Stress and music

Life can be overwhelming.  Just when you think you have everything working right, a change (good or bad) happens and then everything starts going out of control.

Maybe you’re doing okay right now.  Maybe your plate is full, but it’s a good piece of china, and you have a table to place it on.  Maybe you look over and your neighbor is trying to balance a heaping plate of spaghetti on their lap.  They don’t have a nice solid plate, they have one of those generic store brand flimsy paper plates and the sauce is already seeping through.  What do you do to help?

Yesterday, a friend of mine sat on a bench with me and he told me about what’s going on in his life.  He was tired, physically and emotionally.  He was tired of what was on his plate, and he had some people dumping their food on his plate, and some of it was rotten.  Today, a colleague of mine unloaded his plate on me, venting to me all the things he’s had to deal with this year, and remarking that there is no end in sight.  I could physically see him become exhausted just by telling me all that was going on in his mind and his heart.  A few days ago, another friend was telling me about a really exciting calling for his future, but there were going to be some potential obstacles to work through before getting to the final destination.  He was mentally clearing his plate.

Three friends, three situations, three levels of stress.  Not all stress is bad of course.  But I think it’s true that any kind of stress cannot be sustainable for a long period of time.  There’s too much tension and there needs to be a way to relieve that tension and rest.

The difference in the circumstances of these three people got me thinking about how we as humans react to other people under stress, especially since everyone is different.  Some of us avoid it all together.  Some of us try to solve all their problems.  Some of us can’t react healthily to our friends’ stress because we’re under too much.  We play an “I’m more stressed out than you” game.  On the flip side, some people enjoy helping others relieve stress.

What if your whole life was helping others to alleviate stress?  What if your main goal in life was to help people feel better?  Are you drawn to that vocation?  Does that sound inspiring to you?  It does to me.  Not only do I love helping people feel better, but I find that helping others causes me to feel better myself.  It relieves my own stress.

This is why I am so excited to become a music therapist.  This will be my job.  I know that it won’t be easy, I know that at times the job will be frustrating and seem futile.  But, as a whole, I feel that being a music therapist will be one of the most rewarding things I’ll ever do in my life.

A lot of people look at me quizzically when I tell them I am going to become a music therapist.  The term sounds cool, but…what exactly does it mean?  The National Music Therapy Association’s definition of music therapy is “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”  They also list that music therapy interventions can be designed to promote wellness, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, promote physical rehabilitation, and relieve stressBooyah!

People then ask me, so what exactly do you do?  My first answer is, uh, I don’t know, that’s why I’m going back to school.  But really, music therapy is used all the time.  Did you mom ever sing you a lullaby?  Do you listen to certain music when you’re sad, angry, happy, or in a silly mood?  If you are a musician, do you get out your guitar/piano/drumsticks/microphone when you need an outlet?  Why do you think Rock Band and Guitar Hero are so popular?  Music therapists become experts at figuring out what exactly a person could use to get better, musically.  That’s all.  Music therapists use their knowledge of music and psychology to create a custom way for someone to feel better.  It’s not prescription drugs.  It’s not hypnosis.  It’s music.

Are you stressed out?  At this moment, would you say that there is a little too much on your plate?  How are you handling it?

Do you complain?  Do you cry?  Do you lose sleep?  Do you eat?  Do you spend money?  Do you vent?  Do you hold it in?  Do you feel pain?  Do you put yourself in pain?  Do you medicate?  Do you drink?  Do you smoke?  Do you pray?  Do you yell?  Do you laugh?  Do you ignore it?  Do you confront it?

Try listening to music.  Pull out your guitar and play.  Go out to karaoke.  Get tickets to a concert.  Call me, I’ll come play some Debussy for ya 😉  (Just please don’t try to pin me to the wall with a spear.)

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