Since 2005 Allison Davies has been running a private practice in both clinical and community settings in the areas of early childhood intervention, special educational needs, autism spectrum disorder, juvenile detention, youth engagement, mental health, aged care, palliative care, dementia care, perinatal care and speech-rehabilitation.
Oh My Musical Goodness was born in 2007 as a complimentary platform for this practice. A way of bringing education and resources to caregivers, and helping parents and teachers understand their children’s neural, emotional and sensory needs.
A rich diversity in client cultural background, gender identity, therapeutic need and age (ranging from pre-birth to 107!) is making for an exciting and fulfilling journey!
For those of you interested in delving further into the sensory systems, how they relate to overload and how this results in anxiety or meltdown Allison is offering you 20% off ‘The Meltdown Series’, a 3 part video series which covers everything you need to know about managing anxiety and meltdowns. And as a bonus, you can also nab 20% off ‘Emotional Regulation and The Brain’, a video all about flying off the handle for no apparent reason, using the same code. Find them at www.ohmymusicalgoodness.com/shop and enter the code smallsteps20 at checkout to receive your discount. Offer expires 30th June 2017.
Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:
Lisa: Hey everyone, welcome to the Podcast! Really excited about today, because I’ve got two people on the line here. One person, sitting right next to me, is Nick.
Nick: Hi guys.
Lisa: He’s sitting in on one of these interviews, and you’ll find out exactly why in a second. Today we’re interviewing Allison Davies, from Oh My Musical Goodness. Now, when I asked her what her title was, I couldn’t spell it, number one, and then there was a little bit of a qualifying moment, where we had to actually find out what that means.
So, I’m telling you that today we’re talking about brains, anxiety, and the combo between the two, and all the things that she knows about how to beat anxiety through-, you know, I don’t even know that answer, because that’s what we’re finding out today.
Allison: Brain care.
Lisa: Brain care. It’s all about brains. So, she is a Neurologic Music Therapist. Alli, welcome to the Podcast, and what the hell does that mean?
Allison: Oh, thanks guys! OK, so I’m a Neurologic Music Therapist. It’s like when people call me a Musical Therapist, I always go, ‘No, no, no. It’s Music Therapist.’ OK, so I did six years at Uni on this journey to becoming a Neurologic Music Therapist. So, first I studied a Bachelor of Music, and Teaching.
So, I’ve worked as an educator for quite some time, and then I followed it up with a Master of Music Therapy. And now, Music Therapy is not just about music, it’s really highly involved. It’s all master levels, psych, subject, and lots of neurology and biology. Actually, music is quite a small part of it. And then I went on to train with the Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy last year. So, that’s how I got where I am.
Nick: Wow. So, I’ve already got a quick question. So, you’ve obviously studied therapy, and music as a subset of therapy? Is that how we look at it?
Allison: Well, I studied music first. So, the prerequisite to even become a Music Therapy student is to have a certain level in music, in terms of your ability to do it, and your confidence with it, and your theory and understanding behind it.
So, by the time you get into the Master of Music Therapy, it’s really all about clinical and community-based therapeutic settings, and psychology, and how you apply music, clinically and therapeutically, to create therapeutic change. Did that make sense?
Lisa: So, Nick, can you just tell everyone why you’re sitting in on this today, and have an interest in the topic?
Nick: Because I love music. I write songs, plus I’m also seeing a therapist, because I suffer from anxiety.
Lisa: And this is something that has been going on for a long time. We’re now seeing, even, sometimes a little bit of anxious behaviour in our son. So, you know what, I don’t reckon that there’s anybody who doesn’t have those anxious moments, and it seems like a bit of an epidemic at the moment. Like, the way that we’re living our life.
And this is what I love so much about what you share, is it’s always, kind of, ‘We’re expecting too much from our poor brains.’ And, you know, this is not sustainable, the way that we live our lives. So, I love all your videos, I love everything that you share, I’ve bought your products, because I just love knowing this stuff. So, can we first of all start by asking you, what would you define anxiety as?
Allison: OK. This is the perfect place to start, because most of us have a bit of a misconception about anxiety, and I love the way, Nick, that you said you ‘suffer from’ anxiety, as opposed to saying you ‘have’ anxiety. Because I think a lot of us think that anxiety is some kind of condition, like a pathological-, something that’s wrong with us, that we need to fix. In fact, most of us experience anxiety, or feel anxiety, but most of us don’t have an anxiety disorder, for example.
So, people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or a phobia, or an attachment disorder, they are specific anxiety disorders. But what most of us experience is, like, the physiological feeling of anxiety. So, we feel it in our body. It’s things that our brain is making us feel. And it’s not because there is a disease, or a condition. It’s because our brain just isn’t coping in that moment.
