Guest Post

Understanding My Problems: The Power of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Layered Onion Guest Post from guest author Denisha Naidoo on the topic of cognitive behavioral therapy expressed through poetry

A photo of physician, psychotherapist, poet Denisha Naidoo. Denisha is a Canadian author and writer of poetry and poems.

I have been writing since I was six years old and wanted to be “a writer,” although I’m not sure what I thought that was at the time. I was born in South Africa and immigrated with my family to Canada as a child. My parents hoped I would become a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. I took a circuitous route but eventually became a family doctor and practiced for over 25 years. During that time, I had the honour of being a part of my patients’ lives through births, marriages, and deaths. I also learned how often forces outside of a person’s control impact their physical and mental health and sense of well-being.

In 2021, I had a life-threatening accident that left me unable to return to my job as a family physician. After a long, slow recovery, I returned to work in the area of mental health. In the process of this career shift, I completed training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

A bubble image of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Emotions, Throughts, Behaviors. Represents CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy

CBT is a form of psychotherapy based on a five-part model to understand life’s experiences. This is the interaction of our thoughts, moods, behaviours, and physical reactions on each other and the environment or situations in which they occur.

As part of the course I took, I used a workbook entitled Mind Over Mood 2nd edition by Denis Greenberger, PhD and Christine Padesky, PhD. Books like this are tools that you can use to work through a CBT program on your own if you don’t have access to a psychotherapist, although working with a mental health therapist is ideal. In that self-help workbook was a worksheet entitled “Understanding My Problems.” It made me think about the patients in my practice.

The poem “Understanding My Problems” uses a worksheet from the book to illustrate how these types of worksheets can help a person work through their problems and understand how they ended up in their current situation. My poem follows a story that I have heard from different patients over the years.

My hope is that this poem illustrates how complicated life can be and how we end up where we are as the result of many small events in life. This poem is just the start of understanding the complexity of that journey. The solution comes from working through CBT or other mental health programs to begin the journey of many small steps toward healing and recovery.

Three scrabble tiles arranged to spell "CBT" for cognitive behavioral therapy (cognitive behavioural therapy)

      Understanding My Problems

      Environment/life changes/situations:

      Reaching over

                  Reaching over

                              Reaching over

      to pick up a part

      and another and another and another

      over and over and over



      bottom line, no time

                  for a rest

      twenty years gone

                  still standing

                              in the same place

      body worn out

      husband laid off

      mortgage defaulted

      Physical Reactions:

      back pain

      can’t sleep

      back pain


      back pain

      can’t sleep

      back pain

      sleep in easy boy chair


      feeling down

      so much pain

      all the time

      worried, scared

      about money

      have to work



      tried friend’s pain pills

      helped for a bit

      need more

      doctor tells me to get physio

      no money       

      so I get them from somewhere else

      to keep working


      with hubby


      with kids


      with supervisor when he reports me

      for working too slow


      Back is wrecked

      pain forever

      no one cares

      call me an addict

      work doesn’t care if I die

      they only care about making money

                  off my back

      Denisha offers us an insightful and productive way to integrate therapy and art. Something to talk about next in therapy!

      A sign that says "next exit: cognitive therapy" another reference to "CBT" for cognitive behavioral therapy (cognitive behavioural therapy)
      Guest Post

      Why is Marketing Important for Artists?

      Layered Onion Guest Post all about marketing for artists by Alexis Arnold, artist and founder of Art Connective

      Marketing is an essential aspect of any business, and that also applies to artists. For artists, marketing helps to promote their work, connect with potential buyers, and build a reputation. It is a way of getting their art out into the world and making it visible to a wider audience. Marketing can help artists to establish themselves as professionals, and showcase their skills and talent to the public.

      Marketing can also help artists to build relationships with their audience, and create a loyal fan base. By sharing their work on social media, attending events, and collaborating with other artists, they can create a strong network of supporters who are interested in their work. This can lead to increased exposure, sales, and opportunities for future projects.

      In short, marketing is crucial for artists because it helps them reach their target audience, build their brand, and establish themselves as professionals in their field. By investing in marketing, artists can increase their visibility, expand their reach, and ultimately, achieve their goals.

      Now that you know why marketing is important, how and where do you start? The easiest way to start is with social media. Instagram is the top platform for artists because it is focused on imagery. You are able to build a timeline showing the progression of your artwork. Collectors are attracted to your development as an artist, and how certain styles from early works continue into later works. This is an area where the longevity of the internet plays to your benefit – the timeline framework of Instagram provides a logical flow.

