A healthy self-care routine is everything, it’s the tenuous balancing act of indulgence with your favourite activities whilst adopting a healthy routine to take care of your essential needs. This self-care routine differs greatly for the individual I imagine, but at the core it’s the act of picking up on those things we’ve been neglecting that make us feel like whole people. Poor mental health is insidious in the clandestine way it integrates into your day-to-day routine, it’s often so subtle that you find asking yourself how on earth you got to this negative place so abruptly. However, there are indictors that we can pick up on to highlight the trends in our behaviour that act as a barometer of our mental health, and again I can’t emphasise enough that these are personal, and each experience is unique and valid. I experience changes in my behaviour that I know some people wouldn’t ever consider because it’s not something that’s significant in their day to day life, such as their music listening habits. It’s only because it’s a part of my daily routine that I can pick up on the fact something’s different which allows me to investigate it, so if you’re someone who lives alongside a melody like I do, you might relate to this.
Being a person who’s been surrounded by music my entire life, it has developed into part of my personality – almost anybody who knows me well knows that I boarder on incessant in the way I’m constantly talking about my favourite new band or I’m pestering someone to please listen to this new song so we can finally talk about it together (I might burst at this point). For many of us, our music taste is nuanced and fashioned over years of personal experiences and it’s something we refer back to over the course of our lives out of a desire to touch base with an earlier version of ourselves. It’s incorporated into self-care without even being cognisant of it – when you’re in the shower or getting ready for the day, or you’re commuting to work and back, you instinctively put your headphones in and breathe a sigh of relief from the world. At least that’s true for me, throughout university being surrounded by people who enjoyed their music loudly and ceaselessly allowed me to explore that part of myself that always relied on music to fall back onto when I felt overwhelmed or emotionally unsteady. What’s interesting is that I’ve noticed that the habit in which I listen to music directly correlates to the state of my mental health, and I know that’s true for others too. When I’ve spoken to my peers about this it’s something they’ve commented on too, it seems that when we feel that despair set in it leaches off the things we hold so sacredly and so dearly to us. Depression and poor mental health unapologetically tears away the parts of ourselves that we sometimes don’t even realise are comforts to us such as our ability to enjoy the feeling of nostalgia when we rock out to bands from our teen years (for me this is a lot of screamo and metalcore).
If you too grew up in that era being surrounded by greasy hair and having your band tees picked apart by your peers, you know that falling back into your glory days music is your haven, no matter how embarrassing it is that you’re still listening to the same Punk Goes Pop album from a decade ago. The truth of the matter is having those intangible reminders of a time we felt free and determined and even sometimes angsty is invaluable, it allows us to detach from our current reality and just be in the moment, in its own rite its meditative. When you’ve got your tunes on and you’re preparing for the day it galvanises your desire to accomplish your (often pretty mundane) tasks but more so it gives you a rhythm in which you operate. So, beyond the clear indicators which only ever seem to be acknowledged when you’re too far in that dark place, such as isolating yourself from your friends or having poor personal hygiene, something else worth keeping an eye on is how your listening pattern has changed. Maybe you’re someone that typically listens to a few genres and all of a sudden you can’t seem to keep replaying that one band or one song that just leaves you feeling empty and devoid of hope. Or possibly you’re someone who religiously puts on a wake-up playlist, and now you feel there’s no connection between you and the lyrics. As I’ve mentioned, depression and the likes augment our reality so much so that our habitual listening seems vapid and uninteresting, it steals the seasoning in our life that keeps things interesting and worthwhile. It’s only once we’ve cottoned on to the fact that things are going south that we can do something about it, it’s about spotting those big flashing red lights that should be going off in your head when something just doesn’t have the same enthusiasm that it used to have. That’s when we should realistically instate a self-care routine to try and liberate our minds from the fog, but it would be so much better to be able to gage how we’re going leading up to that point. Music really is that for me. It’s the one thing I can’t make excuses for myself with unlike exercise or personal hygiene where I’ll pacify myself saying I’ve simply been too busy. But music is something I can’t hide from, it’s the release I’d usually seek out in times of crisis. If I could listen to my playlist last week and feel inspired, why isn’t it having the same magic for me this week? These are the types of questions I’ve started asking myself to be more transparent with myself when I’m feeling myself slipping into that negative cycle.
It’s no surprise that we feel such an intense relationship between our emotions and music, each culture around the world celebrates and commiserates through music and whether or not you’re someone who feels that deep introspective tether to music, there’s likely at least some of it you enjoy. I know that if I start my day with an upbeat playlist, of a wide variety in my case, that my connection to life is greater (I’m sure there’s some funky scientist who can attest to the reason behind this). I truly feel that introducing more music into our day-to-day routine is an act of self-care and like some other acts of self-care it’s not always done with enthusiasm, at least to start with. There are times where I simply don’t connect to the music and it feels like I’m forcing myself, but it creates a linear path to starting an activity I’ve been putting off such as getting in the shower or getting pumped to leave the house. Of course there’s always the temptation for me to listen to some old school PTV and sink further into the void, but truthfully even then the feeling of being understood in that moment is a release, irrespective of how mopey I might feel. Music can be our relief from the outside world, it can be the encouragement to keep pushing on, it’s our refuge and our inspiration when times are tough. The thing is, there’s no person on earth who’s impervious to declining mental health, if you look at the state of the world we’re in at the minute for example, nobody could have anticipated the anxiety and isolation we’d be almost used to a few years ago. That’s why it’s so important to take greater care with yourself, notice those little things that don’t feel quite right, and when you feel the big scary red flashing light going off it’s time to act immediately. I’ve spoken a lot about music but this really applies to anything you feel passionately about, whatever art or outlet that speaks to you, it’s important to try and recognise when you feel despondent about it. I’m no expert, and I can’t imagine what it’s like living in someone else’s head but I can imagine having some tunes to help get through the tough days will make things a little better at least, so as an act of self-care make that rainy day playlist if you haven’t already.
Words`: Hannah Searle
(All images sourced through Pixabay, users:3422763, Cegoh, Foundry, Mikewallimages, Pexels)