So, the things that we feel are our heart rate rises, our respiratory rate rises. Too intense, we’ve all heard about anxiety attacks, it can feel like a heart attack. It’s not to be minimalised, it’s all serious, but it is just a feeling that our brain is making us feel. So, all the oxygen, and the oxygenated blood goes to our extremities. So, our hands, our feet. Our faces might go red.
We get exceptional strength when we’re anxious, because all the blood is coming to our extremities, kicking us into fight or flight, so, ready to save our lives. Because when we feel anxious in our body, we get prepared to go into fight or flight.
Nick: So, that type of anxiety, separate to the more pathological anxiety conditions that you were referring to, they’re a normal mode, or state, of the human being on occasion?
Allison: Yes, totally normal. And we need that. We need anxiety, because anxiety tells us that we’re not copying with something. Anxiety is typically there to get us ready for saving our lives. So, our brain tells us that there’s a risk, and it puts our body into a heightened state of anxiety, and then we kick into fight or flight, which is when we’re ready to save our life, because we believe that there’s something happening in our environment which is very dangerous.
For most of us there isn’t that actually happening, it’s just our brain telling us that, because our brain isn’t coping. My favourite example of this is when Mick Fanning, a few years ago, in a surf comp, had a shark nibbling at his ankle, and he was able to swim away from that, because his fight or flight response gave him extra strength. He was able to swim away, he was able to tap into that adrenaline, and he was able to save his life. That is when you need anxiety.
What we don’t need is the anxiety that’s happening every day, all day, day after day. But it is a very, very important part of our condition that we need. And to feel anxious, on and off, in response to things that might seem minor to other people, that’s normal as well. So, it is a normal part of our condition.
Nick: I think I’m following. So, just one more follow-up question, just to see if I am on the right track. Because it’s a state, or a mode, getting us ready to perform some feat of adrenaline, what I’m confused about is, you can attach different emotions to that feeling.
So, I might attach a feeling of fear, or a feeling of complete and utter sadness, but on other occasions, I might actually pay for the thrill to be anxious. Like, I’m going to pay to go on a roller coaster, and then that state, which is still an anxious state, is a state of pleasure. And that’s really weird, to me.
Allison: Yes, and this is something I’ve been actually reading a lot about recently. So, good question! Our bodies respond that way, whether it’s a really positive, whether it’s a really exciting, whether it’s a really terrifying feeling, no matter what it is.
I’ve been reading about post-traumatic stress disorder, and how people actually seek that traumatic experience again and again, because they are attached to that feeling, even though that is what has caused the anxiety disorder in the beginning. There are so many layers, we would really need to talk about this for two weeks.
Lisa: I just have a qualifying question before we go into talking about what we can actually do for ourselves, when we find ourselves in those anxious moments, and it’s, maybe, being sustained, and it’s not feeling good for us. Because what you’ve just described with anxiety is what I hear a lot about stress. So, what is the difference between anxiety and stress?
Allison: Well, I think they’re probably fairly similar, and I think mostly, in just conversation, we’re using the words interchangeably. So, whether we talk about stress or anxiety, it’s probably the same thing.
But I would like to qualify that by saying anxiety is more the feeling that we’re experiencing in our body, and stress is more like the trigger. So, if it’s the homework, if it’s the bully at school, if it’s the relationship problems, if it’s the bills, if it’s work, whatever it is, that’s a trigger.
And it’s also very important to note that those things, the bills, the relationship, the bully, they are not the problem. The problem is always that the brain is not coping. And if you can just try and forget about the trigger, and focus on the brain, so that you can help the brain cope, then it’s going to go through its normal motions, and it’s going to get rid of that anxiety. It’s going to reduce it, you’re going to be less prone to experiencing it.
By stopping focusing on the issues, or the triggers, it’s so much easier to deal with. Because once we try and work out how to get around the bills, or the relationship problem, we’re so overwhelmed, we don’t even know where to start working on that stuff.
Lisa: Yes! Oh my gosh, this is making so much sense. OK, so tell us what’s going on in our brain. How do we help our little brains?
Allison: Yes, because the thing is, it’s actually so much more simple than we think. We get caught up, because the feeling of anxiety is so big that we just get so lost. But the ways to support our brain, to try and manage our anxiety, are literally so simple.
So, I talk about two things. I talk about brain care, right? And to me, that’s two things. It’s input, it’s the things we’re giving our brain, and I talk about sensory management, which is how we manage our environments, so we’re not overloading our brain with too much sensory information.
So, together, with these two categories, if we really focused on them, we would be supporting our brains to no end. And when our brains are supported, they feel happy. When our brains feel happy, they don’t get chaotic, and they don’t trigger that anxiety response in our body.
Nick: Right. So, you’re saying the pills that I’m being made to pop by my therapist that put me to sleep by 7:00pm every night, are probably not the best choice?