      Effort = Success

      Social Media content graphic - social media is critical to an artist's marketing strategy.

      The great part about social media is that you can create an account and start sharing your art quickly. Unfortunately, Instagram and other platforms cannot be mastered quite so quickly.

      The amount of effort you put into something often determines the level of success you achieve. That being said, there are many other factors that can also play a role in determining success, such as natural talent, resources, and luck. However, putting in effort is a crucial component to achieving success. When you put in effort, you demonstrate dedication, persistence, and a willingness to work hard to achieve your goals. This can lead to improvements in your skills and abilities, increased confidence, and a greater likelihood of achieving your desired outcomes. So, while effort alone may not guarantee success, it is an essential ingredient in the recipe for achieving your goals.

      Remember, this doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to grow and build anything. As you are building and growing, you are also learning. Pay attention to what people are reacting to when you post. Be sure to comment and reply when someone leaves a comment. Follow and comment on other artists and art-related accounts as well, aiming for at least 15 minutes a day. All of these things let the algorithm know what you are interested in.

      Now, this can be difficult for those of us with lived experience, and it can be an excellent opportunity to leverage tools such as social media managers to help you plan content so you don’t feel the continued pressure of posting daily.

      One in particular that offers a great free plan is Metricool. It gives you analytics tools for monitoring website or social account traffic, but more importantly, the Planning tab allows you to post to multiple platforms at once for days in advance.

      A screenshot of a social media manager tool called Metricool that allows for post planning in advance. Can assist artists in marketing efforts.

      Using Create New Post, you can create and schedule a post out months in advance! Say you have a holiday sale you know you want to promote that you don’t want to forget about.

      A screenshot of a social media manager tool called Metricool that allows for creating posts in advance. Can assist artists in marketing. Marketing for artists.

      Scheduling posts can help make content and engagement feel more manageable, especially as we manage our own health – which must always come first.

      If the above seems overwhelming, start by scaling. Or create different types of post content that require less prep work, but still get engagement from your fans.

      Don’t make this mistake

      Keep your personal account personal and your art account about your art. If you already have a “personal” account, great, keep it for just that. Create an artist account that is only for your art & you as an artist. Your Instagram is essentially your digital business card. Yes, galleries do look at it, and yes, potential collectors do view it. If I find an artist whom I am interested in, I go to their feed and see what they are sharing. If the art is scattered within other random posts of your life, I am not going to follow. Why? Because I am here to see your art and follow you on that journey.

      Key Marketing Points to Remember

      • To see results, you need to post more than once a week.
      • Engage in other art-related accounts by commenting and sharing.
      • Comment and reply to people who engage with your account.
      • Keep your personal and art business accounts separate.

      The sooner you start, the sooner you will see results. Just start posting: Don’t worry about it being perfect; just post. Oh, and let go of the idea of it ever being perfect, because it won’t be, and it shouldn’t be. Marketing today is very different: it is about sharing your story and your journey. You are inviting people to follow along as you make and share your artwork. Have fun with it, and be yourself!

      About the author: Alexis Arnold is the founder and president of Art Connective, Inc, a non-profit art organization dedicated to helping artists gain more time to create by understanding the business side of art. Want to learn more? Enroll in any of Art Connective’s online courses at

      You can follow her on Instagram @theartconnective for exclusive live sessions on Thursdays as well!

      Artwork Spotlight Guest Post

      Guest Post: Charlotte Amelia Poe

      Today The Layered Onion has a guest post from poet and author Charlotte Amelia Poe. Charlotte Amelia Poe (they/them), like many of us with mental and chronic illness, has let life inspire their work, including experience as an autistic and nonbinary person.

      I write. It’s how I make sense of the world.

      Charlotte Amelia Poe
      A photo of the author - Charlotte Amelia Poe. Writing from a place of being autistic and living with mental health challenges and addressing mental health through the arts. Addressing mental health for the arts. In fact, writing and art for mental health. Art and mental health together to help us cope.

The author has migraines.

      Without further ado, an intro from the writer:

      I didn’t used to get migraines. That’s new. Well, not new, but it’s been maybe four years since all of this started and I don’t remember what it was like before. It’s strange how quickly your internal world shifts to accommodate some new horror, a pain you can’t escape from.

