We All Wear Trauma Differently: Resilience, Music and the Brain

One of the main things that I'm acutely aware of when it comes to youth work is the fact that this is a different world. Not only was I not born in the United States [my mother is from Pennsylvania, but I was born and raised in New Zealand], but
  • The era of Information Technology has seriously changed the game compared to when I was coming up - educationally, parenting-wise, and simply in the ways that we communicate with one another.

  • Given that I didn't grow up in the States: my lived experiences as a child of color are going to be significantly different to teenagers who did grow up here

  • I didn't have to endure over two years of a global pandemic, and adjust my schooling and social life accordingly.

I will say, however, that I'm familiar with social isolation, and schooling from home as a result of lengthy hospital stays due to a neurological condition I have called hydrocephalus, but.... like I said in the title of this blog: we all wear trauma differently.

The thing to pay attention to, however, is that we all - no matter what age, race or gender - experience trauma at some point in our lives.

Thankfully: at a very age, I discovered that music has a distinct positive effect on our lives, brains and development when it comes to recovering from, and even leveraging, the trauma. Playing music, listening to music, writing music... the effect of music on the brain is significant... especially when it comes to processing trauma.

What is Trauma?

According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is "an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, [sexual assault], or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea."

I feel it's important to note that trauma can also be related to mistreatment of people - especially when it pertains to systemic trauma, which Rachel E Goldsmith of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York describes as "the contextual features of environments and institutions that give rise to trauma, maintain it, and impact posttraumatic responses".

For me, personally, trauma has shown up in a multitude of ways:

  • Brain trauma, from ten brain surgeries as a result of having a relatively rare neurological condition called hydrocephalus

  • My best friend, my surrogate father, and my ex-boyfriend all passed away during my 19th year from a diabetic complication, alcoholism, and suicide respectively.

  • Multiple counts of sexual abuse

... and this was all in addition to

  • The strain and pressure of growing up in a different country to my father [hats off to my mother for truly raising me as a solo mum]

  • The normal, every day stressors of hormonal changes that come with adolescence and puberty

  • Being a female of color embarking on a career [from a young age] in a white male-dominated industry

Thankfully: parts of the new world mean that we can shift how we look at things like how we approach the music industry, but there are now additional traumas we need to learn to contend with.

  • online bullying

  • social media algorithms

  • validation on a world stage [it's so much bigger than just the school size now]

  • body dysmorphia [thanks, filters]

So How does Music Help?

I'm sure you have similar experiences when listening to music: there's suddenly more pep in your step, you find yourself swaying and moving to the music, your brain starts to fire up, and you begin to feel a lightness to you.

When I was a teenager: this feeling came about whether I was listening to hip-hop, rock or the cheesiest of bubblegum pop. No matter what the genre was: I was affected regardless.

Linkin Park helped me to feel better understood - even on my darkest of days.

The Spice Girls and Pink helped me to feel empowered.

Eminem helped me channel my frustrations.

Iron Maiden gave me hope.

Enigma hugged my soul.

On a chemical level, there's a number of reasons for why this happens generally.

Listening to music not only increases our levels of dopamine [the happy hormone] but it also slows, if not prevents, our brains from producing cortisol - our stress hormone. By essentially replacing our stress and anxiety with the happiness that dopamine gives us: we're able to start feeling more positive. Oxytocin - otherwise known as the bonding hormone - is also produced, which means that suddenly we're no longer feeling alone with our feelings either. We suddenly feel understood. Seen. Heard. And validated beyond social media likes.

This is so important for your teenager as they're navigating their trauma, as they can suddenly start to feeling connected with themselves, as well as their peers.

And that's simply from listening to music.

Let's Talk About Songwriting

What if we were to take it one step further, and actually use this newfound bond and positivity to actually work through trauma?

I'm constantly reminded of that nursery rhyme: we're going on a bear hunt. Why? Because it's so easy to get scared of our trauma. It's so easy to go around it, over it, and under it... but the only real way you're going to truly overcome trauma is by pushing through it.

And a really powerful way to push through one's fears, overwhelm, trauma and anxiety is to break every trigger point down into small bite sized chunks so that each single issue, or each side to every trauma can be studied, analyzed, alchemized and turned on its head into something that the songwriter [your teenager] can start to grow through, not just go through.

We already have the feel good hormones pumping through us as a result of how music can help us reprogram our thoughts, but when we couple that with allowing your teenager the tools and ability to confidently and unapologetically tell their truth? That's when the healing really starts to begin.

By - quite literally - giving your teenager the pen to rewrite their thoughts, ideas and feelings into a melody, several things happen:

  • They start to recognize the power of their authenticity

  • They begin to replace the stress, overwhelming thoughts into lyrics that they wrote about overcoming, growing and thriving

  • They start to learn how to constructively discuss their feelings in a way that doesn't leave them swirling or feeling out of control

  • With the right coaching, they can start to learn how to effectively turn formerly disempowering thoughts into lyrics that give them strength, hope, and resilience.

The Time is Now

Yes, trauma looks different on all of us. We all have histories filled with different -experiences, -familial backgrounds, -memories, and -aspirations and hopes. But we are all human... and the human brain - with few exceptions - operates similarly from human to human regardless of age, ethnicity or gender.

We all want to heal. We all want to thrive. We all want to grow.

We all want that theme song that gives us permission to show up, kick butt, live authentically, and be seen, heard, understood and loved.

Most importantly: we all have the ability to show up for ourselves and kick butt, live authentically, and see, hear, understand and love ourselves.

And it starts with a song. An authentic song of truth.

If you're interested in learning how to really lean into songwriting for healing, and growth, book a call with me here, and let's talk.

I'd love to see how I can assist your teenager's journey of overcoming trauma and becoming a more resilient human.

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