Allison: No, no, no. I definitely am not going to comment on any medication advice. I mean, I think all treatments have their place, absolutely. Knowledge is power, so understanding the medication journey, and understanding the brain care journey, it’s all very important.
But I would say that any other treatment modality that you’re doing should be used in conjunction with this nice, easy brain care stuff. Because this is going to make an enormous difference.
Lisa: Tell us the brain care stuff, Alli. Tell us.
Allison: OK, let’s go! So, let’s start with sensory management. Our environment is full of stuff that we can see, hear, feel. Like, stuff that we can taste, and smell, and there’s stuff moving, and there are things going on all around us, all the time. Now, whether we’re aware of all of these things or not, all of this sensory information does come to our brain, and our brain does have to integrate it.
I like to think of the brain as like an email account. So, every little bit of sensory information in our environment comes to the inbox, which is the brain, and then the brain has to go through every single message, and either delete it, or file it away, or archive it, or action it.
When it actions it, it sends a message to a different part of your brain, telling you what to do. But if it’s just some annoying little thing, like most of the sensory information is that’s around us, that’s not important to our survival, the brain will just delete it.
Now, 100 years ago, if you close your eyes and picture a lounge room, a bedroom, a classroom, and a playroom, 100 years ago, and then you picture a bedroom, a lounge room, a playroom, and a classroom in 2017, the amount of stuff is monumentally ridiculous. Our brains cannot cope with the amount of stuff in our environments, on no level. Basically, we are all experiencing anxiety because of this, we are all overloaded.
Nick: Totally agree. Lisa and I just watched a documentary on the weekend about minimalism, and that was a breath of fresh air, because I’m sick of walking through my house, kicking the toys, and picking clothes up off the floor.
Lisa: But, OK, let me tell you these things. I really like a clean house. Like, I like things to be clean, but clutter hasn’t really bothered me that much, as much as it’s bothered Nick. Like, Nick likes clear spaces, whereas I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ll get to that shelf one day,’ and I just literally don’t see it. But you’re telling me I am seeing it? Like, my brain is seeing it, and it’s just deleting it? So, I’m, like, a good deleter?
Allison: Yes. I’m prone to think that most of us are feeling anxiety, and it’s sort of our normal, so we don’t realise it any more. Because our brain’s only mission in life, since the beginning of time, has been for our survival. So, forever, brains have evolved so that they’re catering for our needs, for survival. But sensory overload hasn’t been a thing until 50 or so years ago, when we started getting stuff.
Now we’ve got all this stuff, our brain hasn’t had time to evolve, in 50 years, to a point where it can literally integrate all this sensory information. It’s just far too much for our brain to deal with. Maybe in 1,000 years’ time, after our brain has had time to evolve to our modern environment, these things will become easier.
But no, it’s really important, minimising, and going through all the senses. Think, ‘What can I see in here, and what is in my visual field that I might be able to remove, or change?’
This is enormous in classrooms, because schools have artworks on every wall, and that’s to try and make children feel empowered. They started this self-empowerment movement in the 1990s, in schools, and the research now shows that that didn’t actually change children’s sense of self-esteem. But what they did was start putting all their artwork up, and displaying everything. Schools started to become a very sensory overloaded environment.
Lisa: So fascinating. I’ve just binge-watched Anne with an E on Neflix, Anne of Green Gables. Huge fan. I’m thinking about their house, and I’m thinking about their classroom. Even just walking to school through a field, as opposed to driving to school on a busy street, with signs everywhere. Even just that process of getting to school is a sensory overload, instantly.
Allison: Yes, definitely.
Lisa: Instead of just trying to work out what to wear. You know, Anne had two dresses.
Allison: Yes, I know. So, I’ve just binge-watched it too, and I was thinking about Marilla and Matthew’s house. As I was watching it, I was thinking of it from a sensory point of view, and just going, ‘Oh my gosh, no wonder back then, people weren’t being diagnosed with things that we correlate with sensory problems, like Autism, and ADHD, and stuff like that.’ Because our brains weren’t having to cope with stuff that they weren’t designed for.
That brings me to my next point, was this thing called the paradox of choice. So, we want lots of choices, and I gave this example to someone the other day. If we go to a restaurant with 20 amazing things on the menu, we want that, because it makes us feel great, and like we’ve chosen a great restaurant. We’re so lucky that we’re getting all these amazing options. But our brain is going to freak out, because our brain always wants to make the right decision.
So, all of a sudden, even though we feel really great, because we’re in this top-notch restaurant, our brain will start to make us feel anxious, because it doesn’t know what to choose. Whereas if we went to a diner with two things on the menu, they might both be crap choices, but we’re just going to pick one easily, and we’re not going to have this physiological anxious response, because we only have two choices.