      I write. It’s how I make sense of the world. I’ve always written, perhaps as an autistic person it always made more sense than the spoken word, writing can be precise and honest and sometimes brutal, sometimes healing. It’s a salve on a wound I don’t know how to close.

      For one brilliant month, my migraine medication worked and I didn’t have migraines. But something else happened instead – a lack of sleep and a sudden overstimulation meant that I was writing all the time, poetry, prose, nonfiction, anything and everything. I stayed up for twenty four hours and wrote a book. It’s being published next year.

      But the brilliant month ended, and the uncertainty returned. It’s difficult to plan for anything when you don’t know whether or not your head will be trying to kill you. The only thing I could do on the bad days was write on my phone, brightness turned way down low, tapping out every thought I had and trying to make it beautiful even as the darkness of the room seeped in and turned the air sour.

      I do, completely, understand why people would drill holes into their skulls. I understand this about depression, I understand this about anxiety, and I understand this about migraines. The primal need for exorcism is something we cannot help but seek out, but it’s not the answer, as much as we would like it to be.

      In the darkest room, an opening sentence that spawns a thousand words, or a line of poetry that twists into something brand new – that can be magic.

      Creativity, perhaps, is. I write because I have to, because I’m possessed by all the demons of my life and I want to splurge it all onto the page and see if I can make sense of it all. In the darkest room, an opening sentence that spawns a thousand words, or a line of poetry that twists into something brand new – that can be magic.

      And maybe, in lieu of medication that doesn’t work and trepanation that can’t be provided, we have to count on that instead. That magic.

      So I do.

      The migraines may never go away, I can’t find what causes them, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. But the creativity remains. The urge to create remains. It’s a scream into the void, loud against an aching head, but god, it might be the only real thing.

      And I think it might be everything.

      Charlotte Amelia Poe

      Introducing this piece:

      Content warning: Strong language.


      So I say –

      “My head hurts.”

      And I grit my teeth and I fold my fingers into my hair and I tug until maybe my scalp loosens a little and I can hear myself think again. I think if I buzzed off my hair then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much, like maybe the throbbing above my right eye would dull a little and I could finally sleep.

      (It’s been thirty six hours and the caffeine in the painkillers keeps me buzzing like a moth to the light streaming through the holes in my blackout curtains and I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep, but I can’t do anything else either and time is treacle slow and my tongue sticks to the inside of my mouth and I breathe in and out and bury myself further under the duvet, legs curled up to my chest and I want to scream but noise makes it worse and – )

      I understand why people would take rocks to their skulls and carve a hole into themselves to let the demons out. The pressure release valve option seems so fucking appealing. I cannot touch my own skin, can only press my fist into my eye socket and wish I could scoop everything out and let it drip through my fingers until there was no pain anymore, no nothing, just the blessed emptiness and my head would be empty, and my eyes would be empty, and do you understand?

      Try cold compresses, ice from the freezer wrapped in a washcloth and pressed to the side of my head and for a moment I don’t feel anything except the chill of numb and blessed relief. My pillow soaks through and the room is warm, so warm, three days of stuffy air and I’m breathing in my own fumes and I can’t stand up to open a window and my head hurts, I am trying to tell you that it hurts, I am trying to find language to describe the fact that it feels like I’m dying and there is nothing I can do except wait it out.

      I think about stepping on broken glass. At least that bleeds. This isn’t red, isn’t liquid, there’s no colour or texture to any of this, just pounding, and I’m inside of myself and outside of myself all at once and I can hear somebody begging to be let out and I think it’s me, but it might be the demons, you know? And I can understand. Because being trapped here with me is a fucking nightmare, I understand that, I hate it too, but I don’t try to self-destruct every other day just to get my own way.

      Unless the demons are me, in which case, I guess I do.

      I can hear my sister’s children laughing and shrieking in the garden and I’m so happy they’re alive and that they’re not in pain but I also want them to just let me lay curled up in silence. Everything is so, so loud and I am flinching against the shuffle of my sheets as I shift my body from one side of the bed to the other, burying my face into the pillow until the nausea becomes too much and I have to lift my head again, the inside out bruising of my neck an extension of it all and I have googled this and Google says meningitis, and I don’t think I get meningitis every other day, but maybe.

      See, you get kind of crazy with it.

