by Alisa Eisenberg
Healing takes many forms. In this contentious political climate we all need a little help navigating stress. Imagine being a young adult trying to find your way at this moment in time or the difficulty being a recent refugee and finding your voice. This article was written for those healing an injury but the concept of resilience serves all of us. Music in Common fosters resilience through social connection and empowerment by honoring all participants stories. Our voices are meant to be heard.
It takes a moment to get an injury. Healing takes whatever time it requires. That’s the stark reality. And all the good stuff happens in the middle. The element of surprise seems a common thread throughout our lives. And yet we hate surprises, most of us. Change being the most difficult thing we manage. So how do we cope with life? We make meaning from the stories we tell ourselves. Consciously and unconsciously we strive to shape our stories around a general theme. The themes we choose say a lot about us as individuals. Bad luck, good luck, deeper spiritual messages, familial histories, whether we fall or rise is defined by our belief. In other words, our glass is half full or half empty of whatever interpretation we choose. So when it happens, life- I mean in the “man plans, God laughs” version- we each have a defining moment. How do we tell our story?
Here’s where science enters the scene. Scientists have measured various components of healing. Social scientists have measured components of resilience. Studies show people with resilient qualities physically heal faster and better. Lucky for us, resilience can be
taught and learned.
So what makes up resilience and how can you be more resilient during difficult times? For starters we’ll look at “cognitive hardiness” (staying mentally strong). When cognitive hardiness is present daily life changes and events are experienced as challenging rather than threatening. Kind of like looking at a wave and imagining bodysurfing it instead of being pummeled by it. This keeps you solution focused and open to trying new experiences, looking for possibilities even if they aren’t readily apparent.
Here are two things you can do to boost your cognitive hardiness and improve your ability to deal with change: 1) Make a commitment to work, family, a hobby or projects on a day-to-day basis, giving you things to look forward to doing. This can include physical therapy and doing prescribed healing exercises on your own; 2) Nurture the belief that you have a strong influence over your life, that what you do has an effect on what you can achieve. This gives you a much needed feeling of control in a situation, like healing an injury, when you can feel powerless. It may even influence you to try an alternative solution, like acupuncture or reiki, to see if this adjunctive therapy can help?
This positive mindset can help buffer the damaging impact of stress on well-being and directly generate more effective coping behaviors. Individuals who score high on cognitive hardiness tend to cope with stress by direct problem-solving rather than by avoiding or ignoring a situation. They also tend to interact with others by giving and getting assistance and encouragement rather than by striking out or being overprotective, all important factors in healing. During illness or injury we are confronted by our own coping style and this is the time and opportunity to make needed adjustments and grow.
Social support is another well-studied and important factor in healing. We need each other in ways we don’t even understand. Our support systems directly and indirectly influence our longevity and well-being. Support can help manage stress by enabling us to see our situation through other eyes or by receiving empathy. This can be from our doctor, physical therapist, medical professionals, trusted friends, family and loved ones. Here are things you can do to effectively use your social support system: 1) Have frequent daily contact with others; 2) Express your feelings; 3) Have a confidant. These things directly enhance psychological well-being, mood, confidence and quality of life, especially in times of illness or injury. Merely having someone in the house is not enough. Proximity does not equal intimacy. Even small, focused amounts of time given
to another can provide much needed connection, which speeds healing and helps to decrease perception of pain.
Coping style is how you deal with work and life pressures and challenges. Your coping style determines whether you feel overwhelmed at each change coming your way or confidently feel “I got this,” knowing you can reach out for help if you need it. Positive appraisal (optimism) is defined as focusing on the positive to minimize what appear to be problems, pressures or challenges. You can do this by saying or thinking positive things about your situation. This can prove particularly challenging when you’re in pain or dealing with the unknowns of recovery. At these moments, I believe it is crucial to lead with a positive mental attitude if only for the reason that it boosts your immune system function; therefore, it can only help. Conversely, negative appraisal (pessimism) is well documented to decrease immune system function, increase perception of pain and leads to a more negative spiral of coping mechanisms, such as isolation. Many studies have shown that isolation and negativity interfere with healing. Furthermore, optimism has been shown to minimize perception of pain and lead to quicker healing. Biochemically speaking, you are releasing oxytocin and endorphins into the bloodstream, creating a feeling of well being. A strong negative response of feeling overwhelmed signals the release of cortisol and adrenaline, which creates anything from anxiety to depression to tense muscles and increased perception of pain.