This ties in with the clutter. When our kids have 30,000 toys, or we’ve got a whole wardrobe full of grey tops, you know, so many choices in every single thing in our environment. Just deciding what to wear each day, and what to eat, what to cook for dinner, I’m sure you and your Small Steppers are all over that. The paradox of choice is absolutely doing us in, and our brains just can’t cope with all the stuff.
Nick: I absolutely agree with you. I remember seeing a TED Talk, a philosopher was talking about going into a jeans shop to buy a new pair of jeans, and the lady gave him ten different pairs, all different slices and dices of denim, and she goes, ‘Which one do you want?’ And he goes, ‘I just want a pair just like my old pair,’ and he was just comatose with anxiety, indecision.
Lisa: Indecision, yes.
Nick: So, I understand.
Allison: Our Western culture, this is what we thrive on. We want the choice, and we’ve got the choice, and we’re so lucky. But our culture is absolutely overloaded, and you look at some of the other cultures in the world, where they’re not flattered with choices, and all these things that we are, and anxiety doesn’t appear to be so much of a driving issue in their communities.
Nick: But how are we going to get our way through this? Considering the choice in society is directly tied to the consumer economy, and jobs growth, and all that sort of stuff?
Allison: Yes, totally. I mean, we can’t drop out of society. Well, we can, I guess. But for most of us, we have to learn how to manage our own needs within this society. So, in terms of sensory management, I just say, look around each space that you’re spending your time in, and what changes can you make in each space?
And if you can make a few, what about the noises? This is a big one. We can turn down our devices, and we can not have the TV and the radios just going in the background, because that isn’t the sort of input that our brain likes, that’s just more like noise pollution. That stuff doesn’t help anything.
Can we reduce the things that we can see? Smells. If we’re in a place like a kitchen, or somewhere where there are lots of different smells, and too much to deal with. Can we override that with just one oil diffusing, or something like that, so that all of a sudden, where we can smell all these different things in this space, it’s overridden just by one single outlet for information that our brain’s getting.
So, that sensory management, I mean, there’s lots to it, and I could talk about this for days. But it literally is as simple as it seems. The best starting place, literally, is to just go around all the rooms that you’re in, and work out how you can minimise it.
It doesn’t mean you have to paint everything white, but reduce the amount of colours in there, or instead of having everything all over the place, make a special place for it. You know, the things that we aspire to, that we’re just not very good at. We just need to make more of an effort.
Lisa: Yes. I used to tell myself I wanted that lived-in feel. That, kind of, cluttered, I guess, felt homely to me. Like, I’ve never been a great putter-awayerer. But I do love a clear space, now. I have noticed that I can work better, I can think clearer, my movements through the day are easier.
Or, like, even just waking up and having a clear kitchen bench, a clean kitchen, is like a non-negotiable, for me, so I can just go in there, do the thinking and the doing, without anything extra in my way. So, it’s just so interesting that that all comes down to actually helping reduce anxiety.
Allison: Overload, yes, and anxiety. And that’s interesting, because it can change over time. In times in your life where you’re less stressed, mainly before you have children, you can deal with a little bit more clutter in your life. Once you’ve got children in your life, it is almost impossible to manage your sensory environment.
You can’t keep your children quiet, you can’t stop them from moving and touching you. It’s impossible. So, you need to try and find other ways of doing that, and your environment is a good way. But by no means is this easy. Like, I can tell you all this stuff, but I’m still a cluttered mess. I was having anxiety attacks three weeks ago, and I go through these stages, too. We all do.
This isn’t something that some people are experiencing, and some aren’t. We all struggle with it, and we all find it difficult, and we don’t talk about it enough as a normal thing that’s happening to all of us. We think it’s something like a pathological, or a problem. So, that’s sensory management. Do you want me to move onto brain input?
Lisa: Yes. Brain input, do it!
Allison: So, input is the stuff that you give your brain, that it loves. So, sensory management is about making it easier on your brain, so it doesn’t have so much to deal with. Input is about exposing your brain to stuff that it likes. When you give stuff to your brain that it likes, it rewards you with dopamine.
Dopamine is like a reward. So, you go to a concert, you have some really good sex, or a really great meal, or some chocolate, your brain loves that stuff, and it’s going to reward you with a little drop of dopamine. And that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy in your body, it makes you feel great.
The more often we get dopamine, in relation to the things that we’re doing, the more that neural pathway telling us to do that thing becomes stronger. Because we love that good fuzzy feeling we get in our body. So, whenever we do something that makes our brain happy, we’re more likely to do it again. There’s a motivation factor there.
