Category Archives: Skills

Music as a Tool

Music, like other mediums, is a conduit of emotion. Singing or dancing along to a favorite song connects you to it, fully immerses you in the music and makes you a part of the experience.  Where your attention is focused – on the melody, the beat, the lyrics, the tempo, the various instruments, etc. – differs by the song, as well as differing by each individual’s own preferences.

Music can certainly affect mood. Certain songs may encourage you to be in a good mood, a “happy place” or even a “sad place” depending on the mood of the song itself and your relationship to it.  For example, listening to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” can lift me from a sad, depressed mood and inspire hope. For me, the upbeat tempo and the lyrics, “Don’t worry about a thing,/’Cause every little thing gonna be all right”  provides positivity. For another person, the same song may not have the same effect.

Specific songs can bring you back emotionally to a prior time and place of hearing the song. Much like a  time machine, the song transports you to a previous time. Songs can connect you to those in your life who are absent, due to distance or death. I personally cannot listen to a Bob Dylan song without thinking of my father, whose favorite musician was Bob Dylan. As my father passed away in November of 2010, this can function in a positive manner or a negative manner. Listening to Dylan music has acted as an agent in my grieving process, both allowing me release through crying and allowing me closeness to my father through memories of times we listened together.

As music and memory are so interconnected, you must be aware of songs that bring up negative memories and emotion for you. I try to refrain from listening to music that produces negative memories (and emotions) in myself, such as songs that my ex-boyfriend frequently listened to. Certainly there are songs that bring up positive memories and emotions as well.  Music can inspire empowerment through lyrics that show triumph and overcoming. It can inspire connectiveness and the feeling that “I am not alone.”  Songs can tell stories, beg you to think about issues and, reversely, invite you to get absorbed in the aesthetics.

In this way, music can be used as a distraction from current unpleasantness or pain. In times of stress or crisis, listening to music can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Calm, instrumental pieces can be used in relaxation techniques.  There have been several studies that even suggest  music can improve memory. One such study reports that, “[a]utobiographical recall in patients with dementia improves significantly when music is playing…” (Lancet).

I am, by no means, even close to an expert on music. But I do know this, when I’m having a terrible, stressful day, when nothing seems to be going “right” and I feel myself sinking into depression and anxiety, music helps. As I listen to Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up”, singing along to the lyrics, it doesn’t solve my problems or make everything better, but in that moment I can focus on the words in the song and I can believe that I’m going to, “turn out fine.” Sometimes a brief moment, such as this, allows me to alter my mood and offers positive thinking an entrance.

Only rainbows after rain
The sun will always come again and
It’s a circle, circling around again
It comes around again

Advertisements

Procrastination

I have so much to do.

Not just today, but everyday. Always. I’m a mother of two daughters who are three and seven. They take dance lessons and swim lessons. They have health issues that require doctor appointments and tests. They need lunches packed, homework help, stories read, projects planned and all the amazing things that go along with being three and seven. Including tantrums and dramatics.  I’m attending school for social work and I’ve set a goal to achieve a high GPA. This requires research, homework, papers, traveling to and from school, etc. I live in a house with my kids, my partner and our four pets. Four pets that require a lot of care and attention. And the house? That requires a lot of attention as well. I have chronic health issues that require appointment to doctors, therapies, medications and the need to sometimes slow down and take care of myself. And this isn’t even mentioning half of the things required daily and those that surprisingly pop up.

I have a lot to do. And, I’m sure, so do you.

It can get overwhelming fairly quickly. The easiest way to not get overwhelmed is, of course, to just not do it. Procrastination. I swear it was invented just for me. But despite the desire to just put things off, many of these things simply must be done.

Here’s one way I manage my procrastination: I make a list. A list?, you say. Yes, a list.

Remember to get some milk. Don’t forget to pick up the prescription! I need to start that paper for school! Laundry needs to be folded… I should email Mary…etc.

