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When ‘out of tune’ works wonders for wellbeing

11th September, 2018

Tabitha Beaven

(Credit: Image International, Learnfest)

We already know from the vast array of research that singing does wonders for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. We also know first-hand how fantastic belting out a power ballad in the shower feels!

Singing releases endorphins and oxytocin, our feel-good chemicals known to relieve stress and anxiety. Studies show that regular singers have reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a stronger immune system. The controlled breath helps us take in more oxygen and improves circulation. More O2 elixir reaches our brains boosting how awake we feel, our ability to concentrate and remember things.

That’s without even leaving the shower. Bring people together to sing and magic really happens.

Oxytocin also enhances feelings of trust and bonding so can really glue a group to combat feelings of loneliness and depression. The sense of ‘being in it together’ and the achievement that comes from working towards a common goal also taps into our human desire for purpose and meaning in our lives.

Where there are people, there is singing – why not at work?

Compare a map of UK singing groups with a map of UK population; where there are people, there are choirs. Over 2 million people choose to sing in over 40,000 choirs (Voices Now UK Big Choral Census, July 2017).

The evidence presents a strong case for singing not only supporting individual wellbeing but also strengthening engagement and performance. There are huge numbers of people at work but you don’t often hear much singing.

If you ask 10 people, “Can you sing?” For every person who humbly responds, often almost apologetically, “Yes”, there are another nine who adamantly refute their ability or potential, “Even the dog leaves the room when I open my mouth”. Some have a harrowing singing scar from school, being excluded from the choir, or worse still, making up the numbers but being asked to mime so as not to ‘spoil’ it for everyone else. That’s a tough message that stays with you influencing whether you will ever ‘have a go’ again.

When it comes to singing, the majority of people have a fixed mindset. They hold a firm belief singing is something they can’t do. However, given our capability to make ‘noise’ – a more likely explanation is that they don’t think they’re any ‘good’ at singing.

As kids we tried (and ‘failed’) at everything! As adults, we don’t like the discomfort that comes with trying new things so we stick to what we know - avoiding embarrassment and ridicule. It’s our brains way of keeping us safe. We don’t put ourselves out there (or we only share our highlight reel on social media) so we can’t be judged and no-one laughs at us.

The world we operate in is full of judgment, expectations and performance standards. The constant pressure and need to be ‘on’ can feel psychologically unsafe and fuels stress and negative mental health.

Enter stage left… ‘Carefree’ singing

Carefree singing* is a refreshing antidote. The kind you do when you think no one is listening; in the shower, in the car or dancing round the kitchen. The 'go for it', no inhibition kind of belting out a song, that most people would never dream of doing in public.

Done regularly, not only does it reap the benefits of singing AND group singing, it’s also a stealth practice of helpful behaviours that build bounce-back-ability, promote connection and collaboration and enable people to make wellbeing happen by choice, not by accident.

· By embracing whatever sound comes out of our mouths and being more forgiving of the sounds others make – it’s a practice in zero-judgment

· The act of getting used to hearing your own voice builds confidence to share ideas and speak up in meetings

· Learning to laugh when it sounds a bit skew-whiff and taking ourselves and life a little less seriously is a brilliant coping mechanism when life feels a little pear shaped

· Doing something with no intention to be any good or get any better is liberating and a great self-care practice – we start to accept that it’s ok, even good for us, to do something purely because it feels good

·         It challenges the ‘I can’t’ fixed mindset and starts rewiring the brain to, ‘I can’ or ‘I’m more comfortable to try’ – encourages steps outside the comfort zone, to try new things or take on more stretching assignments

We remember what we feel

Singing your socks off feels wonderful. A carefree singing group creates an internal community where people share an uplifting experience so builds strong engagement with a brand or organization. A shared, felt experience is also the most powerful route to retaining new information and creating a positive change in mindset and behaviours that stick.

Organisations investing in consistent wellbeing action send a clear message of ‘permission’ to their employees. The message is, “We care about you, it’s important to us that you feel equipped to make positive choices for your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing".

In the words of Ella Fitzgerald, “the only thing better than singing… is more singing”.

Tabitha Beaven

Tabitha Beaven has always been interested in people; who they are, what they do and how they feel. Following a 15-year corporate HR & Learning career for high profile brands such as John Lewis, PepsiCo and Goldman Sachs, Tabitha founded Light Mind after recognising she needed to hit the ‘reboot’ button. Based on the belief that ‘when we feel better we do better’ Light Mind delivers experiential, integrated wellbeing, engagement and performance solutions to help people, teams and organisations choose and practice a more helpful mindset for sustainable wellbeing. Tabitha also runs a community ‘Tuneless Choir’ and says her curious, playful, reflective approach is inspired by her role models in life; dogs.

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