Incidentally, this is how addictions, and all sorts of negative pathways can spiral, as well, but we can certainly tap into that for positive changes as well. And literally, these things we can do, to give our brains, that make us really happy, are easy. So, number one, Nick will love this. Listen to music that you like. It’s as simple as that.
Nick: Easy, yes!
Allison: So, the brain. Listening to, or making, or experiencing music activates more parts of the brain, simultaneously, than any other thing you could be doing.
Allison: Music is one of the three mother tongues of the brain. Like, it’s one of our languages. We should be using music in every element of how we educate, and how we do everything. Because music activates both hemispheres.
Music’s made up of so many different parts. It’s rhythm, it’s melody, it’s time, it’s space, it triggers emotion. It’s just got so many working parts to it that when you’re listening to it, it activates so many parts of your brain.
Activating all of your brain isn’t the same as overloading it. When you’re overloading it, you’re giving it too much stuff that it can’t deal with. But when you’re activating it, you’re actually stimulating your brain to work at its best. So, it can actually deal with the overload, and all the other things, better. So, our goal is to activate as many parts of the brain as we can, so that all our brain functioning happens easier, and it’s not as tiring, and it’s not as difficult and stressful for us.
Lisa: That is so, so interesting.
Nick: So, it’s no coincidence that when I’m feeling a little bit anxious, the best medicine for me is just to play some songs on my guitar?
Allison: Absolutely. And it’s not even just a feel-good, wellness thing. This is science, guys. This is neuroscience. It’s, like, serious shit. This is what you should be doing, yes.
Lisa: I mean, we’ve been together since, what, end of 2003 or something, and so there have been a lot of years of watching this person, who is extremely musical, use music as therapy, without even knowing it.
Even, like, during Witching Hour, he’ll sometimes just take himself off and go and play guitar. And I’ll be like, ‘Get out of here. What do you think you’re doing?!’ But this is just a quite natural way of calming yourself right down?
Lisa: Like, it’s instinctual, Alli. Like it’s not something that we were like, ‘OK, a music therapist once said the best way to blah blah blah.’ But it’s even with the kids, how things can be, kind of, a little bit amped, everyone can be feeling a little bit crazy, and we’ll have a dance party. Music is the thing that we would put on.
You know, we would have as many nights having a dance party as we would reading books before bed, because it just diffuses everything, and they have something to concentrate on. They get the good feels, they’re dancing around, and there are no fights, there’s no anything. It’s just good times.
Allison: Yes. It makes total sense, and that’s even better than just listening to it is experiencing it, and being with it, and dancing along, and expressing. Because then, also, you’ve given them an outlet for expression, there. So, they’re dancing like crazy kids, which is what we all like to do, how we all like to dance.
It’s also giving them movement, so the more they move-, I don’t know if I should start on this topic, as this is another enormous one, but I’ll try and tell you in a very simple way. When you do stuff like exercising, and dancing, and moving, and strong movements with your body, you’re actually giving yourself the kind of sensory input that can block out a lot of the annoying sensory stuff in our environment.
So, if you’re dancing, or jumping on the couch, for example, if you have ten minutes of jumping on the couch, the sensory input that you are giving your brain from doing that overrides all the overload, the stuff that you’re seeing, and the stuff that’s in your environment. Because when we jump on the couch, or the trampoline, or have a dance party, we’re giving ourselves something called a proprioceptive input, and our brain absolutely loves proprioceptive input.
It’s the same as what we’re doing when we go to the gym, when we go for a run, when we do stretching or yoga. So, our brain focuses on that sensory input, and it just can ignore the rest of it. And it actually reduces the overload. So, doing any kind of stretching, or playing, jumping, anything in a playground, having a dance party is a perfect example of that.
So, it’s actually going to help reduce the sensory overload, and it’s giving your brain input that it loves. So, they’re going to be getting dopamine, and they’re going to be feeling good. It’s all the good things. That scenario is absolute gold.
Nick: That’s very interesting, because when I’m at the gym, say I’m listening to music and I’m running on the treadmill, there is definitely a focus there that I’m not used to, just at home, dealing with the kids. But it also helps me focus on other problems in my life, or other challenges. Like, I’m able to think clearer while I’m doing it. So, I find that really interesting, what you’re saying.
Allison: Yes. One of the feelings that comes with the feeling of anxiety is brain fog. I don’t think there’s any better way to describe that, I think we all know what brain fog is. So when you have something that the brain likes, you’re lifting the brain fog.
And this is another thing the brain likes: oxygen. As simple as that. When we’re at the gym, or when we’re doing breathing exercises, controlled breathing, we are bringing so much oxygen into our lungs, we have more potential there for oxygenation of blood. That’s what happens, when the oxygen comes into your lungs, it diffuses into your bloodstream, and then you’re bringing oxygenated blood to your brain. That’s going to make the brain work better.
