Unveiling Life Lessons Through the Power of Song: Rewriting the Narrative

Whilst researching neurological-, emotional-, and mental health statistic for my last TEDx Talk about how music and songwriting saved me after having had ten brain surgeries, I came across a claim from the World Health Organization that - in June of 2020, it was guesstimated that it would take a minimum of 10 years for the typical adult to mentally, emotionally and socially recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Which surprised me a little, and not just because of how drastic PTSD is... but, by the time I was researching this topic: June of 2020 had well and truly passed, and we were now over a year into the pandemic. The mental, emotional, social, and neurological impacts of the pandemic were, therefore, logically likely to be far more severe than 10years.

So when you live in a world that is so content with prioritizing work and outward success over mental health, and internal well-being: it's a little difficult to navigate issues like PTSD.

Now, before I go much further into this blog, I need to preface a few things:

  1. PTSD is a complex issue. Therefore, one needs much more than a simple article to get healthy.

  2. I'm not a psychiatrist or doctor, but what I'm writing about today is evidenced by my own experiences

  3. This isn't a "how to deal with post traumatic stress disorder or complex PTSD" post - at all. However, this is a testament to my own mental health journey, and how music has played a pivotal role in my own personal wellness.

Right... now that we have covered that, let's continue.

Acute Stress Disorder

According to the National Center for PTSD: acute stress disorder is a mental health problem that can occur in the first month after a traumatic event. The symptoms of ASD are similar to PTSD, but PTSD lasts longer than one month - hence the difference in diagnoses.

Survivors of a traumatic event typically exhibit rates of Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) between 6% and 33% within a month following the incident. However, the prevalence of ASD varies depending on the type of trauma experienced. For instance, survivors of accidents or natural disasters like typhoons tend to have lower rates of ASD. On the other hand, individuals who have experienced violent acts such as robbery, assaults, or mass shootings tend to exhibit higher rates of ASD, closer to the upper end of the aforementioned range.

If you have ASD, you're likely to develop PTSD, and symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety.

  • Intense fear or feelings of helplessness.

  • Experiencing flashbacks or nightmares.

  • Feeling numb or detached from one's body.

  • Avoiding situations, places or other reminders related to the traumatic event.

Who is at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD can affect individuals of all ages, irrespective of their background. This encompasses combat veterans as well as individuals who have undergone or witnessed physical or sexual assault, abuse, accidents, disasters, or other significant events. Those with PTSD may experience persistent stress or fear, even when there is no immediate threat present.

The National Comorbidity Survey Replication - also known as the NCS-R [a new nationally representative community household survey of the prevalence and correlates of mental disorders in the US] reported a median onset age of 23 (interquartile range: ages 15-39) among adults for PTSD, but the typical age for individuals to develop PTSD is between early to middle adulthood.

What are the treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are a number of effective treatments for PTSD, including:

  • Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors - or SSRI's - aka anti-depressants.

  • EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which utilizes a technique where individuals focus on a specific sound or engage in a back-and-forth movement while contemplating the traumatic memory. Although EMDR has demonstrated effectiveness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), recent research suggests that the primary active component of the treatment lies in exposure therapy alone, rather than the specific back-and-forth movement.

  • Present Centered Therapy (PCT), which is a therapeutic approach that diverges from trauma-focused treatments by placing emphasis on current concerns rather than directly addressing past traumas. PCT offers psychoeducational resources to raise awareness about the effects of trauma on an individual's life, while also equipping them with problem-solving strategies to navigate present-day stressors.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which has consistently demonstrated itself as the superior approach for treating PTSD, offering effectiveness both in the short and long term. When it comes to addressing PTSD, CBT adopts a trauma-focused perspective, placing the traumatic event(s) at the core of the treatment. The primary objective is to identify, comprehend, and modify thinking and behavioral patterns. CBT is an active form of therapy, requiring patients to actively engage not only during their weekly sessions but also outside of them. Through this approach, patients acquire valuable skills that can be applied to alleviate their symptoms. These skills are repeatedly practiced during therapy sessions and play a crucial role in supporting the improvement of symptoms. Typically, CBT treatments span a duration of 12 to 16 weeks.

Which is where I have found songwriting to be incredibly effective

Now, when most people think of music and songwriting as it relates to mental health, or therapy: what often comes to mind is either:

  • Those songs we listen to when we're feeling down in the dumps, depressed, angry, or stressed.

    OR

  • Some quirky, out of the box, and hippy approach to mental health that involves candles, incense and affirmations.

And while that might be appealing to some people, that's not what I'm talking about.

