January 2020 - Managing negativity spirals with music

Welcome to 2020. We have newsletters for you.

Can music help you to break out from a negativity loop?

When I talk about negativity spirals, I’m referring to those times when you feel yourself slowly descending into increasingly catastrophic or negative thoughts. For me, once the spiral begins, it’s like setting a ball rolling down a hill. Unless I actively do something to stop it, I’m eventually going to hit the bottom.

Earlier this month, I asked Neurodivergent Twitter how they handle spirals like these.

The feedback I got was mostly around distraction, or replacing the thoughts with another form of input.

For example (I’ve paraphrased the tips below):

  • Playing games that require concentration and strategy (particularly Town of Salem) - @anarki4ever

  • Putting on instrumental tracks (possibly with rainy ambience laid underneath) - @ka9ayaiteiru

I’ll look at games and mental health in another issue, but when it comes to using audio to help with negativity spirals, I have a few things to recommend.

First of all, I’m squarely in the rainy ambience camp - I recommend rainymood.com for continuous, calming sounds you can access from any internet-enabled device with a modern web browser. I also switch this up with two Android apps, Ambience and Relax Melodies, which allow you to customise the kinds of relaxing sounds you want to hear (for example: purring cats, a campfire, or air conditioners). You can also mix these sounds with your own music. There are similarly named apps out there for Apple products, too.

I also find isochronic tones helpful, both with negativity spirals, and when I’m struggling with executive dysfunction. My two favourite isochronic tones YouTube videos are Montana Cellist’s “Isochronic Beats Cello Alpha waves 10 hz - Natural tones to boost serotonin” and Jason Stephenson’s “Music to help with sleeping issues, anxiety relief and pain with isochronic tones”.

Send me your tunes

Do you have a favourite combo of relaxing noises? (Mine is the sound of a creaky wooden ship, mixed with distant thunder, and audio of rain hitting a tin roof or pavement). Alternatively, do you have a favourite relaxation app or piece of music that works for you? I want to hear about it! You can send in your recommendations by hitting reply to this email, and I’ll either tweet them, or include them in the next newsletter, depending on the volume.

Please note: only subscribers are able to reply this way, you can’t reply if you are reading this on the Substack newsletter archive. Please consider becoming a subscriber! It’s free, and as Neurotopical grows, I’ll be offering additional subscribers-only material.

Links of interest

Every month I compile a handful of links related to Neurotopical’s areas of interest. This includes both current and older (but still-relevant) discussions, news and resources.

In progress

Multiple neurodiverse traits assessment

While they in no way replace a professional diagnosis, online assessments can be a useful way to see if you fit the bill for a particular diagnosis before seeking a referral. At the moment, most online assessments only look at a single condition at a time. However, it’s not uncommon for an individual to have more than one potential diagnosis.

@zwriterthinker has been thinking about this, and recently started looking into what it might take to create a general online assessment that examines overall neurodiverse trait indicators. While it’s of course possible to discuss these things with your GP, it can be more economical and less intimidating for some people to do their initial research online before seeking professional assistance.

If you’re interested in this project, bookmark  this Google Doc as it is where the first draft of traits and considerations will be collected. And if you have thoughts on how an assessment like this could be done online, and what should be included, I’ve offered to collect responses from subscribers here and pass them on – just hit reply to this email to let me know your thoughts.

That’s all for this month - see you in February!


Issue 1: It begins!

So I guess this makes December 5th Neurotopical's birthday.

Hey! It’s really happening! It’s the Neurotopical launch! While I roll around on the ground shrieking into my hands about this, here’s some info on what we’re all about:

There’s a lot of information online around understanding ourselves and how our minds work. But brains are tricky things, and when it comes to individual ones, there’s so much variety that many mainstream articles wind up giving pretty generic advice: ‘Eat balanced meals! Get enough sleep! Exercise! Drink water!’

Which, look. Those are all sound pieces of advice. But they’re the ‘make sure your car doesn’t run out of fuel, and don’t drive it underwater’ level of assistance when it comes to the mechanics of our minds.

What I’ve wanted to know, is ‘why is my brain’s engine always making that weird clicking noise, and while we’re here, it’s kind of run out of juice… how do I jump-start it?’

In order to find my own answers, I made myself into a test subject. I nicknamed the test “Unstable Process” and started investigating my own mental mechanics.

Over time my experiments showed me ways I could personally manage my executive dysfunction and anxiety issues a little better, but there was something else that gave me a boost nothing else could – hearing other people’s personal experiences with their own mental health.

In my case, it was this comic about autism in women that opened my eyes to a lot of things about myself that conventional wisdom never had.

There are so many useful stories like these, that let us as a community pass on our experiences to help other people struggling with similar issues. When it comes to brains and mental health, it’s impossible to find one-size-fits-all answers. By sharing stories of our own experiences along with traditional sources of info, I feel we all have a much better shot at finding the answers that work for us.

Okay, so there’s the background, now for the nitty-gritty. I guess I can stop rolling around on the floor to go through the basics:

  • Neurotopical is predominantly a newsletter/website. The website will share all the main articles publicly, but the newsletter will sometimes contain extra things just for our subscribers.

  • We won’t send more than three emails a month, generally only two.

  • Eventually Neurotopical may expand to other things – podcasts and videos being near the top of the list.

  • I have a couple interviews and other articles lined up to share with you, but in early 2020 I’ll also be reaching out to the community in general for people’s personal stories around specific topics.

  • We have a code of ethics to protect both our contributors and the community, and some more information about Neurotopical in general.

If there’s subjects linked with mental health, psychology or neuroscience that you would love me to collect stories about, you’re welcome to reply directly to this email – I’ll read every response! You can also @ me with suggestions at the Neurotopical twitter account.

Time to swallow my anxiety at finally making this thing A Thing and press send,


Neurotopical, who dis

Here's the lowdown

Hi! Neurotopical is a place to collect personal stories about mental health, along with sharing tools and resources to help you learn more about yourself.

We’re launching on December 5th, 2019, so sign up before then if you want to receive a copy of the first article in your inbox! Read more about us here.

You can also:

In the meantime, tell your friends!

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