We all feel better when we’ve had some fresh air. That’s what is literally happening with the brain. Oxygenated blood is going to help all the neurotransmission, and all the different brain functions, happen at their best.
So, when you’re at the gym, you start coming up with solutions, and you start thinking clearly, and all this other stuff comes to you. It’s a really great place to be, if you need some brain fog-free time.
Lisa: My brain fog-free time is the shower, because that’s when I get all my best ideas. Maybe I’m not really doing deep breathing, but it’s just probably because there’s nothing else there to look at.
Allison: If you have a hot shower, that is also providing you some really strong tactile sensory input. So, the sense of tactile is the stuff we touch, right? That we can feel on our skin. So, when you are having a hot shower, because that is a really strong set of sensory information that is coming to your brain, that will override the other sensory overload that’s going on for you.
So, it’s the same thing. The solutions are so simple, and I could talk about them for days, because there are so many of them, but they really are, literally, these simple things that we don’t think about. Like having a shower, or having a hot bath. And another thing is, if you turn the hot tap off at the end of your shower, and give yourselves 20 seconds of freezing cold, that activates this place in your body called the vagus nerve, which runs between your gut and your brain.
Basically, the vagus nerve is your absolute best-functioning place for counteracting anxiety. So, we want to do anything we can to activate the vagus nerve, and bursts of cold activate the vagus nerve. So, just having a tiny bit of a cold shower each day is going to manage your anxiety, so it’s either less, or it’s not as prevalent, or you don’t notice it as much.
Nick: My therapist said when I’m going through one of those periods, I should stick an ice block under my armpit, and I think that is, maybe, what she’s trying to get me to do, is to activate that nerve, and reset my senses. Interesting.
Allison: Definitely. I recommend to lots of people to give children ice to crunch on. If you give your kids a cup of ice, same thing. Because kids are going to like crunching on ice, because it’s fun, plus it’s water, so it’s good for them.
But also, that can help your brain focus on something really cold, so it, sort of, forgets about all the other sensory overload. And it can help activate the vagus nerve. So, there are so many really cool things there that it can do, just from chewing on a block of ice.
Lisa: Crazy! OK, this is just so fascinating, because it’s so gentle, and it makes sense. But I’m wondering about when you get into those moments. You’ve kind of found yourself there, and reducing our sensory overload, and those good inputs, we’ve been doing those things, but we’re in that anxious moment. What do you recommend for those acute moments?
Allison: OK. It’s so much harder to focus on this stuff when you’re in the moment, because part of what’s happening when you’re experiencing anxiety is that your brain just, sort of, doesn’t function as well. So, your executive functioning becomes weaker, that means it’s harder to make sense of, or reason, or decide, or think of what you should do to get out of this. It’s so much easier just to be in that space, and not help yourself to get out of it.
So, the most important thing in the management of anything. I’ve done a webinar on the cycle of a meltdown, and I talk about how we should manage it before it ever happens, just in the day-to-day stuff, and during the meltdown, there’s not a lot you can do. Well, that cycle sort of goes for anything. It’s very similar with anxiety. You really need to manage this in just the day-to-day, every day, doing all these little things as part of your daily routine.
During the actual anxiety attack, or moments of acute anxiety, if you can think of these things, go ahead and do them. But be gentle on yourself, because it’s so much harder to put any of these in place during the anxiety.
The other thing I try and remind people is, try as best you can never ever to be anxious about being anxious, because that just compounds the whole thing. Your brain fog, and all those things, are not going to lift if you’re anxious about being anxious.
Once you realise that feeling anxiety is a normal thing for our body to feel, and we’re all going to experience it on and off, all the time, and when you really understand that, it can sort of help you not to get so worried about it, when you are experiencing it.
And reducing that element of worry makes things so much easier for your brain, for the management stage. So, it’s really, really important not to worry about anxiety too much, and just to go about doing these things that support our brain, or brain care, during, just, the everyday routine.
Lisa: Oh, yes. I just feel anxious about all the things I have to do about reducing my anxiety, now. Only joking! You know that I’m all about small steps, and so what I want to just do now, to recap. Because there’s so much that you share, and there are so many resources, now, that you’re creating for people, to help them, especially around kids and stuff. All the things that you do.
But let’s just recap, before we send people away, and tell them where to find you. Recap the two main things that we can do to help ourselves with anxiety are brain care and sensory management. Or, brain inputs.
Allison: Brain care is what I’ve been talking about this whole time.
Lisa: The whole thing is brain care.
Allison: There are two main elements of brain care, and that is sensory management, and input.
Lisa: Input, yes. OK, sensory management, it’s about simplifying our spaces, reducing noises, thinking about what we can pull away from our environment, so our brain isn’t just on constant alert, and overwhelm.