When the thoughts of all I need to do are flying through my head…instead of ignoring them, I write a list. I write mine on whatever paper is nearby. I’ve even written them on napkins because that’s what was available in the moment. I jot the items down in shorthand, as they come to me. And once I begin writing it’s not unusual for things to appear that I hadn’t realized I needed to do. Just write.

Once I’ve gotten them all down, I add one more. A simple one. Make a list is a good one. Or an item that I’ve already completed. Trust me here. When I look at a list of things I’ve (quite often) put off for a while, I feel pretty guilty. And horrible. Adding an item that I know I can cross off immediately,  feels good. I truly don’t know why, but putting a line through an item on my to-do list gives me satisfaction. That good feeling often propels me to continue on, if only so I can cross more items off my list.

And then I begin doing them. I don’t go in any kind of order. I just start doing the items on the list, with the ultimate goal to complete them all. If it’s a particularly long list, I likely won’t. If it’s a particularly short list, I also might not complete it. But the point of making a list isn’t to make yourself feel horrible about not “doing it all.” The point of making a list is to, a) organize and visibly see what needs to be done, b) have a sense of accomplishment in completing any of the tasks, and c) get some of what needs to be done completed. Even if you complete one thing, it’s one more than what was completed before!

As a self-proclaimed perfectionist my plan is usually to do everything amazingly well. If I do one thing amazingly well & a few others decently well, I call the day a success.  Some days, if I do one thing even half-way well, I call the day a success. There will always be more things to do, tasks to be completed. For today, see what you can do, right now, in this moment with all the resources you have.

Besides, it feels pretty awesome to cross off completed tasks. 🙂

Slow Down, Start Over

Yesterday morning I was already running late. Wednesdays are my busiest, craziest day of the week and I somehow always manage to fall behind. I went upstairs to wake my daughters, only to find E, my 3 year old, standing in the bathroom with an exploded pull-up. An exploded poopy pull-up. Now, if you haven’t ever had to deal with this (and I truly hope you’ve been spared!) let me tell you, it’s…disgusting. Not only did the pull-up explode but there was poop all over her pajamas, her legs and the floor. E needed a shower (which is what you get when you live in a house with no bathtub, but that’s a different story). I got Z, my 7 year old, downstairs to get dressed and ready (not an easy solo task for an easily distracted little girl) and went back upstairs to give E a shower. Of course, E didn’t want to take a shower. After much pressuring, she got in the shower and, 20 minutes later than expected, we all made it (somewhat) ready to the dining room table.

At this point we weren’t just a little late anymore, we were really late. And I still needed to feed them breakfast, put dinner in the crockpot and finish getting ready. I gave them breakfast and started on dinner. When I looked back a moment later, the girls were fooling around and not even at the table. I’m not going to sugar coat it. At this point my patience snapped and I raised my voice to tell them to, “sit at the table, be quiet and eat your breakfast.” One of them started to say something and I cut her off saying, “if it isn’t an emergency, I cannot hear it now.” They sat. They were quiet. And they ate their breakfast. But I felt like shit over how I had handled it.

As I began putting the chicken in the crockpot, piling ingredients on top, I took the moment to slow down and really process what had just happened. Was it worth damaging my relationship with my children to avoid being late? We were going to be late either way. Did it really matter (why I was upset)? Or could I let it go?

I thought it over and, quickly, decided that my relationship with them was of #1 importance. I sat down at the table with my daughters and apologized for raising my voice and being snappy. In doing so I owned up to my mistakes and modeled an appropriate method of resolving them. I asked them if we could all start the morning over, because I didn’t like how I acted and how it went (again, taking responsibility). Unprompted, they both apologized for not listening to instructions and said they would also like to start over and try again.

I work very hard not to raise my voice with my children, as I realize what they must feel when I do so. I don’t like it when someone raises their voice to me. It makes me feel horrible. And small. On the occasion that I slip up and do raise my voice (and, who are we kidding here, it does occasionally happen as stressed out parents) I like to use the Slow Down, Start Over model. It acts as a reset button. And you can use it anytime you wish.

