Expressive writing was first studied by James Pennebaker in the 1980’s and the first scientific study, in collaboration with Joshua Smyth in 1986 found that this technique seemed to help those who used it to offload and discharge feelings.
They studied the effects of this technique and found that a significant number of people who used the technique seemed to show benefits to their immune system, inflammation markers and in the number of health issues as well as reduced anxiety, and improved mood.
I have been studying and practising this technique personally and am now combining it with a specific technique for managing emotions and would like to offer this method to those of you who would like to try it.
I’ve put an online course together for you that I think may be helpful for those who wish to try an alternative to traditional talking therapies, or who for whatever reason cannot access therapy at this time.
The course is £25 – less than half the price of a standard therapy session.
Red Online published an article about my book last year and it had a useful extract of the book which gives information about the different thoughts we can have with certain emotions. I thought it might be helpful to post this in case you missed it last year.
I feel like I’ve walked into a dream to be honest. I’ve had half a year of intense and secret research looking at courses, wondering if I could find a way to learn this subject. Looking at ways for it to fit in with my commitments as a Mum, and with me living rurally, nowhere near any big city. Also not having any money available for a formal course, and not being of an age to be able to study it formally anyway, as well as years of just assuming I could never do something like this. So, one very late night when I was scrolling before putting my phone down to sleep, I saw a post on the 2% Rising (Women in music production) Facebook group and clicked to apply. I filled out the form straight away without thinking too much at all and then went to sleep. In the morning I woke to a reply and immediate acceptance and bam! Here I am. Later that day I found out that I had not been accepted to another course I had applied for a scholarship on. But this had been one that I had agonised over and wasn’t sure was right for me anyway. I have noticed that often the things I think too long and hard about end up being the things that weren’t right for me. I know that it is easy to have this wisdom in hindsight but over the past 6 months I have been trying to let myself be guided by what just feels right in the moment, rather than working hard on thinking my way into what I think is right for me but just ends up making me feel lost and lacking in drive. It’s like that book ‘Blink‘ by Malcom Gladwell says, often the best decisions are made when you just go with that gut reaction, especially the bigger decisions. You’d think that the big decisions would be the ones that you would have to spend more time deliberating but Gladwell puts forward the view that these are the ones that you can make more quickly if you just go with what you feel to be right. This doesn’t work for everything, but it is worth having in your toolbox for sure.
I’m on the course!
Anyway, here I am, a (mature) student on the Music production bootcamp run by Alex Bartles and Rick Snoman at Altar Studios. Rick is the author of the fabulous ‘Dance Music Manual‘, and Alex is also trained as an Audiologist. Together they are the skills behind ‘Audio Devils‘ music education, and also ‘Pro Audio Ears‘, ear training for production professionals.
Age is not a barrier
The course is part-funded by the Arts Council as well so this is another reason why I feel incredibly grateful. I would not have been able to do it otherwise. Alex, who set the training up and organised for the Arts Council to part-fund the course spoke about how she was aware that there were so few opportunities out there, especially for women who wanted to learn music production later in life. She also wanted to give people the opportunity to explore career changes later in life, especially in music. This is absolute gold to me. To be able to give the message that we can change careers, we are not too old, our experience matters and to be offered that opportunity is so important. I have often thought about how age is perceived in the music industry and disagreed that it is only a disadvantage. I believe that we have stories that matter and can be used to create meaningful work, and I also believe that our music listening is going to have covered many genres and will therefore provide an interesting mixture of influences from which to draw upon. Alex talks about something similar when she discusses music production and how age gives us more in the sense of our auditory data banks and how music production is about building up a bank of sounds and having as wide a range of listening experiences as possible to draw upon. It makes total sense to me and is great to hear something positive about age in relation to learning music later in life. It is to be embraced, not dismissed.
The Great Resignation
Alex also mentioned ‘The Great Resignation‘ that has come about as a result of Covid and people deciding to make big changes to their lives in order to focus on what really matters. I feel like perhaps we have a keener sense of the shortness of our time on this planet as a result of world events recently, and are starting to manoeuvre our days so that we are making the most of our time. I have noticed that some are moving out of cities and into the countryside. Those that cannot move are looking at how to change their working patterns. Some are changing jobs completely, and some are making more time for their real passions.
Something has changed in me and maybe it was because of covid or maybe it is my age, but I am prioritising my creative work and allocating real time for it like never before. I wrote and published a book during lockdown and the path towards doing that was an exercise in what can happen when you take it seriously and devote real time to it.