Allison: Yes. It’s literally just decluttering our environment.
Lisa: This is so good, because I’m going to be having a decluttering challenge coming up, in July.
Lisa: So, I am going to be pulling some of this stuff in. Because I feel this, and Nick and I are feeling this as a family. I feel like, as a woman in the world, managing young children, managing a business, managing a household. And there are little things that I’ve been doing, to just help myself feel less cluttered and overwhelmed.
And it’s not even always about what I can see, but turning off notifications on my phone: game changer. It’s just that constant distraction, and pulling me in different directions. As you know, in the membership this month, we’re doing a sleep challenge, and it’s like, ‘Let’s just try not having our phones next to our beds.’ Because, just that cluttering up of our mind. Anyway, OK, so this is really good. And then, it’s the inputs?
Allison: Yes. So, it’s giving your brain simple things that it likes, like oxygen, so breathing. Listening to music that you like. Stretching, and moving, and exercising. I wanted to say, before, when Nick talked about playing the guitar. Doing things with both hands is really good.
So, any kind of craft. When you use both hands, you’re activating both hemispheres of the brain, which helps brain functioning, things that are happening, on both sides of the brain. So, knitting, or macramé, or gardening, or playing your guitar. Anything using your hands is going to be really good.
Lisa: Even Lego for kids?
Allison: Lego, yes! Absolutely. Yes, listening to music, breathing. Do we have time for me to tell you one more technique?
Lisa: Yes, tell us!
Allison: So, our body has this amazing ability to fall in sync with music. So, if we listen to music that’s roughly about 60 beats per minute, which is like each beat is one second apart, that’s the resting heart rate. If you can listen to music that’s around about that tempo, your heart rate and breathing rate can reduce, if it’s heightened. If it’s heightened when we’re anxious, it can reduce to this nice, slow, resting heart rate.
And so, just listening to music that is that tempo, or that speed, can actually stop this anxiety in its tracks. And if that is too hard, because I always say to people, if you’re working with a child, or a person who’s really angry, and they’re smashing holes in walls, you’re not going to come in with the relaxation music. So, that’s a really bad idea.
So, there’s this other thing our body does called entrainment. So, if you’re in a really heightened state, Nick, and your heart rate’s up, and you’re emotional, and it’s all very intense. Listen to some music that is intense, that matches that, and then you could make a little playlist, like, six songs, and then the next song is a little bit less intense, and the next song is just a bit slower, and a bit calmer.
And your body sort of falls in sync with that, and reduces along with the music. So, by the time you get to the fifth or sixth song, then you’re listening to something that’s calm, it might be the resting heart rate, and then your body falls in sync with that, and that is a really great way of reducing anxiety, when you’re in it.
Nick: Yes. So, why can’t you go from 120 beats per minute straight down to 60 beats per minute when you’re in that?
Allison: Well, you’ve got to be connecting, you’ve got to, sort of, enjoy it. That’s why I say listen to music that you like. It would be similar to listening to music that you don’t like is not going to work for you.
So, if you’re in a heightened state, and you’re really, either angry, or grieving, or suffering some kind of serious, intense feeling, and somebody puts on some calming music for you, you’re more likely just to want to smash them.
You have to listen to your body, and work with it. So, if you play some fast, or loud, or intense kind of music that matches where you are in that moment, you’re going to connect with the music and engage in the actual listening of the music, more than if I was to play something very calm for you in that stage. Does that make sense?
Nick: Yes, it does. Very much.
Lisa: Yes, totally. So, for someone who has absolutely no idea about music, when you say 60 beats per minute, can you just give me an example of a song that that would be? And for anyone else who’s listening. Is that, like, classical music, or is it, you know, like, Fleetwood Mac?
Nick: To chug a, chug a, big red car. Travel near or far. It’s the only one I know.
Allison: Look, I don’t even know where to start, giving you an example, because I don’t think I’ve actually gone through and timed them. But any music that you like, if you listen to it, and just look at the second hand on your clock, if we still have clocks. Most of us use phones, but get that little app out that ticks past each second.
If the beat is happening on the second time, that means that it’s 60 beats per minute. Basically, like, anything that’s kind of calm, we can sort of guess how long a second is, we can estimate that. Any music that, sort of, fits that beat, or that instinctively, you feel it’s nice, calming music, just go with that. It’s not really a science, it doesn’t have to be exact.
Lisa: Yes, OK. Got it. I’ve got it. I just have no musical knowledge whatsoever, so you’re talking a different language, to me.
Allison: You’ve got Nick there.
Lisa: Yes. OK, cool. This has been freaking amazing, and I know that it’s going to be so valuable for people, as is all your other information. So, can you just talk a little bit about the work that you do, and where people can find you?
