Put Your Mental Health First

Ironically, I returned to campus after Thanksgiving Break even more stressed out than I was when I left. On Sunday around midnight, I found myself pacing around anxiously in my cramped room. There were so many things that I needed to prepare for the upcoming week. But I could not figure out where to start. So I decided to temporarily detach myself from all of my academic responsibilities*. I closed my planner, connected my phone to my speakers, and started playing a Sergey Rachmaninov station on Pandora. I lay down on my bed and focused solely on the music. Soon afterwards, I started thinking about my work again but in a different light this time. I was sincerely curious about the material. I ended up completing some of my reading assignments and then found myself absorbed in one of my pleasure-reading books. I didn’t finish all of my assignments that night, but I definitely got a lot completed and was able to genuinely enjoy the material.

Since then, I’ve been focusing on the state of my mind before starting my work, and I’ve noticed that music often plays an influential role in my overall well-being. Unfortunately, I’ve realized that the music that what I had been listening to was influencing me negatively. I had lately been listening to “Styrofoam Plates” by Death Cab for Cutie on repeat as well as music from my Damien Rice and Jaymay Pandora stations. “Styrofoam Plates” is a song of hurt, abandonment, and hostility. I hadn’t consciously realized this until after one of my best friends from high school expressed her concern upon hearing that I could not stop listening to this song. I was surprised by her reaction and decided to read the lyrics because they’re difficult to decipher from just listening. Upon reading the lyrics, I realized how heavy of a song it was. I was shocked to find that I connected with the singer’s past experiences and current feelings in relation to familial bonds. I realized that I, perhaps subconsciously, picked up on the emotions attached to the inflections in his voice.

In addition, I have given so much feedback (either by “liking” or “disliking” songs) on both my Damien Rice and Jaymay Pandora stations that they have turned into playlists of my favorite songs. On each playlist, around five of my thumbed-up songs will play in a row before Pandora introduces a new artist and song. As a result, I hear a lot of the same songs. Regulars on the station include “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice, “Creep” by Radiohead, as well as songs by Iron and Wine, City and Colour, Radical Face, Feist, and Bon Iver. In that their music features sparse instrumentation, soft but powerful vocals, and lyrics packed with emotions of unrequited love, loss, and insecurity, all of these artists are similar to each other. In a way, listening to this music has resurfaced my feelings of hurt, abandonment, hostility, insecurity, etc. without my permission and without my awareness. After listening to solely my Rachmaninov station, I’ve noticed that I’ve been friendlier towards both my peers and myself. This transition to a different style of music has also increased my enjoyment of doing my academic work.


(Sergey Rachmaninov; Google Images)

Despite the pleasure of discovering Rachmaninov and Debussy, I think what’s important from this experience is that I learned that whenever people advise us to, “take care of yourself,” they don’t focus enough on mental health and how much our smallest decisions (like the music we listen to) can gravely impact it. It seems as though at any institution of higher education, it’s inevitable that one will be stressed out, anxious, sleep deprived, etc. It’s viewed as a, normal, part of life and is somewhat glorified. It appears to be a way to gauge how hard one is working and is seen as something that should be commended. This is something that I can’t and don’t want to understand or accept. My mental health is extremely important to me because, in the end, my mind is all that I’ve got. I don’t want to damage it by expending energy on a task that I’m not mentally prepared to do. To clarify, I’m not saying that one should wait until they feel like doing their work but instead should try actively to heighten their happiness before starting work (listening to positive music, waltzing, etc.). It’s important to do your work here at Amherst and to do it in a fulfilling manner.  However, one needs to delve into their work from a mentally sound standpoint. Otherwise, what will be attained or appreciated? Isn’t that why we are all here? To learn and appreciate many different disciplines? I know that’s why I am here.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you find yourself doing your work out of a feeling of necessity, perhaps sit down and relax until your curiosity draws you back to the material.

Mental Health Initiatives at Amherst

*It’s important to note that I do in fact do my work, and I don’t recommend this art form of detachment on a daily basis.