Music and Mental Health

Last week, I spoke of a lyric in a song that sparked an entire blog post. That idea is the perfect lead into what I wanted to write about this week, as May is Mental Health Awareness Month – music as a tool to help regulate emotions and support mental health.

As someone who has experienced both anxiety and depression I know the importance of finding the right outlet for my emotions. Although struggles with mental health are not always solved by practicing self-regulation, oftentimes they help to de-escalate a situation. An individual may choose to go for a run, meditate, or talk to a friend. For me, music helps.

Music is not only about a musician playing the right notes on a staff – it can provoke a physical and emotional response from many that allows movement and reflection. An upbeat song might get you tapping your toe or up out of your seat. A slow song might be just what is needed to drift off to sleep for a brain that is otherwise anxiously analyzing the next day. Songs with good lyrics also can have a strong impact – like last week’s blog post mentioned, a song might encourage you. Sometimes, there’s a tearjerker that helps you process your emotions in a way that you couldn’t on your own.

I can’t forget to mention that it’s not just about listening to music –there is benefit to singing and playing the music yourself. For me, singing a song as loud as possible in the car for is liking writing those thoughts out in a journal for others. I also play the cymbals, and I’m sure you can imagine the physical release that those allow.

Music can help both children and adults regulate their emotions! In place of “Stop. Breathe. Talk.” My tactic in a high-stress situation might actually be “Stop. SING. Talk.” When our littles are crying hysterically, humming a soft tune might help steady their breathing and calm their mind. Visit  to deal with stress.

Next week, we’ll look deeper into the “science” side of Science of Parenting and discuss more benefits of music and movement for children!

Mackenzie DeJong

Aunt of four unique kiddos. Passionate about figuring how small brains develop, process, and differ. Human Sciences Specialist, Family Life in western Iowa with a B.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences and Design minor.

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Music and Resilience

This morning as I was driving to work, I was listening to the new song, “Youth,” by Shawn Mendes and Khalid. The lyrics spoke about feeling hopeless but not letting pain turn to hate, which really hit me in relation to the last few blogs. The words made me think about experiencing situations that might have a negative effect, but then reminding myself “nope, I’m not going to let those feelings overtake me. I’m going to find ways to overcome this.”

Last week, Mackenzie Johnson talked about the research and reality of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), child abuse prevention, and starting at home.

Often, when talking about ACEs, we get the response of “okay, so what now?”. I’ll be the first to admit that when someone asks me this question on the spot, I get a little clammy trying to decide which resource would be the best fit, how to quickly and effectively respond to meet the needs of their situation, and how I can include all of the crucial pieces without oversimplifying. It’s that step of the process in which we help to build RESILIENCE, but the whole process of trauma informed care can feel complex.

Although there are many ways to reach the end goal, the ACE Interface explains that the structure of a successful trauma-informed community is three-tiered in what they call “Core Protective Systems.” Thriving communities support caring and competent relationships (like a positive parent-child connection), and these relationships support individual capabilities such as self-efficacy and self-regulation.

Individual capabilities lead to a sense of security, the ability to regulate emotion, and adapt to social situations, among other things. It gives us the ability to step back and say the words that were echoed in song, as I heard this morning.

Individual capabilities also give us the ability to know which tools work best to help us express self-regulation, like listening to music – but I’ll talk more about that next week.

Mackenzie DeJong

Aunt of four unique kiddos. Passionate about figuring how small brains develop, process, and differ. Human Sciences Specialist, Family Life in western Iowa with a B.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences and Design minor.

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Disaster Preparation and Safety

We are happy to have Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Specialist and guest blogger Barb Wollan to share information related to safety and preparation during times of disaster.
September is Disaster Preparedness Month. Recent news about hurricane damage provides a sobering reminder of the importance of being prepared. Here in the Midwest, hurricanes are not part of our reality, but we are at risk for other types of disasters, many of which strike suddenly with little or no warning.

In a disaster, safety is first priority. We need to be prepared to quickly evacuate from a fire or seek shelter in a tornado, for example, and have a way to stay warm if a winter storm causes an extended power outage.

There is a second aspect of preparedness that also deserves our attention: we need to be prepared for recovery and preparing for recovery includes:
1. Having insurance coverage that meets our needs, and reviewing it every couple of years to make sure it is keeping up with changes in our situation;
2. Creating and updating a household inventory (typically via photos or video) to assist in filing insurance claims;
3. Keeping irreplaceable documents (birth certificates, military records, property titles, and more) in a safe deposit box;
4. Having copies of key documents and information stored away from our home – perhaps with a friend or family member in another community, or in secure cloud storage. This includes insurance policies (or at least policy numbers and contact information), financial account information, most recent tax return, along with key medical information (including vaccination records) and contact information for both professional and personal contacts. Pet vaccination records matter too.

The list above is NOT all-inclusive, but it’s a good starting point. Check out this “Your Disaster Checklist,” from the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In addition, check out our resources related to managing stress.

All About Stress

Helping Children Manage Stress


Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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How did Bobby’s parents manage?

This summer while on a trip back to my childhood community, I visited a cousin who is now 90+ and living in a care facility. Eloise and I took a walk through the hallways and I was surprised to run into Bobby who is also a resident.