Allison: Yes. So, what I’m doing at the moment is I’m travelling around Australia running two-day workshops, and I’m talking about this stuff, for, like, two days. But we go into a lot more detail, and a lot more areas. It’s, sort of, focused all on behaviour management, but what I mean by behaviour management is just understanding how the brain works, so that you can support the brain.
Because behaviours, which are anxiety, or what we would call misbehaving in children, that’s all just a product of the brain not coping. So, most of the problems that we’re seeing at school, or in families, with meltdowns and with emotional dysregulation, which means just flying off the handle for no apparent reason. All those kinds of things, they’re not really behavioural issues, it’s all to do with the brain.
So, what I’m doing is telling people about how the brain works, and helping them understand that with good brain care, so giving your brain what it likes, and reducing, or managing, your sensory environment, you can help the brain cope, and you can sort out almost all of the problems that are coming from this. So, that workshop is happening, I’ve got a couple left, I think. Newcastle, Kos Harbour, Hobart, and Burnie, in Tasmania.
They’re all happening this year, and there are details on those at my website, which is Ohmymusicalgoodness.com. And I’ve also got a few webinars, and products up there that I’ve developed to teach, and help people cope with meltdowns and emotional regulation problems, and those kinds of things. They’re all on my website, at Ohmymusicalgoodness.com.
Lisa: I just think you’re a national treasure, and the information that you’re sharing, it feels really cutting edge, but it’s actually, probably, just what we have forgotten in this modern world.
Traditionally, this is just how life was. We talk about overwhelm all the time in Small Steps, and people are just, like, ‘There’s too much on.’ Like, even with food, I’m just called so much more to simplify. We don’t need all the fancy ingredients, you don’t need all the fancy kitchen gadgets, and bits and pieces. You can actually just eat food, really simply, based on standard staple ingredients in your pantry and seasonal produce.
Let’s not overcomplicate something else four ourselves, at the moment. You know, I’m just thinking about our children, as well, what they’re called to cope with. I think that this is just fascinating.
Allison: Yes, and if we can’t cope with it, and we understand this stuff, can you imagine what it’s like for our children, who can’t handle this stuff themselves? Like, we have to teach them how to manage anxiety.
We can listen to this podcast, and get a really good idea, and go forth with some new tools, and help our own lives become easier. But children can’t do that, they need someone to guide them, and that’s why it’s manifesting in children behaviourally. Because there’s no other way for it to manifest. But you’re right. This is, like, how it’s always been.
Until 50 years ago, or whenever it changed, largely with the internet, and all of these kinds of things that are taking up so much of our brain space, we just stopped being simple, and started being complicated. And I think so many of us understand that we need to simplify, but the simple way is not a dominant pathway in our brain any more.
So, what we need to do is practice doing it the simple way. We need to practice, over and over, doing simple meals with a few ingredients, whipping up an omelette, or throwing some stuff in some water and boiling it up. If we can practice those things more and more, those neural pathways in our brain that tell us we can do it that easily, become stronger, and we start to really believe that it is this easy.
It’s a mind frame, it’s about doing it over and over, so that our brain starts to tell us that, ‘Hey, this is easy, this isn’t a problem. Let’s just boil up some soup.’ And the stressful, overwhelming neural pathways become weaker. And then eventually, they go off, and we don’t see them any more. That’s the goal.
Lisa: That is the goal. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for sharing all this today.
Allison: My pleasure, thank you.
Nick: It’s been wonderful.
Allison: Yes, thanks Nick. It’s been great to talk to you both.
Lisa: We appreciate you.
Nick: And I’m going to flush all my tablets down the toilet, and just do everything you’ve-,
Allison: Don’t anyone flush any tablets based on my advice! I have to give you a disclaimer now.
Nick: I was just joking.
Allison: I know!
Lisa: This is why it’s so awesome to give someone like you, with your knowledge, a platform. And I know that this sounds a bit corny, but your star is only rising because now is the time for this information to be shared.
You know, now is the time that so many of us are realising that the way we live our lives is not conducive to physical or mental health. So, I am really thrilled to be able to share with all the listeners your insights, and information. So, thank you Alli.
Alli: Thank you, Lisa. And can I just say, I’ve put together a resource library. It’s got music on there that’s 60 beats per minute, it’s got heaps of recordings, it’s got downloads, and it’s got links to books, and research, and guided meditations, and podcasts, and all sorts of stuff that gives you heaps of information about how to reduce anxiety, and to manage it.
Lisa: We will pop a link to that. Everyone should go and get Alli’s resources. It’s life-changing, I reckon.
Nick: Absolutely. Fighting the good fight.
Lisa: Fighting the good fight.
Allison: Thanks guys.
Lisa: Love your work, Alli!
Allison: Thanks, guys!
Nick: OK, bye now.
Allison: See you.