Music And Recovery

As cliche as this sounds, I can honestly say that I would not be alive if it weren’t for music. Music has got me through the good times, the bad times and everything in between. I will never forget getting up in my hotel room and listening to ‘I’m on top of the world’ by imagine dragons whilst getting dressed before my appearance on BBC Breakfast. I will never forget listening to Meatloaf in the car on the way to the airport before we flew to Rome. That’s the funny thing about songs they hold memories and that can be a double edged sword. Whenever I hear ‘moves like Jagger’ I am plunged head first into the memory of sitting in the lounge in a psychiatric hospital whilst a patient dances around the room. Hearing ‘cake by the ocean’ will always remind me of the cold,hard days spent in utter boredom in the secure unit. There are Ed Sheeran songs that remind me of ex partners and no matter how much I like Ed Sheeran, I cannot hear these songs without feeling like complete rubbish. Music can be therapy but there is also a danger of music being harmful to the mind so be careful.

So, music and recovery. I use music at the moment to get me through my feeds as I’m currently being treated for anorexia nervosa and am being fed through an NG tube. I have a specific playlist named ‘Feed’ which consists of:

  • I’m yours-Alyssa Bernal
  • Boom clap-Charli XCX
  • Recover-Chvches
  • Learn to live-Darius Rucker
  • Starman-David Bowie
  • Survivor-Destiny’s Child
  • On top of the world-Imagine Dragons
  • Cold in Ohio-Jamie Lawson
  • Living in the moment-Jason Mraz
  • Breathe in, breathe out, move on-Jimmy Buffet
  • Little me-Little Mix
  • Scare away the dark-Passenger
  • Superheroes-The Script
  • Let it go-Demi Lovato
  • Heroes-David Bowie
  • Chocolate-The 1975
  • Love my life-Robbie Williams

All of these songs I either find relaxing, recovery focused, feel good or they hold positive memories. I find feeds really distressing and I know a lot of recovery can be distressing, that’s why in DBT there’s a whole module called ‘distress tolerance’. For me, music is my distress tolerance. ‘Cold in Ohio’ always relaxes me whilst ‘living in the moment’ reminds me of mindfulness. ‘On top of the world’ is a proper feel good song and also reminds me of the positive memory when I went on BBC Breakfast. ‘Little me’ gives me the reminder that I want to make 4 year old me proud. Maybe I won’t be able to listen to these songs again once all of this is over but for now they are getting me through and that’s what recovery is about, getting through.

Mindfulness: A Way To Manage Waiting Room Anxiety

I know how tough waiting rooms can be, how the seconds feel like hours as you wait to be weighed at the eating disorder clinic or you wait for your psychologist to call you in for your session and especially when you’re at your GP after realising there is a problem. I’ve spent many years sat in waiting rooms and I still find it anxiety provoking and difficult but I’ve come up with a technique to help me to stay in the moment and I wanted to share it with you.

Firstly: The ABC game. Find something in the room beginning with A, B, C, D all the way through to Z. No cheating, no skipping letters. Yes X is difficult but look on posters and you might find it.

Secondly: If you are still waiting after finding your A-Z then try colours. Find something red, yellow, orange, blue, pink and so on.

Distract your mind with these mindful games whilst you try to sit with a relaxed and open posture.

#gmAsks Q&A Session For Mental Health Awareness Week

This evening I hosted a question and answer session for Grey Matters on my twitter (@mentalbattle) on the topic of “Improving The Moment” for Mental Health Awareness Week. Here are the questions and answers:

What coping strategies have you used and found helpful?

Crochet and colouring in. Crochet helps you keep your hands busy while your brain gets a chance to rest. Colouring in needs to be intricate so you have to focus on it and not on anything else-form of mindfulness?

Do you find mindfulness useful?

Yes, I’m quite new to it, but already seeing the benefits. I take a class at the local Buddhist centre and read at home. It clears my mind of clutter, and stops me stressing about the past/future. It’s also helped my insomnia. I also practice when I’m on my bike-I focus on the countryside instead of negative thoughts. Mindfulness on wheels!

I don’t know that much about mindfulness and haven’t practiced it but I found the #healthyminds taster session interesting.

Ironically, I find it much easier to practice when I’m more well. When I’m more in need of the skills, they’re harder to use.

It’s not necessarily something to be taught but something that we all do but just don’t realise.

Have you had support from friends/family/mental health services? Has it been useful?

The best support from friends is offers of cups of tea, dinners and hugs.

It’s the small things-a text or a phone call can make all the difference to someone who’s struggling.

What do you do to improve the moment?

A few deep breaths.

Does being outside have a positive effect on your mental health?

Definitely helps me relax being outside walking dogs by sea and enjoying nature.

Being in the countryside doesn’t help me but being in sunshine or by water does! You have to find what works for you. Sun restorative, water calming.

Yes! Whether exercising, a walk in the the park or just being in the sun-all beneficial.

