have allowed for.
It was just interesting to me that in this time when everything seemed to be going wrong, the mentality wasn’t one of anger or resentment. It was one of acceptance, and actively seeking the silver linings and blessings in disguise.
I thought, if all these artists can find peace and contentment through a deep sense of gratitude during a pandemic, of all times, then surely it must be a pretty effective way to deal with anxiety and fear.
This is something I’ve really honed in on over the past year, and I have to say, it’s been a huge, huge help to me in dealing with general stresses and worries.
Firstly, gratitude feels really good. The feeling of gratitude releases dopamine, the ‘reward chemical’, and life coach Jay Shetty has called the feeling of gratitude ‘the world’s most powerful drug’. Although this is perhaps a little extreme, you do notice that as you start feeling gratitude for one thing, more and more things start seeming worthy of gratitude. You might start with the usual suspects, like ‘good health’ or ‘loved ones’, and then realise that you can make a point of being thankful for smaller things too, like ‘the comfort of this Kanye hoodie’ and ‘the awesome new song that Kenny Chesney just released’. Okay, I know what you’re thinking - these are also very broad things that everyone is obviously thankful for…
Nothing is off limits, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. For example, on his Instagram page Big Sean hosted a self-help discussion with his mother, Myra Anderson, and they talked about the importance of gratitude. Myra spoke about how she felt immense gratitude for her spit.
I had the same reaction that I imagine you just had - spit? I mean, sure, it’s useful, I guess. But is it really something that truly warrants a great sense of appreciation? Myra’s reasoning was that a friend had gotten throat cancer, and she was having to painstakingly drink through a straw every 30 minutes, in order to replace the saliva that wasn’t being produced as a result of her treatment.
Which brings me back to COVID. Of course, it’s been an awful situation, and it can be difficult to find gratitude when millions of people are suffering. On top of that, there can be a sense of guilt associated with focussing on things that are good in our lives, when so many people have had such traumatic experiences during the pandemic.
I’m not by any means saying that we should just ignore all the pain and suffering that’s out there, or that we should gloss over the troubles that we’re dealing with ourselves. There will undoubtedly be times where we can’t, and perhaps even shouldn’t, feel gratitude for unfortunate things that happen to us.
All I’m saying is, we live in a world that is moving faster and faster. So much so that we seem to spend more time worrying about what might or might not happen in the future, that we forget to stop and appreciate what’s happening right now. I’ll be honest, I’ve found this a difficult perspective to adjust to, and I still often catch my mind racing off into the distance.
But starting and ending each day on a note of gratitude has really helped me to slow my mind down, and to feel a genuine sense of thankfulness for the simpler, smaller gifts that I don’t have to wait to receive, because they’re already right here in the present.
And when I do get frustrated or anxious about the future, I find that Country music is brilliant for giving me those little reminders about what really matters. So many of my favourite Country songs are about how - despite the pressures we all feel - life isn’t necessarily all about chasing after things. Sure, your career is important, and all those plans you have for the future will stand you in good stead when the time comes. Just don’t miss out on your present by dreaming about a future time and place - because let’s face it, nobody knows exactly what the future holds, regardless of how watertight your plans might feel.
So here’s a selection of some songs that help keep me grounded in the moment, and that remind me to appreciate the little things in life, rather than getting hung up on hypotheticals. Gratitude is powerful, and I can genuinely say it’s surprising just how significant an impact it has on the outlook and mentality that you bring to your daily life.
Whether you want to start noting down three things you’re grateful for each night before you sleep, or whether you just want to start your day with a song or two that puts you into an appreciative mindset - there’s no right or wrong way to practice gratitude, it’s whatever suits you best.
By the same token, we’ll all naturally feel thankful for very different things. For example - I might feel a huge sense of gratitude for the fact that you’ve made it this far in my article, while you might feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the fact that it’s nearly over…!
Either way, if you’re looking for a little inspiration on how to start actively practicing gratitude, check out my ‘Gratitude Tunes’ playlist below - and feel free to make your own, and share it with us on social media!
This interview originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 6 - you can read it online for free or buy print editions here!
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I’m a stress head, it’s no secret. I’m indecisive, a perfectionist, anxious, lacking in self confidence and put a ton of pressure on myself. I’m sure that sounds relatable to a few people and in the past it’s really been a burden on my mental health. Since studying Philosophy and Ethics at school meditation has always been something that I’ve found curious but never thought to try. I used to categorise it as some spiritual act in which people feel that they are connecting to something that, in my classic pessimism, I thought they could never connect with. To be honest, I thought the whole thing was a bit of a farce and was only utilised by strictly religious or spiritual people. My mind changed when Maxim sent me some meditation music and whilst listening I felt instantly more relaxed. It was hard to describe but it felt like I was suddenly aware of every function in my body; hearing every breath and feeling every heartbeat. So, with a co-founder and best friend who practises meditation, and with the artists I have interviewed holding in such high regard the benefits that meditation has on their mental health, I decided it’s high time I give it a go. After all, if it really is as good as people say it is, then it should do wonders for me, right? Well, written below (in a more readable format) are the brief notes I took after each meditation session over a month. I will then give my view at the end as to whether it really helped me and whether you should give it a go yourself.
o I got some advice from Maxim to focus on my breathing, and I’m using the meditation playlist he made me as a background. I have to say, sitting down and not thinking about anything sounds really easy, but it definitely isn’t. I found it really difficult to turn my mind off and was constantly distracted. I eventually managed to gain some peace by focusing my eyes whilst they were closed, and staring into the darkness of the insides of my eyelids. It sounds strange, and it felt strange, but it was what finally managed to help me clear my mind. The music definitely helped as it blocked out surrounding sounds and was so peaceful in my ears that it helped me cool down. I tried to focus on my breathing as Maxim suggested and the music helped this too as I would time it with the music to keep it regulated. After I finished my first session it took me a while to become alert again, sort of like waking up after a long nap. It was as if my mind and body had all slowed and it took time to get them going again. I could definitely see why this may be beneficial as taking time for myself and shutting things out was a refreshing change. I don’t feel like I’m getting the benefits yet though as at this stage it was really quite hard work to stay on track.
