I sing because I’m happy

At the end of my blog post “Mental Health Reflection” I promised a follow up about the benefits of singing for depression. Well, here it is!

My psychologist suggested to me that as I have a background in singing, that I might like to start singing once a day for at least 20mins. She didn’t explain more than simply suggesting that it might help. We agreed that I would sing in my car at least once a day when heading to or from work or the gym. I made an appointment to see her in a month and promised to report back on what I noticed.

The first time I put my Disney playlist on (yes, I know, I am a big kid at heart) I did not feel like singing at all. I forced myself to do it and after about 5 songs I was singing a long, if a little more reserved than I used to. Fast forward a few days and I still didn’t feel like singing in my car, but I made myself do it and after about 3 songs I was getting into it a little more – I was starting to do the voices too. A few days later and I was actually starting to look forward to singing in my car. By the time I went back to my psychologist I was singing daily, and not just in my car. My general mood had lifted greatly and if I was feeling down I knew a sure fire way to give myself a boost. When I reported back to my psychologist, this is what she told me:

Apparently, when you’re singing your face is using all the muscles you use to smile. Your brain registers the use of these muscles and thinks “I must be happy, my face is smiling” and then starts to release all the happy chemicals, hence instead mood booster! You don’t even have to be great at singing to experience this feeling – it’s the act of singing, not the sound that improves your mood.

When my psychologist told me all this I was in awe of the brain. How amazing is that?! I walked out of my appointment feeling very proud of myself for sticking to the plan AND seeing results. It’s certainly helped me trust the other little homework exercises my psychologist has given me since then. I’m slowly compiling a list of things that work for me and I will share them one day. In the meantime though, if you’re feeling down, I challenge you to try singing. Even if you don’t feel like it, put on a playlist that has a whole bunch of songs on it that you love and know all the words to and just sing!

Ps. Please enjoy this version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” by the Idea of North. It’s one of my favourite versions of this song and every time I hear the line “I sing because I’m happy” I think of this.


Mental health reflection

Disclaimer: I’m a little nervous about publishing this, but I’m going to because it’s something I’m extremely passionate about.

I have been living as a hypocrite for the last 2 and a bit years, maybe even longer. Since working at Mt A, I can’t even remember the number of students I have told to reach out and seek help for their mental health, from their parents or our school counsellors. It’s taken me that long to take my own advice.

I finally got up the courage to tell my GP about my anxiety. I’d had a whole lot of tests done to try and figure out why I’m always so tired and everything came back perfect. Not a single thing showed any sign of something being wrong. Instantly, I felt relieved and disappointed at the same time. I was relieved that nothing was wrong, but also disappointed that there wasn’t something to blame. It was then that I fessed up. I said: “I had really hoped that there was going to be something that would explain why I’m tired all the time.” My doctors response was something along the lines of: “Yeah, I know. So, how are your stress levels? High stress levels can be quite tiring.” My response was: “Yeah, there’s a fair amount of stress in my life…” She gave me a questionnaire to fill out, which I did, and the results shocked me. Because of that test, my doctor suggested that I have high levels of anxiety and stress, this did not shock me. What did though was that she diagnosed me as moderately depressed (definitely not the technical term, but it’s what I remember). The first question out of her mouth was: “Have you ever had thoughts of self-harm?” My response was along the lines of: “No, that’s not me…”

I hadn’t ever entertained the idea that I was depressed. Fast forward through telling my parents – it took me going to my Gran first before I had the courage to face them… another way I had failed my students – and I’m glad I spoke up. After dealing with the shock, guilt, grief, anger, shame, (you name it, I felt it), I finally realised that this was a good thing. Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I can work towards better mental health.

Why am I sharing this with the world? Well, because I was a hypocrite for telling my students that they needed to get help, when I so clearly needed help myself. I advocate for mental health daily, but I have ignored mine for so long. I’m tired, and grumpy, and stressed out, and not achieving my full potential because I was stubborn and scared. I’m sharing my story so that others might be willing to share theirs, or at least recognise something of themselves in my story and have the courage to seek help too. I am far from being healthy, but I know that I am on the right track. I am ready to seek and accept help. I am ready to commit to the hard days ahead because I am ready to be healthy. From now on, I will do what I can to live my best life, advocate for mental health with all my heart and soul, and continue to support my students but now, I will be doing it without being a hypocrite.

On the plus side, I’ve decided to share any and all things that work for me when it comes to improving my mental health. Stay tuned for information on why singing is great for your mood!


Hearts on the line everyday

Disclaimer: the following is a brief discussion about mental health for teachers.

Teachers. We put our hearts on the line every day.

When Jane is in your office telling you that her parents are divorcing and they don’t have time for her and she’s failed her math exam but can’t tell her parents because they’ll take away the only things in life giving her joy…

When Sam is looking to you for advice because his friends and peers are making fun of the fact that when he speaks to them as their Student Representative he uses hand gestures, and rather than focusing on his words, they focus on his hands…

When Anna is 100% engaged in class and contributes insightful and thoughtful comments in discussions but when it comes to assessment she simply doesn’t try and accepts her punishment because “she’s used to it…”

When Tim has spoken to you every day for 6 months about his mum having cancer and you can see that he desperately needs help but doesn’t know whom to speak to so he unloads on you and you don’t know how to help and you try and you try but it takes all your energy away and you can’t give anything more…

Teachers. We put our hearts on the line every day.

These stories are fictional, but they are based on events that teachers all over the world deal with daily. These types of events are the reason that I tell people going into teaching that it is the best job in the world and also the hardest. What I have learned is that we teachers, with our hearts on the line every day, cannot shoulder every burden that our students have. We also need to reach out for help and seek guidance in dealing with these burdens. Obviously we keep in mind student protection procedures and confidences, but by speaking with colleagues we can sort out our feelings, work out what we can do to help our students, and continue to support them, all the while protecting our hearts.

Sometimes it means stepping back and letting someone higher up in leadership or counselors take over with managing a student’s needs. Sometimes it’s talking to parents, or mediating conversations between peers. Either way we can always do something but we don’t have to be everything. We all have different roles to play and sometimes it’s easy to forget that we are humans with emotional needs too. We cannot take care of our students if we don’t take care of ourselves.

So, when you have given everything that you can to your students, and you’re barely holding it together because you’ve taken hit after hit to your heart and you can’t imagine feeling anything more than despair, and desperation to continue trying to help them? It might be time to reach out to your colleagues and seek help. Talk to someone, get strategies, and protect your heart so that you can continue to put it on the line every day.