Slow Down, Start Over

  • Slow down. Take a moment by yourself (go to the bathroom if you have to!) and take a few breaths to calm down. Then, process what just happened. Reflect on your own actions. Determine what your priority in the situation is (for me, it was my relationship with my daughters).
  • Own up to your mistakes/behaviors. Take responsibility for your actions. And then apologize.
  • Ask to start over (try again, reset, etc).
  • Let it go. This is important. You really need to let it go and move on. Holding on to feeling of guilt and the like will only cloud the rest of your day. Which you are starting over.
  • Start again, being cognizant to behave as you originally wished you had.

The process of doing this shows kids how to take responsibility for their actions, that mistakes are ok (AND that moms make them too!), to apologize/make ammends, and to let it go so you can try again. It frames mistakes as a method of learning and growth. It can be parent or child initiated. And, many times, it works. After our morning start over the remainder of yesterday went quite well. Yes, we were late, but my children were able to see me as human (instead of the supermom I try to be) and we were able to use it as an opportunity to learn.

Dealing with People You Cannot Change

Currently I’m dealing with a person that really gets my goat. I’m sure you know the type (though it’s different for everyone)… they seem to push all the buttons to annoy, frustrate and anger you. They may have habits or traits that are opposed to your own. They don’t take kindly to suggestions or advice…in fact, why would they? This is the type of person who knows everything regardless of the topic, regardless of the context, regardless of their education or anyone else’s in the subject being discussed. It’s their way or… well, it’s really just their way.

If you haven’t had the opportunity in your life to cross paths with an individual like this, never fear because it’s an almost certainty that at some point you will. And when you do, you too will be faced with the dilemma on how to deal with them. Most importantly how you can deal with them, while retaining your own self worth and respect and staying within the bounds of your beliefs and morals.

First, if it’s a situation where you do not have to directly deal with this person (for example on the train or at a party), then DON’T. If this is someone you have no obligation to at all, kindly excuse yourself from the situation. It’s not worth your time, energy or stress level to deal with someone of this manner when you don’t need to. Trust me.

Second,  if it turns out this person IS someone you need to deal with and do not have the option of excusing yourself from (such as a co-worker or a family member) then you’re going to need to find a way to do so without detriment to yourself. Chances are this person may not realize (or potentially care) how much distress they are causing you (and possibly others). If you are close to them or feel a particular responsibly to them, you may feel the need to figure out the underlying cause of their behaviors. It might be that they are dealing with some personal issues (such as mental health or substance abuse). However, even if this is the case, you shouldn’t martyr yourself to “save” someone who may not actually want to be saved. You cannot change or help anyone who does not have the desire to change or be helped.

In dealing with people that push your buttons it’s best to have as limited interactions as possible. When needed, know your limitations and the level of distress you can handle and kindly excuse yourself temporarily from any situations before they reach a boiling point. It’s much easier to excuse yourself to use the bathroom (or the like) to cool yourself down that to have to explain why you’ve verbally or physically assaulted another human being. Remember, we’re trying to keep our own morals intact here.

If you are in a situation with a button pusher where excusing yourself is not possible (in a car, etc) then these strategies can prove helpful. Distract yourself with something else. Rather than focusing on the person that is causing you distress, focus on something (anything!) else. One method is to look around the room and find items (visually) in a certain color. Another method could be writing or making lists. Deep breathing is a great way to distract yourself and calm yourself down. Take a deep breath through your nose and think to yourself “1”. Next exhale your breath through your mouth and think “2”. Continue this method as you feel necessary.

Despite these methods you still may feel your buttons being pushed. Remember that the only things we can change are ourselves and our actions. We cannot change anyone else. Getting fixated on a person who angers, annoys or stresses us will not change that. Any belief to the contrary is false. At the end of the day we are all free to do whatever we want to do.