      You make all kinds of deals with any deity you can think of. You don’t even believe in anything except that time is cyclical and that this will happen again. But you still beg and hope and plead that this will stop and maybe this will be the last time it happens, maybe you won’t have to cancel plans and waste away in this fucking miasma of stale breath and old t-shirts.

      So I say –

      “My head hurts.”

      And my mum says, “go lie down.”

      And I do.

      And after a while, it goes away. And for a little while I can bear to be in the light again.

      But it comes back. The demons eat at me again and it hurts hurts hurts.

      And then I must be quiet and still and dark.

      And I don’t think people understand the cost of that. I am losing time. I am losing time. I am losing time.

      Can’t get enough? Follow Charlotte Amelia Poe on Twitter @charlottepoe or Instagram @smallreprieves or on their website.

      Or check out one of their books – available via links on their website. Charlotte Amelia Poe published How To Be Autistic in 2019, an honest memoir that shares a personal account of autism, mental illness, gender, and sexual identity.

      A photo of the author's first book, a memoir. How To Be Autistic - Charlotte Amelia Poe. 
Writing from a place of being autistic and living with mental health challenges and addressing mental health through the arts. Addressing mental health for the arts.

      This is a perspective we have to read. Thank you for sharing your story!

      Guest Post

      Read this before pricing your art!

      A Layered Onion Guest Post all about pricing artwork by Alexis Arnold, artist and founder of Art Connective

      A viewer evaluates pieces of artwork hanging on a gallery wall. One is colored faces of a woman, another piece is a giant painted dollar sign. An illustration on pricing artwork - very literal.

      Before you price your art, read this.

      Are you an artist looking to make some money from your artwork? It can be tricky to know how to price your artwork and ensure you get a fair return for your hard work. In this blog post, I will provide some helpful advice on where to start before you begin crunching numbers. Don’t worry if you’re feeling overwhelmed – I will make it easy to understand!

      Pricing your original and limited-edition artwork can be a challenge for most creatives. Where do you start? Do I price higher or lower? Should I offer sales or discounts on my work? This artist is similar to me; should I just copy their pricing?

      I’m sure at some point, you have had at least one of these questions run through your mind. Know that this is completely normal, and the majority of artists struggle with pricing. Unfortunately, this is normal because there is a lack of open discussions and information sharing around pricing artwork.

      How you price your artwork equates to how you value it but, more importantly, how the collector will value it. Too often artists are pricing from their emotions and connection to their work. This is one of the worst things to do.

      Need help pricing art? Price your art? A string of emojis - hearts, dollar signs, and dollar bills is here for emotional support.

      Artists will price too high because they “love” the piece and essentially don’t want to sell it. They may also price too high because of the time spent to create it. On the flip side, artists price too low with the thought that the lower price is what will sell the artwork. An artist may think, “Who would pay $800 for this painting?!” If you think it is too high and you wouldn’t spend that amount, why would anyone else?

      These thoughts and rationale will only hurt you in the long run.

      The first thing to remember, you cannot become attached to the work. When you do, you price without a method and toss numbers out there, hoping they will attract the right buyer. You may get lucky and have some sales from this method, but what happens when you keep selling at this price point and soon realize you are not even breaking even? You may then suddenly raise your pricing to cover costs, but now you have lost your collectors because they are accustomed to your work being at a certain price point.

      Let’s take an example regarding this that we all will understand. Let’s say you get coffee from your local coffee shop weekly, and you order the same thing, a large vanilla latte for $5. You are used to this; you know it will be close to that price each time you come in. The coffee shop has created loyalty with you by being consistent with product, price, and service.

      Now let’s say you go in to get your weekly vanilla latte, and when the cashier goes to ring you up, she says, “That will be $15.” You would be shocked and most likely tell her she can keep the drink and walk out!

      Fifteen (15) dollars in five dollar bills laid out. Can you imagine a fifteen dollar latte?! 
Illustration of sticker shock re: pricing art or pricing your artwork.

      This is the same concept when you abruptly change your pricing for your artwork. It shocks your collectors, and they are left confused. Understand that you should be increasing your pricing by around 10% each year, but this also is dependent on how well you are selling for the previous year. Before we can talk about pricing options for your artwork, you need to sit down and figure out what you are spending on supplies, framing, marketing, packing materials, travel, etc., for your art.

      Serene image of clean paint brushes on an indigo background with a white stripe at the bottom. The brushes are of various sizes.

