social bonding

Tips to survive Blue Monday – or Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday...

Waiting for the bus in the rain

Oh dear, it’s Blue Monday again. The day on which our gloom and unhappiness supposedly peaks. And with Brexit, Trump and 2016’s upsetting celebrity cull, this one could be the very bluest yet.

Let’s put aside for one moment the fact that Blue Monday is entirely bogus and was conjured up for a Sky Travel ad campaign in 2005. And that the equation is bunkum. And that even its creator says we should ignore it.*

It’s entirely possible, now we’re post-Christmas, and many months pre-summer holidays, and it’s been raining for (what feels like) an entire week, and your resolutions are starting to crumble, and you’d meet up with friends but everyone’s too tired/skint/teetotal, that you might feel a bit… flat. And that being told it’s the most depressing day of the year might not help.

So what are we do with all of this, not least if tomorrow turns out to be just as glum? If said glumness is of the fairly temporary variety, you might like to try the following. (For anything else, do check out #blueanyday.)  

Body Scan

Some people find a quick body scan can help them to be present in the moment, and figure out with how they actually feel. (As opposed to how a marketing concept tells them they ought to feel.) See below for a few tips if you fancy giving that a go. The point is simply to notice, rather than change, how you are.

1. Notice your breathing. Is it deep, shallow, fast, slow, uneven, steady, etc.?

2. Scan down your body, from the crown of your head to your fingertips and toes. Notice where you feel comfort and tension, and which parts of your body feel relaxed or tired.

3. Scan your emotions. Notice how you feel in this moment and the emotions you’re experiencing.

Go to the pub – no, really!

And if that’s not your thing, then you might like to know that going to the pub with friends appears to improve wellbeing. Though I should add that the Oxford University research does also point out that the potential benefits are similar to other socially bonding activities such as laughter, singing and dancing. So you might have to stick out Dry January after all.

Make up your own bogus equation

Finally, and with that research in mind, I recommend a hearty laugh at the equation behind Blue Monday. It really is gloriously silly. You might even like to come up with a few of your own, just for fun. Here’s one of mine.

H = B x O2 - P / D + 4

(Happiness = books read multiplied by time outdoors minus pigeon encounters divided by daylight + 4. Alternatively, hydrogen equals boron multiplied by oxygen minus phosphorus divided by + 4, where D = I made it up.)

I hope you’re having a happy Monday. And, if not, that this afternoon, or evening or tomorrow brings some cheer. Either way, and at any of time of year, you might like to check out #blueanyday.

 

*But let’s not ignore the mental health experts who say that Blue Monday creates damaging misconceptions about mental illness. And that the glib message that retail cures all can spell disaster for vulnerable people who spend more when they feel unwell.

Why singing improves well-being

People singing

I'm sometimes asked why we use singing in our sessions. I'm not surprised – and not only because singing is, ahem, a touch unusual in leadership development. Thing is, however natural it might be, singing comes with baggage. It’s always a loaded concept, whether that's with feelings of joy or outright fear, or something in between.

And actually, in our work, all of that is useful.

That element of fear and exposure can help you notice how you respond to risk and uncertainty. And do so in a way that’s not only immediate, but that is all-encompassing: physically, intellectually and emotionally. In pulling you out of your comfort zone, singing can take you to a place of stretch. And that, we know from recent research, is where most of us learn best and most memorably.

It's even likely that, because it’s a bit risky, singing actually increases your resilience. We're currently collaborating with neurobiologists at Ashridge Business School to find at whether public singing creates templates in your brain that help you tackle other challenges more easily. We'll keep you posted on our findings!

So I embrace that element of fear. And one of the things I find fascinating about singing is how quickly it can take you from that place of fear to one of connection, trust, and well-being. And for lots of people, it can happen within the space of a single song.

There’s a growing body of research into the impact of singing on well-being. We now know, for example, that group singing raises your pain threshold. And that it releases oxytocin into your bloodstream, which helps promote feelings of trust and safety.

Singing also enables fast social bonding. It breaks the ice so you feel closer as the group, even if you don’t yet know anything about each other. The team behind this research also suggest that the social bonding effect of singing may even have been vital in enabling modern humans to sustain larger social networks than their evolutionary ancestors. And that, in turn, may have helped them colonise risky environments worldwide. Those early singers were no slackers.

When you sing with other people your heartbeats sychronise – which may explain why singing together can create a sense of shared perspective. Choral singing can certainly improve mood, enhance quality of life, and lead to greater happiness, reduced stress and better emotional well-being. But, whether you sing alone or with others, the simple act of singing raises your heart rate variability, which in turn improves both your well-being and social cognition.

And we think that singing with someone else improves your social intelligence. with, again, an impact on well-being. We're currently developing research with neuroscientists at University College London to examine brain activity during joint singing, and its impact on interaction and well-being.

As you might have gathered, I find the science fascinating. I find it hugely exciting to understand what happens in our brains and bodies when we sing, and how we can use that to enhance our lives at work or at home.

But, in some ways, we don’t need the science.

Singing is thought to be how we first communicated, even before we had speech. It's found across the world – a truly global phenomenon. It's a fundamental to the human condition. So why not give it a whirl? Even if you find it stressful you'll probably be boosting your resilience! And all you need is yourself.

This piece is an excerpt from our session for Roffey Park Institute's Well-being Forum in November 2017. Do drop us a line if you'd like to find out more about the session or our research.

What lies beneath? Get your brain scanned and find out!

'B0005622 Enhanced MRI scan of the head ' by Mark Lythgoe & Chloe Hutton / Wellcome Images, licenced under CC  BY-NC-ND 2.0

'B0005622 Enhanced MRI scan of the head' by Mark Lythgoe & Chloe Hutton / Wellcome Images, licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We're hugely excited to be working with neuroscientists at University College London (UCL) and Ashridge Business School to investigate the science behind singing. The UCL pilot will be one of the first in an emerging field that explores why social interaction is so important to health and well-being. And the Ashridge research will valuably contribute to our understanding of both resilience and learning. Both have potentially exciting applications in the workplace, education and health.

We're recruiting potential participants now while we nervously await the outcome of our funding bids. So, if you've ever fancied finding out what's really going on inside, now's your chance! We're looking for participants of all backgrounds, and particularly scientists.

UCL RESEARCH

Using fRMI scanners, we'll look at what happens in the brain when you sing, how it differs from speech, and why many people find that singing together creates social bonds.

We're looking for 30 adults who:

  • consider themselves to be novice singers
  • haven't had any training, including singing in choirs
  • don't consider themselves entirely tone deaf!
  • are aged between 18 and 40 years
  • aren't claustrophobic – scanners are a fairly tight fit!
  • are based in or can easily get to central London

On the day, you'll start off by singing with Kamala face-to-face. You'll then get in the scanner, and sing with her (via headphones) while your brain activity is scanned. It'll take about an hour of your time.

ASHRIDGE RESEARCH

Using heart rate variance monitors, we'll look at what happens in the brain when you sing in public, and whether it enhances personal resilience.

We're looking for 30 adults who:

  • are novice, amateur (e.g. sing in choirs), or semi-pro/professional singers
  • are aged 18+
  • are based in or can easily get to central London

On the day, you'll sing together, led by Kamala. You'll then have an opportunity to lead each other in singing, and sing a solo (yep, a solo!). You'll wear a small heart rate variance monitor throughout all the activities. It'll take about a day of your time.

If you're interested in taking part in either study you'll need to have a quick chat with Kamala over the phone so we can check you're happy to go ahead. Do drop her a line if you'd like to find out more, with no obligation to take part!