Tips For Enhancing Your Mental Health on World Mental Health Day and Beyond
October 10th is World Mental Health Day, which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and bring our community together. While always important, current conditions mean it’s never been more crucial to care for the mental wellbeing of ourselves and those around us.
The bulk of clubs and festivals are still closed, and the mental challenges of social isolation and career uncertainty continue for many. On this World Mental Health Day, we share tips from electronic music industry expert Tom Middleton and fellow Association For Electronic Music (AFEM) Health Group members Ariane Paras and Kristen Gilbert on how you can achieve mental and emotional balance to live a calmer, healthier, and happier life — even in the midst of a crisis.
Our community is experiencing prolonged periods of chronic stress, resulting in mental health issues, with anxiety, stress, burnout, depression, and sleep loss on the rise. This is being triggered by uncertainty, scarcity, fear, and worry. It’s an evolutionary response to potential danger, known as the fight-or-flight response, but many of us have been in this state since March.
The fight-or-flight response triggers the body to release cortisol and adrenaline, which increases heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. We can deal with short bursts of these hormones (eustress; such as exercise), but if prolonged, we begin experiencing all the negative side effects of distress. Even reading a news headline can trigger this mechanism, and with screen addiction increasing, it’s almost unavoidable. We need simple, self-care tips and techniques to reduce anxiety, to calm, ground, and relax us, and help us to sleep well.
Let’s start with sleep, the foundational pillar of mental, physical, and emotional health and wellbeing. We spend a third of our lives sleeping, and it’s an evolutionary adaptation to naturally reset the mind, allowing our brains to recover, repair, and rebuild our bodies whilst boosting the immune system.
Routine: Establish regular wake and sleep times with reminders — aim for at least 7.5 hours.
Daylight: Walk outside in daylight (no shades!) for 20 mins in the morning to reset the body clock.
Movement: Take standing breaks if you sit a lot. Likewise, it’s unwise to exercise too close to bedtime.
Diet: Eat light at night, two to three hours before bedtime. Magnesium and 5HTP may help support sleep. Aim for 8 to 10 glasses of water a day.
Caffeine: Avoid after 12pm, since it takes 12 hours to leave body and is the worst sleep disruptor.
Alcohol: Booze ruins sleep quality, blocks REM sleep for memory and mood, meaning you’ll never wake up feeling refreshed.
Sleep Environment: Remove tech, and replace with plants. The bedroom is for sleeping and intimacy, it is not an office, dining room, or cinema!
Sleep Kit: Buy an eye mask, earplugs to reduce noise, and nasal strips; these can reduce snoring and help you achieve a deeper sleep.
Light and Temperature: Avoid bright, white light, which blocks melatonin. Red, orange, or soft lights are ideal. Keep the room cool, at around 18 degrees (65 Fahrenheit).
Digital Detox/Dopamine Fasting: So-called “blue light” from screens blocks melatonin, so avoid scrolling, swiping, and toxic screen addiction for at least an hour before bed.
Ariane Paras is a life and career coach, and founder of Olympia Coaching. She helps artists and music professionals find clarity, focus, and balance, so they can achieve their goals and potential. With 15 years in the music business at labels and senior booker at Razzmatazz, and more than 10 in personal development, she empowers her clients to create a life they love.
Meditation improves how you feel and how you understand your own thoughts, which allows you to respond rather than react to negative emotions, increasing your clarity, creativity, and peace of mind. Commit to meditating daily, even if it’s for 5 minutes. If you’re new to it, try guided meditations on the Insight Timer app.
Focus on the breath
Breathing has a direct and immediate effect on your mental and emotional state, and anxiety often produces shortness of breath or rapid breathing. Occasionally check in on your breath — is it abdominal, deep, slow, regular, and quiet? If not, practice five minutes of inhaling and exhaling for six seconds each, or doing more elaborate breathwork techniques, like breathing-focused mindfulness meditation or Breathonics, which combines guided breathing techniques and music to calm you down (and is currently free for three months.)
Listen to soothing sounds
Listening to ambient, new age, nature sounds, or lush soundscapes will help you instantly shift your emotions and consciousness. For deeper healing and relaxation, attend a live sound healing session. Create your own playlist, or get 24h of bliss courtesy of Jon Hopkins:
Don’t believe everything you think
When you recognize you’re having negative or stressful thoughts, about yourself or anything else, challenge the voice in your head. Ask yourself: Is this true? Is it helpful? If the honest answer is no, which it will be most of the time, decide to let those thoughts go. Instead, get curious and consider other perspectives, and shift your focus back to what is going well and the solution.
Spend your time wisely
Are you spending too much time watching the news or on social media? Notice how that makes you feel. Carefully curate your feeds so they leave you feeling inspired and uplifted. Make more time for the people in your life whose groundedness, peacefulness, or positivity contribute to your wellbeing.
Spend time in nature
Even without lockdowns, 90 percent of our time is spent indoors or in a polluted environment, which isn’t exactly natural and leads to imbalances in our mental states. The antidote is to spend time immersed in nature — science says you need two hours a week minimum. So hang out in the park or by the seaside, walk barefoot on the earth, go for hikes in the forest — it’s all good!
Kristen Gilbert is a DJ, holds a Masters in Occupational Therapy, and has been working in the mental health sector for over five years.
As a DJ, I have witnessed the death of the performer part of my identity. The act of facilitating an experience of connection for a room full of people is something my soul misses deeply. This has also resulted in the loss of my own dreams and goals related to my music career, which have been shelved, at least for now.
This begs the question — who are you without what you do? How do we derive our sense of identity if not through our careers?
We cannot stake our sense of ground in anything outside of us, because of the constantly changing nature of our world. The pandemic has taught this to us in a myriad of ways, and because of the deeply personal nature of creating music, it’s often challenging for artists to divest ourselves from what we create.
True ground means to find connection within ourselves with that which cannot be abandoned. My teacher, Carly Forest, speaks to the three true grounds: the belly, the breath, and the earth, or actual ground. These three elements will always be with us, no matter what, and can support us when we feel overwhelmed or lost. In order for the three true grounds to support us, we need to invest our energy into creating a relationship with them.
To begin creating a safe haven within yourself, sit comfortably with your spine long. Try sitting on the actual earth if you can. Close your eyes and begin to pay attention to your breath, letting it move down into the belly. Notice any sensation alive in the belly. If this is your first time attending to the belly, you might not feel anything, and that’s ok. Continue moving your breath freely, and continue focusing on the belly, as it is home to our own instinctual sense of knowing what is right for us. If visualization is something that you resonate with, feel free to imagine roots growing from your seat down deeply into the earth.
As an artist, it’s helpful to return to our own intrinsic motivation to make music. Without crowds or accolades, this time offers us an opportunity to direct our energy inwards and allow music to be a resource for our own wellness. If you’re not in the state to create right now, know that this is perfectly reasonable given the circumstances. Try to be patient with yourself, be compassionate, and forge relationships with the three true grounds. Trust that your love of music can also ground you, even if everything else falls away.
Find further mental health resources in the Electronic Music Industry Guide to Mental Health.