      Yes, you need to make a budget for your art business. It’s time to know what is coming in and what is going out. This is essential for any artist seeking to do this as more than a hobby. Create a monthly expense log and start recording what you are spending on the things I listed above. That is a short list – of course, you may have more or fewer items on yours.

      This is your primary starting point. It is often an eye-opener for artists who realize that it costs them $50 to create an 8×10 canvas painting only to then sell it for $65. You have “earned” $15, which doesn’t cover your cost of materials nor the time it took you to create the artwork. You would have needed to sell it for closer to $200 to cover the costs of your materials and for you to pay yourself a small amount. These numbers will vary from artist to artist, which is why it is important for YOU to figure out what works for you.

      Start here, figure out what you are spending monthly, then log what you sell monthly. Seeing the numbers on paper or your computer screen is the first step towards taking control of your creative business.

      Once you have this figured out, then it’s time to decide if you want this to turn into your main source of income or if it is a side income that provides you with some extra spending cash.

      If you are ready to learn more and establish a solid foundation to grow, you can enroll in the Building Blocks for Becoming a Successful Artist online courses now until June 11th, 2023. The first online courses of its kind helping artists understand what is needed and expected of them. By having a solid foundation, you can open the doors to more opportunities.

      Learn more here:

      Logo for the Art Connective.

      Alexis Arnold is a working encaustic artist as well as the founder and president of Art Connective, Inc, a non-profit art organization dedicated to helping artists thrive. She created the Building Blocks online courses to give artists all over the world access to learn how to become more successful doing what they love. You can follow her on Instagram at either @theartconnective or @scorpioencaustics.

      Guest Post

      Cultivating Hope

      Today The Layered Onion has a guest blog post from Shelly Smith of Good Human Work on the topic of hope. Mental health rises and falls as life moves forward; we need art and we need hope as our points of consistency.

      Shelly Smith, LMFT, is a licensed therapist and a co-founder of Good Human Work. Shelly’s roles include writing, speaking, and taking good care of her team of therapists and the clients they serve. She is dedicated to offering services that are approachable, productive, collaborative, and impactful. 

      At Good Human Work, we believe that focusing on human connection is essential. Through our therapy services, licensed therapists provide our clients with the education, insight, and tools to create real and lasting change on a deeply human level.

      Shelly’s blog offers perspective on cultivating hope and keeping it close to us to support us.

      What really is hope?

      When we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed, fearful, or sad, our emotions and thoughts can create a sense of loneliness or despair. We may feel that we are somehow broken or flawed or not enough. When we feel this way, it’s important to find hope.

      We remind ourselves that those negative thoughts are not true. We are not broken. We are not alone. We are no more flawed than any other human being. Hidden behind our toughest thoughts and feelings, there is still hope.

      Hope is a link that connects us to the world at large. It is a connective tissue between our thoughts and feelings that ties us together and encourages us to take one more step – then another, and another. Hope is what makes life seem possible during the worst moments.

      At its base definition, hope tells us that something is coming. Hope is a want for something, a positive anticipation, a reason to keep moving forward. There are always glimmerings of hope within us, because hope is part of the human condition.

      There is always hope.

      It’s normal to sometimes feel like we’ve “lost” hope. And when we feel like there is no hope left, it can be devastating. In these moments, we must remind ourselves that it’s still there, hiding underneath the overwhelming and difficult circumstances. Hope always exists within us. Tapping into hope can bring us out of our anxiety or sadness and position us in a more optimistic space.

      An illustration of the space that hope can give. Optimistic space. Art and mental health. Mental health and art.

      In this space, we begin to see new opportunities and find resiliency, and it becomes a part of how we take another step forward. Hope reminds us that, even though challenges involve elements of many complex emotions, what we are doing in this world is good and has purpose and meaning.

      Purpose and meaning are important. What you are doing has purpose and meaning. You add value. Value with art and mental health. Mental health and art.

      But it is up to us to find and cultivate our hope.

      How do we find it?

      When we feel as if we haven’t any hope, it serves us well to try one or a few different alternatives to seek it. Create a list for yourself that includes these and other options that resonate with you, so you can choose what might work in different moments.