When you “make a molehill out of a mountain” you are using another factor of resiliencecalled threat minimization. Knowing you can find answers or asking for help allows you to have a little control over some element of your healing. Minimizing challenges through humor can assist with releasing endorphins, the body’s natural antidote to pain.
Health habits are another element of recovery that cannot be overstated. Exercise, physical therapy, good sleep as well as daily relaxation, eating good nutrition, limiting alcohol and eliminating cigarettes are key.
There are many varied challenges to healing an injury and to practicing resilience. They include caregivers, the medical system, insurance coverage and billing, transportation, doctors and lack of information. Depression is a biochemical response that can be a normal part of healing. Especially with the passage of time and little relief from symptoms, the body may naturally conserve energy normally going to brain function to nurture vital organs or heal the injury. The result can be a biochemical depression that will pass. Understanding this is a normal phase of recovery is vital. If the feeling of being
overwhelmed or depressed lasts more than six months, you may want to seek professional
When looking to make meaning from an injury, patients can be encouraged to “walk gracefully through the fire” by learning and practicing key elements of resilience. This enables them to participate in their recovery and to gain valuable life skills.
Remembering to stay positive more often than not, to disengage conflict as quickly as possible and focus on solutions rather than challenges can offer much needed hope and a feeling of control. These factors lead to a more successful healing experience and recovery.
“Peace” is a word that is frequently used but not frequently explored. When I was growing up, peace was a circular symbol I would doodle in the margins of my notebook, or a two fingered hand gesture that was nothing more than a brief salutation of goodwill. As I got older, I learned what situations gave me inner peace and which ones did not. I learned what peace wasn’t by looking at the newspaper and media coverage of world events. I also learned that peace at large was the thing to which our most noble and inspiring historical leaders dedicated their lives. Peace was never a concept that was foreign to me, but it also was not a concept I ever explored in depth. I held it high in importance yet only accepted its vague meaning.
In September of 2015, I decided to attend the School for International Training (SIT) in Brattleboro, Vermont for a graduate education. I had spent time working in humanitarian aid and was eager to gain wisdom on how to be a more thoughtful and engaged citizen. I wanted to learn the theory and best practices that come with contributing to the conditions of the world. I quickly felt drawn to my peacebuilding classes and was awed by the entire academic field dedicated to peace studies and conflict transformation (the area of study used to be known as conflict resolution, but was changed due to the philosophical belief that conflicts can only be transformed, but not resolved). I became fascinated with how various people all over the world conceive of peace and deal with conflict. I appreciated that the field of study involved the intellect but also emotion.
In my first day of class, my professor shared his belief that “peacebuilding involves the imagining of a social space that meets the core needs and goals of all parties.” My classes taught me that in order to effectively move through the world in a different way, I needed to engage all of myself while learning. So I began applying my interest and love for music to my studies. As a lifelong singer and lover of music, I became curious about the social space that music creates and how it might heal and positively transform relationships. For the internship portion of my degree, I had to look no further than my backyard to find Music in Common, an organization that offers collaborative musical programming for peoples of various cultures and faiths to build relationship. Music in Common has provided the space for me to put theory and practice into action.
For my research and capstone project, I explored the connection between music, healing and conflict. The stories and wisdom that I gathered from my research will continue to inspire me on my lifelong exploration of peace. It is my hope that this work can offer space for those reading to pause and reflect on the concepts that exist all around us and effect us as we move through the world. The title and abstract of my paper, as well as full access to the document, can be found HERE.
Music move us personally and with more meaning than any other medium in the world. In the past few decades, modern advances in neuroscience have proved via neuroimaging that musical processing involves almost every region of the brain, a task that no other stimulus can achieve. Science can show what is happening in our brain, but humans have intuitively known and utilized music for healing purposes since the beginning of humanity. This research examines the dynamics of continued scientific advancement in light of Non-Western ways of knowing. The study is an attempt to shorten the distance between music, healing and conflict. Through a qualitative research methodology, the correlation of music and healing was explored by interviewing musicians and healing practitioners in New England. Musicians and healers shared stories that help explain the role of music and healing in Western society and how they might transform conflict. This paper offers space for the peace-builder interested in music and healing to pause and consider the weight of their work.
MIC Western Massachusetts Coordinator and JAMMS Facilitator
Marisa was born and raised in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. Her most joyful passion is music and singing. Marisa recently completed her Master's degree at the School for International Training in Brattleboro Vermont. She studied conflict transformation and specifically the connection between music and peacebuilding. She is curious how the social space created by music can heal and positively transform relationships, a pursuit that aligns perfectly with the mission and vision of Music in Common