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26 October 2020

GEM MENTAL HEALTH MONTH EVENT

‘Tuning In’ to Emotion through Sound for Mental Wellbeing

On Monday 26th October, GEM explored the emotional power of sound and music to promote greater mental wellbeing for a Mental Health Month webinar.

Dr. Tom Cochrane, Philosopher of emotion and aesthetics and Lecturer at Flinders University, Adelaide, gave a fantastic presentation on music, aesthetics, and emotion.

He was joined by GEM’s Founding Director Angé Weinrabe, who further discussed how genre-specific music, with the addition of Binaural Beats , can be used as a highly effective tool to enhance cognition, improve sleep, and increase relaxation.

This webinar was hosted for NSW’s Mental Health Month. It discussed the benefits of sound and music to help individuals ‘Tune In’ (the theme of Mental Health Month 2020) to reduce emotional and physiological stress, which in turn can lead to greater mental health and wellbeing.

After their presentations, Tom and Angé received many questions. This was one of the best parts of the evening! Here are a couple of the important questions that you, the public, had for our presenters. Within the responses there are further links to research on music and Binaural Beats.

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1. Have there been empirical studies done on the emotional and embodied effects of hearing non-traditional musical instruments – like, say, Indigenous instruments – from other cultures?

There have been quite a few studies into how music is actually a universal language. There are universals of music that anyone from any culture could pick up on, and there does seem to be universality in how particular components of musical sounds pick up on our physiology and emotional states. Western classical music can achieve similar effects to, for example, Japanese traditional music or Javanese gamelan music.

There is also a ‘fine-tuning effect’ that you can observe when you’re immersed in a musical culture; there are additional features, certain structural forms, or things that are surprising or unexpected within those forms that can have additional layers of musical meaning for the listener.

There is a foundation of basic biological universals that we all have, just through virtue of having bodies and voices that have emotional qualities to them. There are then cultural features you can additionally enjoy on an embodied and emotional level through immersion. Check out The Music of Our Lives by Kathleen Higgins for more on how music allows people to achieve social bonding.

2. Can Binaural Beats enhance the capacity for individuals to visualise or imagine, and so assist with greater mental health and therapeutic outcomes?

This would depend on an individual’s age as well as their emotional state at the time; they would need to first become conscious of their physiological experience when initially listening to Binaural Beats. For example, people new to these beats experience all kinds of embodied states, ranging from the not-so-unpleasant like tingling in their legs, to the unpleasant like slight nausea. Feedback from various listeners have stated that these experiences can be felt a few times or can be ongoing.

The binaural beats are explained in the neuroscience research as a form of healthy brain entrainment, which alters neural pathways of thought and behaviour, and thus the person’s mood and emotional state.

For it to have an impact on the capacity for visualisation or imagination, individuals must attempt to move past these initial somatic experiences and keep listening to the Binaural Beats for a longer period of time. When using this tool daily for up to 45 minutes for approximately 3 to 4 weeks, individuals may experience relaxation and better sleep. When listening to the beats daily for 20 to 45 minutes for longer than 3 to 4 weeks, the capacity for visualisation and imagination may be enhanced.

Importantly, at GEM, we have found that genre-specific music with the Binaural Beats embedded within each track allows for more enjoyable listening. This in turn offers an inexpensive and effective tool that is always handy when stressors trigger anxiety.

26 November 2020

GEM & AVICENNA SCHOOL WEBINAR

Turning Stress and Anxiety into Resilience and Emotional Development

This special event webinar was hosted by GEM for The Avicenna School’s parents, teachers, and students. It discussed the benefits of learning more about our emotional states, how to turn these into something self-empowering, and how when connecting with others we are able to greatly reduce emotional and physiological stress, which in turn can lead to greater mental health and wellbeing.

Angé Weinrabe, Founder of GEM Connect and academic researcher of the impact of our emotions on our decision-making and importantly our health and wellbeing, at the University of Sydney, gave a fantastic presentation on “how” to 1) become aware of feeling states in the body; 2) once identified, redirect these states (anxiety); and 3) get them to work for us and not against us!

After the presentations, Angé received many questions. This was one of the best parts of the evening! Here are a couple of the important questions that our mixed-age-group audience had for our presenter. Within the answers there are further links to research on the topics that were raised.

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1. How can we best deal with young people – our children or students – who are numb?

This state of numbness can possibly be occurring when a young person is not present, i.e., connected to their day-to-day feelings and their creative potential. They may feel overwhelmed by whatever emotions they are experiencing, which may be so distressing that they may be pushing these away quite consciously.

Importantly, this state of ‘numbness’ is not necessarily depression. But in some cases, the longer the person experiences this emotional dysregulation, it can lead to prolonged mood states such as anxiety and depression. The latter is not always easy to pinpoint – especially in youth – because in some cultures, such as in Asia, research suggests that depression presents as somatic symptoms in the body. For example, physical pain, stomach aches, headaches, or even joint aches. This is as compared to the more well-known or Western description of depression, which presents as psychological symptoms.

At GEM, we have identified that if a young person appears numb, we believe that they often require a lot of support, but from someone to whom they can relate. It is important that they find a person who can understand what is happening for them – from their perspective, not the other person’s perspective. It is so important to listen to this person.

Please do give this person your time, no matter how much of it. Let them share with you anything they wish to. Remember that we said it is so very difficult to express our emotions clearly in language, not because we don’t have the emotional literacy, but because the emotions themselves are usually embodied first – before they become cognitive (if at all).

Professor Antonio Damasio makes this important point clearly when he says the body registers the emotions only after the body has “felt” it:

“When we differentiate between feelings and emotions [we see] how closely connected emotions are with feelings. An emotional reaction occurs automatically and unconsciously, whereas feelings occur after we become aware in our brain of such physical changes”.

Remember, we all need someone we can trust when we feel unwell. This is the case for someone that is appearing as numb, or dissociated, which is another term often used in a more clinical setting. Dissociation is where “the mind copes with too much stress, such as during a traumatic event”.

Thus, in any of these situations, it is so important to get someone talking about what is happening for them. Seeking the right support is critical, i.e., finding them that one person to spend time with them. If that one person can sit with such a person and talk about what inspires them (and not talk to them about their numbness), this will be incredibly beneficial, and a gift to that young person.

2. How can we best navigate when children and young people themselves take on stress?

Leaving children and young people aside for the moment, we as parents and teachers need to ask ourselves: what is happening in our own body? People outside of us are beautiful mirrors for some of the things that are unsaid and/or unfelt within our own bodies and environments.

When we are working with children and young people (or with anyone!), we need to become as conscious as we can of our own states. When we are on autopilot, running around, in a hurry, etc., especially if we’re in a classroom or going home to our families, this influences those around us in a very direct way.

Children and young people are generally very sensitive, thus vulnerable. They sense the stress and emotional states of those around them. Remember, the younger the person is, the less developed their language is too – it’s harder for them to communicate what is going on. They are still in early developmental stages of life. When adults try and mask their stress and vulnerability, this doesn’t work with children and young people – they have no mask. They sense mum or dad is “stressed”, or not emotionally and physically at ease.

Importantly, parents and teachers need to calm their central nervous systems down for as long as possible through unlearning their unconscious stress responses to the world. We can all better manage our emotional states (see the tools provided below!). Once this happens, a person can sit down with children and young people (or with anyone, or even any animal!), because one is more grounded. Here a person is able to redirect their focus cognitively, and become present.