      Here are some ideas to consider:

      • Enter into the natural world – take a walk or hike, sit in a park, listen to the birds, look at the sky or stars, or seek a body of water. Nature is filled with hope in every creature and in all seasons. Look for it. Seek out where you can find awe, wonder, peace, or curiosity there – these naturally help us find hope. 
      • Open up to a trusted person, explaining that you can’t seem to find hope, and ask if they can help. Frequently others can see the glimpse of hope and, through conversation or comfort, can help us find where it lies within us. 
      • Find laughter. When we can’t find hope, it can mean we also can’t find joy or levity. These are tied together, so by seeking one, we will find some of the other. What makes you laugh? It might be a favorite comedian, a funny friend, pets or other animals, a well-written joke or pun, or something silly you saw recently. Lean into the laughter, allowing yourself to feel lighter and amused by the world around you, and you will find a glimmer of hope.
      • Try to create. When we have lost hope, it can be difficult to be creative. However, creative expression inherently incorporates elements of hope. Sometimes finding hope through creativity takes trying a new form or returning to one we haven’t used recently, so the novelty can spark something inside of us.
      Hope flies as if on the wings of birds. Hope elevates mental health. Nature updates the view. Art and mental health. Creativity. Mental health and art.

      How do we cultivate hope?

      In finding hope, each of those examples above involves us “getting out of our own heads” and engaging with the world around us. It’s really about connection. Connection between us and others, or between us and the world we live in. Connection helps us feel hope.

      We often get lost inside of ourselves, which can increase feelings of sadness, loneliness, and fear. Interacting positively with the world around us shows us that there is more than those feelings, which helps clear the clouds so we can see the rays of hope shining through.

      Once we get the smallest glimpse of hope, we can use that little bit to cultivate more. As soon as we can recognize hope, we “feed” it, encouraging it to grow.

      Water the seeds of hope with a watering can so that they can grow. Our minds need hope. 

Art and mental health. Creativity. Mental health and art.

      Here are a few ways that we can visualize and encourage hope to grow:

      • We can choose to hold onto that glimmer of hope and imagine it like a little flame that we can build into a larger fire, or a baby plant that we nurture into health and strength.
      • We can tell ourselves over and over that “I know there is hope” or “I know things will improve.” With repetition, our brain begins to believe what we tell it.
      • Feel the hope deeply and long for more of that feeling. We can have hope about having more hope, and wanting to feel more of that. 
      Longing for hope. Longing in a word cloud. Word art and mental health. Mental health and art.
      • When doubts or negative thoughts come to cloud it out, we can tell our brain, “Stop. I want this hope, this feeling,” and hold onto it. Again, with repetition and mindfulness, our brain will respond, and it gets easier.
      • We can use our artistic self to cultivate this glimmer of hope through any preferred expression that allows your passion and positivity to thrive. Grow the hope through writing, visual art, dance, song, or any creative outlet that allows you to feel the hope more deeply. Feel it growing as you lean into it and express it fully.
      • Similar to finding it, cultivating hope is easier in community rather than in isolation. With another who understands our journey, we can encourage and support one another to continue doing this emotional work.

      Hope naturally wants to grow with us. And cultivating hope is a skill that becomes easier the more we practice it. Eventually, the cultivation will begin to happen on its own, without us even trying. Repetition and consistency matter.

      Repetition and routines help. Routines build hope. Your routines and repetition as an artist can do this. Mental health and art. Art and mental health.

      Our hope reminds us that even during hard times, good is coming – and we can rest in knowing that we are doing the best we can. Remember, you are doing the good, hard work of being human. Hope is there for you.

      You are doing the best that you can. Take the time to rest.

This visual is the word rest with the musical symbol for a half rest over the T. 

Art and mental health. Mental health and art.
      Guest Post

      Ginny S. Gillikin’s Freedom from Anxiety through Music

      Today The Layered Onion has a guest blog essay post from writer Ginny S. Gillikin. This piece, Freedom from Anxiety through Music, is featured in the upcoming Shallot publication, Volume I, Number 2, that focuses on activities and hobbies as we navigate the darkest period of the year (not too long before the days start getting longer and lighter again!). The focus was to create a piece about something that makes you happy.

      Ginny’s piece offers perspective on anxiety and offers a way to break free from that anxiety, which can feel like it binds us.

      A photo of Ginny S. Gillikin, the author.

      Freedom from Anxiety Through Music

      Music brings me solace. As a loner, I intentionally submerse myself in a wall of sound. Feelings of calmness and contentment surround me when I put on headphones and listen to a favorite vinyl record on the turntable.

      I sometimes feel the necessity for a distraction from the outside world, since it can be harsh. Stressors like job stability, finances, and relationships can crush even the most confident and successful person. And people can be cruel–sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. As someone with a sensitive soul who battles anxiety and depression, I feel stress, loss, and angst more deeply than most.