Absolutely-cycling is my big thing. Just disappearing into the countryside for a few hours. Fresh air and exercise.

Do you think it would be useful if mindfulness was taught right from nursery school through to workplace?

Definitely, as part of a mental education class. Children are taught PE, so why not mental education? It just seems like common sense. It would also pretty much normalise mental illness and eradicate stigma.

What does self-care mean to you?

Self-care is my aim, I want to be able to cope without relying on 3rd party help. Methods could be varied.

Looking after myself-washing, sleeping, eating properly, positive thoughts, exercise. Not always possible of course.

Self-care is anything that makes me feel a bit better. Reading, walking, colouring, showering, music!

What do you do to self-soothe?

Self-soothing-reading, writing, shouting (actually works for me, not so good for others around me though)

Yes! A world-changingly good idea.

To follow more of the conversation, check out the #gmAsks on Twitter.


The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is Mindfulness. So what exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment without being stuck in the past or worrying about the future. You can use mindfulness in nearly every part of your life, for example when brushing your teeth just focus on brushing your teeth. Notice what the toothpaste looks like and then what it smells of. Notice the taste of it. Focus on brushing each tooth. Multi-tasking isn’t good for our mental health, it can be incredibly helpful to slow down, be present and just notice but you will probably do a better job of brushing your teeth in this case too!

You can also be mindful when walking or driving, have you ever gone from A to B but you can’t really remember the journey? That is because you were not being mindful, instead you were probably being ‘mind full’. When walking, notice your surroundings. What can you hear? What can you see? What does the air feel like? Can you smell anything?

It is also possible to eat mindfully and non-judgementally. In my eating disorder group we describe the packaging using facts such asthe  colour or images that are printed on the packaging. Then we look at the food, we notice the colour and if the colour varies. We notice the texture. What does it feel like? What does it smell like? Then we put the food in our mouth and just notice what it feels like in our mouth before chewing it slowly and mindfully. Often people find that the flavour is much stronger than it normally is.

There are so many different ways that people can use mindfulness, what helps one person may not work for another and so it is important to try various methods. I use mindfulness in two ways. Firstly, with music. I will put a song on and try to listen to all of the lyrics and focus on what the song is saying. I also use mindfulness in the bath. I will drop a bath bomb into the water and notice the colours and smells and for a moment all I am thinking about is that bath bomb and it offers respite from my thoughts and calms my mind.

Your mind will drift off but that’s okay, acknowledge the thought and then go back to focusing on the mindfulness task that you are doing. Everyone’s mind wanders, that’s just what it does so don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t remain present the entire time.

Mindfulness can help improve both physical and mental wellbeing. Being fully engaged in activities can make life more pleasurable and enjoyable. Mindfulness can offer respite from worries and distressing thoughts leading to a decrease in stress and making it easier to sleep.

Check out this awesome TED talk by Andy Puddicombe on Mindfulness:

A realisation

In the DBT group I attend we do a mindful eating activity every week. Normally I avoid taking part as much as I possibly can and often won’t even look at the food in my hand and think about something totally different but last time I fully participated and was shocked at what I noticed.

This time we were mindfully eating dried mango. I normally see colours in blocks but I looked at the piece of dried mango in my hand and saw all different shades of yellow and orange and I couldn’t help but think maybe that says something about how we see the world. That the world around us isn’t just black and white, it’s made up of all sorts but we never look close enough to see or even realise that we aren’t looking closely enough.

One Mindfully

We live in such a busy society that it has become the norm to multitask, in fact I think there is often an expectation that people should do it. I know I’m guilty of it: emailing under the table whilst holding a conversation, eating whilst writing or tweeting. Texting whilst having a conversation with my family AND watching TV. I even started exercising and taking phone calls in the bath. Multitasking is certainly possible but it is not effective and neither is it good for our mental health. I often get stressed out and exhausted with all the different thoughts that race through my head and feeling like I don’t get a minute to myself. This is why I think that ‘one mindfully’ is an incredibly important skill.

One mindfully is all about learning to focus on being in the present, focusing on what we are doing and what is happening in the moment. The idea is to do one thing at a time so that we can give our full attention to what we are doing but it also helps us to feel completely present and have the experience of what we are doing. When was the last time you brushed your teeth and noticed the colour of your toothpaste and focused on cleaning each part of your mouth? I’m sure many people do the same that I do…I often brush my teeth whilst doing other things and thinking of other things. I might get the job done but I haven’t acknowledged that I am brushing my teeth, I haven’t experienced brushing my teeth and I probably haven’t done the best job I could do.

Do one thing at a time! If you are eating, eat. If you are walking, walk. Give everything you do your full attention. Let go of distractions and go back to what you are doing again and again. Concentrate your mind, if you find yourself doing two things at a time, stop and go back to one thing at a time.

It does feel unnatural because it is the opposite of multitasking which is something we have all learnt to do and often feel is necessary but you will feel better and you will be much more effective if you do.

 One mindfully: Be in the moment