Getting over the ‘I can’t’
It makes a huge difference when you say ‘I can’ rather than ‘I can’t’. I notice when I have an ‘I can’t’ thought now whereas prior to 2010 I didn’t even know it was there. These teeny tiny thoughts that pass through our minds really do have an impact. I know this in theory (I am a CBT Therapist and so I tell people this for a living), but I did not know that it was something that was in my head until for some reason in 2010 I noticed it and decided to challenge it. We do not know what we do not know eh! I am paraphrasing the quote that has been attributed to Nicolaus Copernicus:
That’s just one of the many things that therapy can help with; getting to know the influencers of our emotions and behaviour and why they impact us the way that they do.
Anyway I certainly carried the internalised message of ‘I can’t do that’ and since 2010 I have been noticing when it popped up and have been trying to question and do the things that I told myself I couldn’t do. In 2010 I noticed it when I heard myself say “I can’t sing”. So I enrolled in a Pop singing course at Leeds college of music. This was a good decision because singing was something I found that I could do and it led to me discovering a fantastic group of people. We learned together, we supported each other, and we ended up performing at open mic nights too. It felt great to sing. I then noticed the ‘I can’t’ when it came to writing songs. So I explored that too and studied songwriting. This led to me discovering a deep passion for making words melodic. In fact I noticed that I had melodies in my head all the time but never gave them any attention. I had whole song productions in my head too (more on that later), but never took any of this seriously because I never thought anything more about it. They were just automatic things that happened in my head along with the ‘I can’t’ thoughts. When I took them seriously and intended to do something about them, I found that I could shape the melody into a song if I just recorded it into a voice note when it first occurs to me rather than dismissing it. I’ve now collaborated with several other writers, been on songwriting retreats, won a few contests, had two songs published and written two songs with an absolute songwriting legend, Michael Garvin, the writer of ‘Waiting for tonight‘ and ‘Never give up on a good thing‘. These two examples show me the power of the ‘I can’ over the ‘I can’t’.
In 2019 I heard the ‘I can’t’ pop up swiftly and silently and almost imperceptibly when I was talking about writing a book. “Aha! I see you there you little demon” I said to myself. “Why can’t I write a book?!” Then came all the thoughts about how I can only write short-form (songs or poems), what would be the point and blah blah blah. If you go looking for reasons why you cannot do something you will find loads of them. At some point I thought, well there’s no harm in exploring this and seeing how I get on if I give it a go.
I can write a book
My decision to try, led me to travel to a local literature festival, and cheekily signup to a session with a publisher to discuss my brief book synopsis. It was a scary experience, but it was also one that came with a prize as is often the way if you do something that scares the bejesus out of you. Sometimes that prize is the relief of getting through it alive, sometimes it is the adrenalin of surviving and sometimes it is in the feedback that you can get if you show up and be honest about what you want to do. After the daunting and humbling session with the publisher, where I received some useful information to put into practice with regards to my synopsis, we were guided to sit around a large heavy table in the library at Gregynog House. As the noise level increased, the door opened and 2-3 people entered and stood at the door. “Welcome everyone we have a special guest for you, the brilliant Clare Mackintosh is here to spend a bit of time with you all talking about your books and how to take them forward”.
She was dressed in pale pink and white and looked so very confident, tall and yet accessible. My anxiety hit the roof as I noticed that she was sitting with each person and asking them to tell her about their book. I immediately thought “I can’t do that!” “I don’t know what to say!” I wondered if I could slip out without being noticed as all the thoughts about how everyone else was a great fiction writer and I only had a non-fiction book about therapy to talk about which wasn’t a ‘real book’. It’s crazy how we sabotage ourselves isn’t it? I sat my ground, mainly because I was terrified of being noticed getting out of my seat. I watched and listened and was stunned by the honest generosity and good grace with which Clare dealt with each person, giving them advice, support and encouragement, all in a very matter of fact way as if this was any other job. I felt so humbled that I forgot about my own nerves. When she got to me she asked me the title of my book and said “That’s a good title!” I smiled and instantly felt okay to continue. I told her a bit about the book – or as much as my nerves and dyspraxia would allow! and she said that the idea sounded like something her agent might be interested in when it is finished and that I should consider submitting it to her agent. This was a massive punch in the mouth to my anxious thoughts and they shut up immediately. I tried not to act like too much of a fan girl and collapse over Clare with immense gratitude as she gave me the name of her agent. Inside I was utterly confused ‘how can this be actually happening? This is so amazing and unreal!’ My anxious thoughts were out of fuel at that point and my brain was floating free. I was trying not to look like a goldfish when she then said something else that was a game changer for me and helped me put into practice the steps that would lead to my book being published.