      Listening to music helps me break free from the agony and fear that I sometimes experience. I lose myself in the beats, melody, and lyrics. The stories told in songs transport me to a world far away, where my demons no longer torture me. Escape to an unfamiliar existence offers relief.

      Music can also transcend time. Memories come flooding back when I listen to specific songs and albums. I reminisce about spending time with family and attending concerts with friends. Other songs revive feelings of nostalgia, with a sad twist, as they remind me of people who are no longer in my life.

      But primarily, listening to words and sounds helps me concentrate on something other than my worries. My anxieties and sorrows disappear as I get out of my head and pay attention to the thoughts of others–some tortured by overthinking and analyzing like me, some not.

      Upbeat music like hip-hop, electronica, and disco/house styles help improve my mood. Elation and euphoria course throughout my body. Rhythm and cadence force me out of my chair and onto a private dance floor.

      Sad country and Goth songs actually comfort me as well. Hearing others sing about loss and longing for love proves that I am not alone with my conflicted feelings. Anxiety and yearning are universal sentiments.

      I must remind myself often that obsessing over emotions and unpleasant circumstances is not healthy. Getting lost in music allows me to escape from the confines of my mind and revel in an activity that brings pleasure.

      Ginny S. Gillikin (she/her) is a writer in Raleigh, NC. She has composed poems and stories since childhood. She considers her style of writing to be stream-of-consciousness and writes about dreams, friends and family, and life experiences. Ginny has authored profiles of musicians for and Raleigh Magazine.

      Want to hear more from Ginny? Check out her Instagram @ginnygillikin to engage with her! Ginny is also on LinkedIn and works professionally as a writer, editor, and proofreader.

      To see more work from the upcoming volume of The Shallot, consider signing up for a perk in The Layered Onion’s ongoing crowdfunding campaign. The campaign is focused on supporting The Shallot publication in 2023 so we can continue to publish wonderful artists and writers like Ginny.

      Guest Post

      Social Media and Mental Health with Maggie Bowyer

      In today’s world, social media seems to dominate every area of our lives. The Layered Onion asked Maggie Bowyer how they balance social media and mental health. Maggie has penned a Guest Blog below with some tips and tricks!

      Photo of the artist. Maggie, a writer, talks social media and mental health. 

Maggie Bowyer writes poetry collections.

      “I don’t understand!” I cursed into my phone.

      Once again, the social media aspect of marketing has gotten the better of me. After a week of well-performing Reels on Instagram, I had another video completely flop. While this seems innocuous, research has found that social media can have true adverse outcomes on mental health, as if marketing a book wasn’t stressful enough on its own. Let’s take a closer look at how likes and view counts can have severe effects on our mental state and how we can take this into account when marketing our work.

      Social Media Screen Time and Mental Health

      Social media is relatively new in the grand scheme of things and is growing by the day. It seems that every year now, there is a new social media platform rising to the forefront of our screens. Most recently, TikTok has begun to overtake apps like Instagram and Youtube in popularity. With constantly shifting apps and algorithms, constant news updates, and sensationalization, not to mention filters and Facetune, are we protecting our mental health by constantly “doom-scrolling?”

      One large study found that increased social media use leads to worse mental health outcomes; in fact, teens who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, especially internalizing. Another study found a link between social media screen time and depression and suicide rates.

      I see this as a young adult in the real world. The longer I spend on social media, the more I find myself comparing my work with my contemporaries. The comparison, and occasional jealousy, are not limited to my book sales or skills; I find myself comparing my looks, my relationships, my like counts, my brand deals, my apartment, and so much more. I find myself wanting to create more content, that is better than my previous work, and at a furious pace, which only leads to burnout.

      I also have found that social media marketing has changed my poetry, which snapped me back to reality. I have always written very lengthy, narrative poetry, having gotten my real start in spoken word poetry. As I spent time marketing on social media apps, I found that quick clips performed much better. I started writing a lot of micro-poetry. While there is nothing wrong with micro-poetry or its rise in popularity, it did not feel authentic or complete; I began to feel like I was selling out my work in favor of social media clout.

      The big question is how do we prioritize our mental health and our unique voice when social media has become such a large part of marketing our work and making a living?

      I have several ways of keeping my head in check when creating content.

