Lifestyle, Mental Health

Me, Myself & Mental Health: Social Singing Choir

It’s been a while since I did a mental health update. It’s been over four years since I was first diagnosed with recurrent depression and GAD. Back then, I thought it was just a blip, brought on by the stress of teaching and my own inner voice forever telling me ‘You’re not good enough’.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a one off. It’s something that I’ve dealt with on and off since then. I’ve tried various things to help lift me, help me cope and keep me focused. Unfortunately, the one thing (not the only thing, actually) that depression robs you of is your hobbies; the things that make you you. When I am down, I don’t read. I don’t blog, sing, cook. I don’t enjoy, full stop. The only way I can describe it is my soul withers. It’s still there, but it’s smaller, quieter, lonelier.

In July 2019, I found something that has changed the way I deal with my mental health. A place where no matter how I feel when I walk in, I walk away feeling like I’m on top of the world. A place that’s as diverse as it is inclusive. I’ve loved to sing for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I was asked to sing a nursery rhyme at nursery – I chose Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. I was in the choir at school, but haven’t sung publicly since Year 9. Privately is a different matter. I sing in the shower, when I cook, when I clean, to entertain Rufus, just for fun. At the start of 2019, I made a promise to myself that I was going to push myself out of my comfort zone.

So after Rufus was born and a little late night Googling, I came across Social Singing Choir, and joined the waiting list. Since I joined in July, I’ve never looked back.

Did you know, around 2.8 million of us are in a choir in Britain? Why are so many people joining groups around the country? Uncertain times, mental health crisis, loneliness, an innate human need to create. There’s a plethora of reasons people are flocking to choirs.

… Whenever humans come together for any reason, music is there,….weddings, funerals, graduation from college, men marching off to war, stadium sporting events, a night on the town, prayer, a romantic dinner, mothers rocking their infants to sleep and college students studying with music as a backgroun….music is and was [always] part of the fabric of everyday life… Throughout most of the world and for most of human history, music making was as natural an activity as breathing and walking, and everyone participated.

(This is Your Brain on Music, 2006)

But why is singing so beneficial? What is it that makes us come back to this ancient ritual?

The physical benefits are obvious. Every week, we start with a warm up. The deep focused breathing, releasing muscle tension, correcting posture. Throughout the day, we get into bad habits – raised, tight shoulders, shallow breathing, slumping, jaw tension, Every week, the warm up in choir gives me a few moments to reset this. Even if that’s the only mindful time I’ve taken all week, it’s a dedicated time to focus on it.

Psychologically, we need to look a little deeper. Group singing releases endorphins, which definitely contribute to way it makes us feel. It also lowers cortisol, the hormone responsible for that pesky stress. Humans are, fundamentally social creatures, so any communal situation is only going to further that. Even those of us who are perpetually anxious don’t necessarily dislike social situations, rather our brains are constantly on hyper alert to let us know that things might go wrong.

And sometimes, things do go wrong. We collectively get it wrong. As fun as group singing is, group clapping is hard… And when we collectively get it wrong, it’s probably more fun than getting it right.

Credit: Harri Bentley Photography

Every week, I see people I would probably never meet outside of choir. And I love them. Lead by our amazing choirmaster Hughie, there are young, old, rich, poor, mothers, fathers, friends, family and total strangers brought together in one collective sound. I’ve made some incredible friends (special shout outs to Jess, Holly and Taz, my day ones, and to the Harmabaes) and loved every second.

But for me, choir is more than that. It’s become a mental check in for myself. Every week, I spend an hour concentrating outside my own brain. And I am forever grateful that I found it.

I’ve been given so many opportunities already, including singing on the Christmas advert this year! (Despite my resting bitch face in the thumbnail, I do actually enjoy choir!)

Shortly before I joined, choir also recorded an EP which is coming out on February 14th! You can listen to three of the singles on Spotify now though! We’d hugely appreciate it if you could click the heart, add it to your playlists and sing along with us!

So if you get a chance to join a choir, I really recommed finding one near you and going for it. I guarantee you won’t regret it!

C ♡

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