Utilizing songwriting as a tool for CBT is based on the premise that our thoughts become things... In other words, what we listen to, what we tell ourselves, and what we continue to feed our minds dictates our current and future mental and emotional states, yet we are quick to dismiss the music we listen to, the songs we sing, and how we write.

One of the things I've found to be incredibly effective, as it pertains to my own mental health journey in the face of childhood abuse, adverse experiences, and traumatic events has been to utilize music in order to help me

  • identify

  • lean into

  • understand and process

  • and cognitively reframe those same traumatic experiences.

Let's look at some examples:

Dear Me is a letter to my own mental health

Written in 2014, after I was triggered in the workplace, and reminded of not only my own fragile mental health at the time, but also of the lives I'd lost as a result of suicide, alcohol abuse, and depression... I drew on music, songwriting, therapy and coaching to help me identify my own struggles with depression, lean into the pain of loss, understand and process that pain effectively, and ultimately cognitively reframe the situation from the perspective of my 80year old self talking to my present-day self about why it's important for me to hold on.

"Dear Me - I just called to say I miss you, You're gonna be fine. Dear me - don't forget there's still tomorrow, It's gonna be all right"

Addicted to a Dream was me breaking up from toxic relationships

Written in 2013, after breaking up again with an abusive partner: I realized how similar love and drug addiction felt... but the only way I was going to get better was to - again - recognize [identify] the issue, lean into the reasons why I was so invested, understand and process [deal with] those root issues, and give myself permission to end things [cognitively recognize my value, and reframe how poisonous the relationship was].

Moving forward: every time I sang that song on stage, or listened to the recording in my car, I was reminding myself of my value, and how much more - and better - I deserved.

"You've got me addicted to a dream I could never be, You're a danger to love and a heartache to leave, Addicted to a dream I could never be, You're the sweetest poison".

Faith in You was my mantra to trust in myself - and in love

Written in 2021, just over a year into the pandemic - and my own personal journey of mental health discovery - I realized I was still struggling with feelings related to worthiness, especially as it pertained to love. They say that one of the first steps to being healthy is to treat yourself like your own best friend, but up until that point: I still doubted my value in life, let alone in relationships.

Faith in You was my way of cognitively reframing that limited self belief into recognizing that those feelings didn't serve me... my historic struggle to prove myself was a coping strategy that I simply didn't need anymore.

"I'm breaking up with a past that no longer serves me, The trauma that's in my bones is now only learning, I'm breaking up with the fear - and leaning into my truth, I'm trying to trust again - if love is having faith in you"

Spoiler alert: I had to have faith in myself, not just in the other person.

There are so many other examples I could give where the act of songwriting has allowed me the ability, and opportunity to cognitively reprogram my thoughts, feelings, and responses to traumatic events.

 

  • Barbed Wire- a song I wrote to process and overcome sexual assault.
  • I Am - an affirmation song, reminding me - yet again - why I'm worthy, and the strength I've developed in the face of difficulty.
  • Proud - a song I wrote to process the passing of my father in 2018.
  • Save you from Yourself - my tough love song to myself reminding me that I'm the only one who can change the trajectory of my thoughts, feelings, and - ultimately - my life.
  • Living Proof- a song inspired by Marianne Williamson: reminding myself that I've survived 100% of my bad days thus far, and that the greatest power I have is love... so I need to continue to show love for myself, and for the world around me.

Of course, it's subtle work

But over time, you'll start to notice

  • Your moods and emotions have improved - especially as you continue to write and sing your lessons learned.

  • Your thinking has shifted.

  • Your behaviors have changed, and habits you previously had start to shift.

  • Your relationships with others are better - especially your relationship with yourself!

  • You begin to feel more satisfied with your life.

In saying this, however, it often needs more than just a determination to write songs... working with a coach or mentor when it comes to cognitively understanding, processing and working through traumatic events, disempowering thoughts, and adverse experiences can be crucial. I often tell clients who have experienced more severe traumatic events would also benefit from seeing a certified psychotherapist or counsellor in conjunction with songwriting coaching.

The difference with adding songwriting to the mix, however, is that it helps clients - young people in particular - retain their lessons learned, and process the information/conclusions from their clinical sessions more effectively than simply through typical talk therapy.

If you're interested in learning more about how music and songwriting can facilitate your mental health journey through turning your life lessons into musical blessings, I'd love to hop on a free discovery call here to learn more about how YES Youth Coaching and Empowerment through Songwriting coaching can facilitate your better future self

In the meantime: Need more advice?

Send me a message and I'd be more than happy to send you over some more information about how songwriting can help you on your journey to mental health and wellness, including a FREE copy of my book: Reconnect with your Teenager - A Parent's Guide to Helping your Stressed or Anxious Kid Using the Art of Songwriting.

I look forward to connecting with you soon.

~ Emma G

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