      1. Set Time Limits

      The first tip I have is to set time limits on apps. I find myself opening Instagram absentmindedly all the time; it is completely normal as these apps are designed to be addictive and to grab your attention from your home screen. By setting time limits, I can curb the amount of accidental time on the app.

      2. Intentional Use

      This leads to my second tip, which is intentional use. I use social media for three explicit things and knowing my purpose on the app helps me navigate the ever-shifting landscape of view counts and engagement ratios. I use social media to market my books, draw inspiration, and keep in touch with my friends. Determining that my goal on social media was to sell myself, and my books, and fulfill my brand contracts helped with how overwhelming social media was. How would I know what to post? Instead of panicking at the endless content ideas, I was able to focus on what I was selling that day.

      In line with both intentional use and finding inspiration, I began to weed out whom I was following. Not a marketing coach finding trending audio I enjoy? Unfollow. I disagree with your opinions far more than I agree? Unfollow. A poet I haven’t found inspiring for a while, or aren’t pushing me to be better at my craft? Sorry, but that’s also an unfollow.

      I am unfollowing people unjudiciously, and it feels nice. I am also blocking people more often than I ever thought possible and for far smaller infractions than before, and it is more freeing than I could have imagined. I am trying to keep my little corner of the internet as safe as possible for me and my followers.

      3. Don’t Let Metrics and View Counts Rule You

      I am trying to focus less on like counts or being frustrated by low view counts. This one is a lot harder than the other tips, and one I am still navigating. As a business major who loves marketing, I want all the data. I want to know what is and isn’t working for my audience. I want to know who my audience is. But I was beginning to get obsessed with numbers, checking my insights daily, sometimes even multiple times in one day.

      Number obsession - it is easy to obsess over KPIs and metrics.

      Now, I try to only check it weekly, though sometimes I check certain metrics every few days. I would often get frustrated by low view counts but high engagement rates, wondering why the post wasn’t performing better, and more often than not, I would begin to berate my looks, my apartment, and more. Now, I am trying to reframe my thoughts about those posts. Those posts connect me to my current audience and foster a deeper relationship with people who already follow me, maybe starting a new conversation or retaining more followers. Not every post we create is going to go viral, and that is okay, maybe even better than constant viral content. Try reframing your previously low days and find the positives in your community, content, and self. No one is perfect at this, especially not me, so be gentle with yourself as you begin to reframe thoughts.

      4. Be Your You, Without Filters

      This next tip might seem silly and simple, but I am surprised by how much it has helped my mental health. I have completely stopped using filters. I want to like my face, or at least be neutral enough about it to feel like I can post it. I don’t want to show the world a fake version of myself. I want to show younger kids on the app what real skin looks like, or at least skin with makeup on it. I want to show that we all have some asymmetry in our faces, and that is okay! I have found that I don’t typically miss filters and only use them in my friends’ group chat on occasion.

      No filters, don't be afraid to share who you are. #nofilters

      The last tip has quite possibly been the best thing I have done for myself and my mental health. I have created a smaller, private Instagram to keep up with my friends and message with them, which helps with the feeling of constantly performing for an audience or slipping into my “digital self.” I can share an unfiltered opinion, not beat myself up over typos, I can share pictures of my family without fear, and above all else, I don’t have any Insights. Even without the post numbers, I find I don’t even care about the like or view counts on that page. I can be myself, and people can take it or leave it. No brand deals are pending on my perfectly polished presentation. I don’t need to retain my followers to ensure my next book launch goes better than the last. I don’t feel pressured to let creepy people follow me because they could be another client. I don’t feel like I have to create content there; I can just be.

      Boundaries are good! Don't be afraid to set them to protect yourself and your mental health.

      I can still market my book when doing all of these things. In fact, I have found that I market myself even better with boundaries in place. I feel I can connect more enthusiastically and genuinely with my audience when I have taken the weekend off. I am more confident online and feel like I have true direction. There are endless ways we can take care of our mental health in the digital age. These are just a few tips that have helped me in combination. We are seeing the first generation raised on social media begin to come of age. We are also seeing a mental health crisis of epic proportions, some of which can be attributed to social media (though far from exclusively). Teaching each other how to care for our mental health is going to be vitally important. I hope this begins a conversation rather than feels like the end of a lecture and that you go into your digital spaces with intention today.

      Want to hear more from Maggie? Check out their Instagram @maggie.writes or website to engage with Maggie!