It was a lot easier to switch off this time around. I think it helped that I was already somewhat sleepy heading into the session so I found it much easier to sit down and switch off without things buzzing around in my brain. I made the mistake, however, of trying to meditate when I was pressed for time and this didn’t help as I would have to periodically break my focus to check the time. I did, however, eventually set up a meditation song that was exactly the amount of time I had, and after this I was able to relax fully, knowing I just had to listen for the end of the song.
By this point my motivation to find time to meditate was somewhat wavering. At this early stage I still wasn’t seeing much benefit, and although it sounds easy to sit down and relax, it actually takes a lot of concentration. I’ve always been a busybody and I just find it difficult to sit down for too long not doing anything, and even more difficult to schedule in the time to do so. This time I meditated in the morning and it was my first really ‘unsuccessful’ session. I think I’m just too awake in the mornings and I really found it difficult to empty my mind and switch off so soon after waking up in the first place. Despite trying various techniques, I just couldn’t get into the zone and was constantly distracted and fidgety. I think meditating in the mornings has been ruled out from this moment. I did find this session really demoralising as I felt like I’d seen some improvements in the last session and this kind of sent me back to square one.
To be honest, it had been a while since the last session. After my failed attempt I struggled to get motivation to try again and was worried that I’d just keep having failed attempts. I did finally find myself some time and forced myself to get back on the horse – and it went much better. Like in session 2, I was already feeling sleepy and relaxed so that helped me and I found it fairly easy to clear my mind. I did have a few momentary lapses but I managed to keep them as just that. I am finding that it is quite difficult for me to meditate for too long as the sheer concentration I have to put into keeping my mind blank is actually quite tiring, and I can feel when I’m coming to a natural end in a session when I start getting distracted more frequently. I’m hoping I’ll get to a point where it’s fairly easy for me to just slip into that mode of focus and relaxation so that I can enjoy longer sessions, but for now it seems I’ll have to keep persisting to get there.
Like with session 4, I found it relatively easy to switch off. The playlist really helped and the music definitely kept me concentrated and relaxed. I had some slight distractions but stayed on track and didn’t let them break my focus. This was the first time I’d meditated in a week or so as I’d been more busy; and I did feel better for taking some time for myself afterwards.
So that was my month of meditation – did it help?
Well, the first thing you may notice is that in a whole month I only managed five short sessions. When I first meditated I had planned to make it a regular part of my weeks and envisioned that once every two or three days I’d settle down for a session. The reality is that we all have busy lives and as silly as it sounds it isn’t all that easy to schedule in a few minutes of not doing anything. Especially on those days that you have a lot on, I just found that it fell down the pecking order behind other tasks, and when I was busy I could never sit down and relax in that way as I’d just be thinking about all the things I needed to be doing instead. Ironically, it’s this kind of stress that is why I maybe need to meditate but it did make it hard to find the time. The other thing is that it’s actually really quite hard and this makes it even more difficult to schedule, because when I do finally have some free time I don't really feel like it. Before the first time, I thought that it would be pretty easy – I mean, it’s sitting and doing nothing, right? What I quickly learned is that keeping up this concentration and focus and trying to keep your mind away from any distractions requires a lot of energy. I don’t think I had a single session without at least one or two distractions and it even managed to ruin my third attempt completely. It kind of built up this thing in my head where instead of meditation being a helpful tool for relaxation as it should be, I’d kind of end up dreading doing it like it was more of a chore.
So I’m aware that so far I’ve been pretty negative about my whole experience – but I can reassure you that it wasn’t all like that! I actually found after most of my sessions that I did feel better. I’d be calmer and more relaxed and just feel a bit better about myself. I also really enjoyed taking a little bit of time for myself in this way because I don’t do it often enough, as I’m sure is the case with many people. I think for me I just need to stick at it because I could feel progress, and I’m convinced that if I can keep it up, there will come a point where I find it much easier to switch my mind off and have these moments of peace, and that I’d be able to have longer sessions and make it a more regular part of my week. I think the main thing about meditation for me is that it’s personal, it’s about you. For a busybody like me I found sitting and emptying my mind really difficult, but I did feel the benefits, and with some persistence and regularity I’m sure it would become even more beneficial. The stigmas I had over the practice and whether it really had any sort of effect whatsoever have definitely gone, and I can see why people make it such a big part of their lives. I think for me personally I get the same kinds of benefits when I exercise; it gives me time alone to be with myself and gets me away from distractions. I also find it’s much easier to schedule as part of your day, and even when life gets busy, whilst I’m running I can’t be doing anything else and therefore my 'to-do list' isn't eating away at me. When I interviewed Serena Ryder in Issue 3 of Mindful Melody she summed up meditation perfectly for me – “I’ve meditated almost every day for like two years then it started feeling like a job, like work … now a lot of my self care is going for a walk and playing with my dog. I also kind of moved my meditation to dancing; I put on my favourite music and I look like a complete idiot in my house but I just put my headphones on and jump around and move; but that has turned into what I feel I need.” Whilst I do encourage you to try the traditional form of meditation for yourself and see how it benefits you, I think the real takeaway for me is to find your own form of meditation – something that you enjoy that allows you to take some time for yourself in a busy life; whether it’s dancing in the kitchen, exercising or even something creative like writing or painting.
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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