Just before Christmas I had the honour of facilitating a songwriting workshop for the team that had managed the vast COVID vaccination rollout in our area. They had done this in addition to their daily role of delivering all community healthcare services.
I’ll be honest, this was a dream job for me.
When I started out delivering creative workshops for wellbeing, it was in care homes and supported housing groups; as a contribution towards tackling loneliness and isolation.
This grew to include dementia, anxiety, and addiction support groups, carers and hospital volunteers, and I had been researching how these same activities could benefit staff as well as service users, so this was a great opportunity to test it out.
For example we know that getting creative is one of the most effective ways to enhance wellbeing, increase productivity and lower stress-related sickness in the workplace.
Guided creative activities can enhance and maintain wellbeing in adults, which in turn is associated with better health, work performance and social contribution. (1)
In the workplace music interventions can decrease stress and significantly enhance overall wellbeing of staff. (1)
Visual arts interventions have been shown to reduce anxiety and improve mood. (2)
Participation in an art-based activity promotes personal growth through skill aquisition and improves self-esteem. (3)
Engagement in the arts results in a reduction in depression and anxiety; increase in self-respect, self-worth and self-esteem; enhanced social capital (engagement in the world); and a renewal of identity (authenicity). (4)
Whilst we often think of creative activities as a hobby or as a social event, they can also be a powerful management tool that actually benefit not only team morale but the bottom line of the company.
The deeper I dug into these studies, the clearer it became, that all the evidence confirms what I have seen first-hand in every single workshop I’ve delivered, which is that professionally facilitated creative activities are one of the fastest, most effective ways you can connect to people, and to nurture and energise them.
The studies also went on to say that the best way to deliver these creative activities was through workshops and internal mentoring programmes, so it was a huge moment of validation to know that what I has spent the last few years developing could actually be evidenced.
You might be asking why any of this really matters.
Well, of the 600,000 NHS employees who responded to the Staff Survey in 2020, 44% reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress.
Last year, across all sectors, 17.9 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety (Labour Force Survey) costing the UK economy in excess of £6.5bn every year.
So, prioritising staff wellbeing is not simply about setting good intentions or so the Director of HR can put a tick in a box; It’s about making very real and tangible changes to the workplace and to how people work. It means staff and managers being able to see visible progress and real-time outcomes.
If you’re intrigued by these facts, or if you’re a little sceptical, then here is a little taster of what I ask participants to think about in a staff wellbeing workshop.
Connecting music and wellbeing - an exercise
Let’s start by thinking about the associations we make with music.
We listen to music for all sorts of reasons – when we’re happy, when we’re feeling down, when we want to remember a particular time or person.
What does music mean to you?
Songs seem to have this little bit of magic don’t they?
It’s the way a song can:
take you back to that perfect summer
remind you of someone you’ve lost
replay the moment you fell in love
get everyone up on the dancefloor
There is music for every occasion, the song that:
motivates us to do the housework
keep running during a 5K
relaxes us after a tough day
We make associations with instruments too:
the double bass in jazz music
the violin in folk music
and my favourite, the pedal steel in country music
Can you think of a song you associate with a particular event in your life?
One thing’s for certain, music is intertwined with our memories and emotions.
For example, you may be aware of the research using music with people with dementia. Specifically, making playlists of songs that punctuate particular times in their life. The results of this are so moving, because it’s proving that even when the memory of that event or experience is gone, the emotion connected to that time is still very much there, and it can be triggered by a song.
That’s how powerful music can be.
And by understanding this, we can use it intentionally, for our own self-care, to reconnect with ourselves and have shared experiences with others.
Of course, on the part of the songwriter all of this is deliberate.
The job of the songwriter is to make us feel something.
From that predictable key change in a boy band song, when they all stand up from their stools and launch into the final chorus and the crowd goes wild.
The bass line in dance music that vibrates right through your body, providing a temporary escape from real life.
The non-stop Christmas songs on the radio, designed to elevate our excitement and make us spend more money.
The most successful songs are those that are emotionally-fuelled.
We empathise with the singer. Their story becomes ours.
At its heart, songwriting is really just storytelling, and we all have stories to tell.
Can you think of a memory or experience from your own life that you'd like to tell in a song?
Come along to the next live creative workshop by trying out our membership for a month for free here.
When I think back to all of the songwriting workshops I’ve run, from the support groups to the Christmas parties, to the staff wellbeing, there is a thread that runs through them all.
It’s so clear to me that I now know for certain that the resulting song will have these themes, regardless of whether the participants are senior managers, service users, old or young, open or cautious about the activity.
Those common themes are:
Inspiration and Hope
The chorus of the Locala song was as follows:
If we only keep on trying
None of us needs to end up crying
Some things won’t change, there’ll be trials to face
We’ll be stronger together, no matter what it takes
Stronger together, no matter what it takes
In my Creative Wellbeing Membership this month, we have been using music to explore the meaning of Change for us - how we deal with it, how we embrace it, and how we thrive during it.
Some of the greatest songs, especially power ballads and country hits are stories of change. We all have those pivotal moments in our lives, when something changes and life will never be the same again. If we reflect on these events and experiences, we can turn them into a key message that can not only help us to process the change ourselves, but to share our story with others in a similar position.
This is just one example of how powerful songwriting can be for wellbeing, self-expression and growth.
This is how it reduces anxiety and stress, and increases self-confidence and self-belief.
If you manage a team or group that could benefit from a creative workshop, you can book here.
Music, Singing & Wellbeing in Healthy Adults' - What Works Wellbeing
Bell and Robins 2007
Visual art and mental health - What Works Wellbeing