Can Singing Help Us With Stress
Our minds can make us think the worst because for evolutionary reasons we are predisposed to dwell on the negative and let the positive drift into the background. Simply trying not to think negative thoughts doesn’t work. Focusing on something, even in a negative way, sticks it even more firmly into our brains.
By telling ourselves not to think about something in a negative way or not to worry about something we actually just increase the number of associations that remind us of that something says Steven Hayes who is a psychology professor at the University of Nevada. He also says that there is no delete button in the nervous system. Instead, in order to not think negative thoughts it is better to treat them just like you would a silly, meaningless song. They exist, but they actually have little bearing on your life.
Therefore he recommends app called Songify which turns words that are spoken into a smart phone into a song which is then auto tuned and set to music. Some mental health specialists are also using Songify to help people with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and anxiety.
The idea behind Songify is that singing your thoughts separates you from their meaning. Almost all people (something like 80 to 90 percent of the population), experience intrusive thoughts—weird little niggling things you don’t particularly want to be going round in your head. But for people who have obsessive compulsive disorder or generalized anxiety, the intrusive thoughts can become frequent and crippling. With OCD, the thoughts tend to be bizarre, such as thinking that the air will contaminate you. With generalized anxiety, they might be more mundane, like the idea that you will always suffer from back pain once you have had an acute episode..
Songify was only released a few years ago, and it’s even newer to the therapists who use it. But the process behind the Songify technique, called cognitive diffusion, has been around for decades. Before the app came along, therapists would have their patients sing their worries to common melodies. Sally Winston, the co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland, once treated a mother who would obsessively text her son to check on him. Winston had her sing, “Johnny is dead by the side of the road” to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Similar methods, like repeating an unwanted thought out loud until it loses meaning, or sticking Post-It notes with the thought all over the house, have also shown some success.
If you have back pain and someone says that it was because you bent in a certain way then you can wind up worrying every time you bend in that way again that you will be in pain again and furthermore, if anxiety takes over, you will keep imagining bending in that way and how it might feel and you feel the pain every time you think about that movement without having to even perform it!
Songify was designed for entertainment rather than clinical settings. A Songify spokesperson said the company knew the app had been used to treat speech disorders in autistic children, but was not familiar with its use in anxiety disorders.
Winston said the song technique works better than stress-management, distraction, or breathing exercises. A study recently found that various diffusion techniques, including singing the unwanted thought and saying it in a cartoon voice, reduced the frequency of the thought while making it less believable. The strategy worked better than both the control and another strategy called “restructuring,” in which the person tries to come up with an alternative thought.
So if you have an episode of back pain and anxiety takes over, sing the fact in a funny voice “I am going to get stuck if I bend over to pick up something” over and over again … after a while you can see it for what it really is – silly and unlikely to happen.
Mark Sisti, the director of Suffolk Cognitive-Behavioral, has been using Songify for two or three years now. He said it tends to work best with people who realize their fears are slightly irrational, or at least are being over-thought. (Someone who just lost his job and is facing very real worries about making rent, for example, might not be the best candidate.) In addition to making the thought less foreboding, Sisti thinks Songify might work by “lighting up” different parts of the brain—the regions associated with music and pleasure, rather than fighting or fleeing.
Of course acupuncture, chiropractic and yoga all work well for stress and are available at the Avenue Clinic so if you are not able to sing your way out of anxiety, come in to see one of us for a chat!