Bobby is the brother of one of my high school classmates. His family lived on a farm near ours, went to the same church, and was just always a part of the usual activities in the community. So, why do I mention Bobby? Well, it’s because Bobby has special health and behavioral needs. As a child and teenager, I didn’t think too much about Bobby – he was just Bobby and everyone helped take care of him. But as an adult, I look back and think, “How did his parents manage? How did they take care of Bobby and his brothers as well as give time to their marriage and personal lives?”

My guess is that while Bobby’s parents had their ups and downs, they took care of themselves. Providing care for a child with special health and behavioral needs means that the parents/caregivers are in it for the long haul. The caregivers must take care of themselves first so that they can take of their child.

Powerful Tools for Caregivers is a program for caregivers of children with special health and behavioral needs. Caring for a child with special needs changes parents’ lives. In this program parents learn tools to manage self-care. Here’s an example of one tool – taking action with stress reducers.

Participants in the classes learn to identify their personal warning signs and sources of stress. Then they think about what they have done to successfully reduce stress. People share things like: walk, visit a friend, listen to music, read, not try to do everything, play a sport, etc. Stress reducers are personal and what suits one person may not suit another.

The important point is to find ways to reduce stress – something that is enjoyable and works for you. Even little things can make a big difference for parents. As I remember, Bobby’s parents found ways to reduce stress. They were a part of church activities, Bobby’s dad played horseshoes with the neighborhood men, and Bobby’s mom tended pretty flowers in their yard.

If you’re interested in learning more tools to help you thrive as a caregiver of a child with special health and behavioral needs, check out Powerful Tools for Caregivers classes in your area.


Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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More than half of us have had ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’

This week we welcome our guest blogger Kristi Cooper, Human Sciences Family Life Specialist.

Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s

I love this quote from the program “Lemonade for Life” – “You can’t rewrite the beginning of your story but you can change how it ends.”

Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) affect a child’s neurological, social-emotional and cognitive development. ACES may eventually manifest in chronic health conditions in adulthood.

I’m part of the 55% of Iowans who have more than one ACE. When I think of the chaotic times in my childhood, I’m grateful for the touch points that kept me ‘on track’. The research on Adverse Childhood Experiences tells us these touch points are called resiliency factors. These resiliency factors include individual capabilities, attachment and belonging with caring competent people and a protective community, faith or cultural process. Let me share a few of these touchpoints from my own life and maybe you can see how resilience can be woven through the fabric of our lives.

I am grateful for the elementary school nurse who never questioned my stomach aches and always had clean dry clothes for me to wear when I had an ‘accident’. I’m grateful for my 3rd grade teacher’s calm, caring approach and the interesting hands-on projects she had us do. She introduced me to creative writing which became an outlet for me whenever I felt life was overwhelming. I’m grateful for my grandmothers who loved me unconditionally and were always interested in me. I’m grateful for the routine of Sunday church followed by dinner at Grandma’s house with its comfort food, safety, hugs and laughter. All of these helped me feel normal and sane when life felt scary.

Spending time outdoors with cousins was an important touchpoint for me. Our many adventures catching tadpoles and crawdads, jumping the bogs in the pasture, riding bikes for miles, building snow forts and climbing in the empty corncrib took my mind away from the hurtful times. Music was another touchpoint for me. I saved my 4-H and birthday money and bought a guitar. With the creative writing gift from Miss Ihnen and my new instrument, I made it through a few more turbulent years.

All of these touchpoints helped to reset my stress response – all it takes is a 20 minute activity to reduce heart rate, regulate breathing again and re-focus the mind. As an adult I use meditation, yoga, journaling and sewing projects to reduce anxiety, keep depression away and help my mind think clearly. I have a therapist I consult when I need to sort things out. I’ve used my early experiences to change how I parented my children, hopefully, changing the course of my grandchildren’s lives. These individual resiliency practices combined with positive social relationships and trauma informed community resources help heal the impact of adverse childhood experiences and to reduce the impact of traumatic events.

What are the touchpoints that help(ed) you survive and thrive?

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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What Hand Were You Dealt? Happy or Turbulent Childhood?

Four AcesIn many ways life can be a lot like playing cards and unfortunately many of us as children were dealt a hand that was less than ideal and loaded with “ACES” or adverse childhood experiences.  The experiences of our childhoods—both the good and the not so good influence the adult we become.

From our childhood, we develop traits and skills that prepare us to be effective in the world. We also develop the capacity to adapt in the face of challenges.   We call this capacity to respond in a positive way— resiliency.  Resilience is complex; it is possible to be resilient in one setting and to do very poorly in another. It is our ability to bounce back when faced with a variety of challenges.

Research is clear that the effects of negative early childhood experiences don’t end when a child becomes an adult.   The more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that a child experiences, the greater the risk for health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse as an adult (Felitti et al., 1998). It can be easy to blame your childhood, to get stuck on situations and circumstances that were beyond your ability to change.  We need to learn that one cannot re-write their childhood history but writing your future and your child’s future is possible.    There is hope.  Change is possible.  Communities and families can learn to break the cycle of negative childhood experiences from one generation to the next.

All parents want a better life for their children.  But many parents are not always sure how to create a better life.  Fortunately, early childhood advocates are starting conversations to help parents achieve resiliency and develop a plan for a better life for themselves and their children.  .

There are numerous conversations starting in Iowa around the concept of adverse childhood experiences and creating a resiliency culture for adults and children alike.  I encourage you to reach out and find out what your community is doing.  Get involved!


Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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