Take yourself seriously and prioritise your art
She said to call yourself a writer; on your bio on Twitter; in conversations and in other channels. Take yourself seriously. You are a writer so call yourself a writer. Join writers groups, make friends with other writers. This is what you do. Do it. Take the work seriously and take yourself seriously as a writer. When you do, you orient your life around doing this, rather than apologising for it and only doing it ‘when there is time’.
This utterly and absolutely changed things for me. For many years I had been squirreled away, working on my creative projects, always writing; songs, poems, articles, book ideas, but always silently, quietly, and never outwardly. Changing my mindset on this was, I believe, 100% responsible for me not only writing my book, but working on a professional synopsis and tailoring this towards submitting it which led to me being sharper about my chapters, more focused and writing a better synopsis which led to a contract which led to the book being finished and published. Without seriously calling myself a writer I would not have put this on my bio on twitter and would not have joined the Facebook groups that contained other serious writers. I would not have thought myself worthy of submitting a synopsis, so I would not have focused as much effort on the work needed for a synopsis and focusing on making the book better as a result, and I would not have sent it off to an agent or a publisher at the right stage and therefore would have been unlikely to have gotten the same result because the product would not have been the same. But instead, I changed that reality and created a new one by calling myself a writer, putting this in my bio, joining writers groups, finding out about the best way to present a synopsis, submitting this to an agent, getting a response and then sending it to a publisher based on that favourable response, and then getting and signing a publishing contract.
I am saying to myself that I can learn music production, even if I am a woman, even if I am older, even if I am a parent, even if I feel like I don’t have enough money, and even if I am neurodivergent. I am going to do it.
Saying ‘I can’ is powerful. It makes me feel better and because I feel better I can see more ways to make things work so that I can keep up with my day to day responsibilities.
Viktor Frankl talks about how we endure when things are difficult. There is a great deal of suffering in the world and that can make it hard for us to look for those small creative outlets that make us feel good, without also feeling guilty for those who cannot easily do them at the moment. But we have to look for the things that give our lives meaning because these are the things that help us to do great things and to be wholly present for others in order to help them to do great things too, or even small things that matter. It all matters.
(Substitute ‘drink‘ with food, drugs, phones, gambling or anything else).
Did you know that we have a part of the brain that helps us to avoid upsetting things?
Our threat system makes us instinctually avoid anything that might upset us, but activity in our pre-frontal cortex (thoughts) guide us to avoid these things as well.
So as much as therapists (like me) and other well-meaning people tell you “it’s okay to feel your feelings”, and “let it out”, “have a good cry”. The brain struggles with this initially because it is setup to avoid doing this. Unless we feel safe enough.
One reason why alcohol, drugs, social media and our phones, sex, gambling, and food can become so easy to use as distraction techniques is because they help these parts of us that want to avoid and distract from anything that might upset us. In this article in Neuroscience News, alcohol addiction was found to be associated with higher activity in the part of the brain that senses unpleasant events and makes us want to avoid them. This research shows what we have known for some time, that we can often drink to escape from our feelings. But it is our brain that is ‘helping’ us to do this, guiding us to not be upset. However this can prevent us from processing events that have happened and emotions that would just rise and fall away again if we allow them too. It may not always be the right environment to feel safe enough to do this, but it is a helpful thing to do if we can find a space to offload and process. Our threat network does us a great service, it is always there to defend us from anything that might hurt us. But living on high alert all the time is exhausting. It’s important to get a balance in there, if only to free up mental space to have clarity and focus again, to re-calibrate and reset.
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When two different frequencies are played to the left and right side of the ear the brain detects the difference and this difference becomes a third frequency that is heard. Depending on the frequency it can entrain the brain into certain brain states. For example, a relaxed meditative state, or an alert, creative state.
Have a look at the work of ‘Healing Vibrations’ here:-
A sound bath is a ceremony where a sound healing practitioner creates a sonic soundscape for others, with the intention of producing sounds which take participants on a journey towards feeling healed and soothed.
Sound healing, or sound therapy is the use of either the voice or instruments to create a space where we can hear and feel the vibrational energy of sound. The effects can be therapeutic on many levels; physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I’m really enjoying this audiobook about Sound Baths by Sara Auster. She blends sound baths with her yoga practice and gives some really interesting details about the origins of sound healing and yoga.
Did you know that yoga is not just about postures and breathing? One of the ‘limbs’ of yoga is ‘Nada Yoga’ which means the union of sound. How sound affects us at many levels. In essence, sound is vibration and we are affected by and have effects on these vibrations that are around and within us.
A study published in Nature – link below – showed a decrease in anxiety symptoms in the young participants who took a prebiotic supplement versus those who did not. Interesting evidence for the link between our microbiome and wellbeing.