Tips for calming down a stressed, creative brain and still getting everything done

I would describe this past week as “scattered” (Post-It Notes are a girl’s best friend)


#MakingTheAlbum Week 4

<<< Click here to watch #MakingTheAlbum Week 3      Click here to watch #MakingTheAlbum Week 5 >>>


I’m still in the middle of song-writing, and I will be for a while. This album is a labour of love, so I’m taking my time to craft meaningful, enduring songs. The problem is, my producer and I have been collaborating on several songs at the same time, and each song is at a different stage. That happens when the ideas start to flow and you want to get them down before you lose them. Also, because he lives in Germany, he works on one or two while I work on another couple. We communicate well, mostly over Skype, but, creatively, switching from song to song makes me feel so scatterbrained. I prefer to work on one song, get it done, and move on to the next.


Last week, I talked about my experience of learning how to program drums, so that I can more easily show my producer the feel I’m going for with each song. Once I’d learned the basics, I was like one of my children when they get a new toy: “Whoo! The novelty!”


After I finally sent my first effort to him, though, he said to me, “You know, I think your drummer sounds a little hysterical, and no drummer could ever play that.”


I laughed and said, “OK, just bear with me. I’m going to tame this. My drummer is going to take a chill pill.”


Honestly, though, I think my drummer was echoing the rhythm of my brain. I know at times I definitely feel hysterical, and I need to tame my thoughts and take a chill pill. There are so many details and steps that I have to remember, and things that I have to tackle to achieve my goals, that my brain works overtime.


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So this week’s video is all about a tool I’ve found that is a miracle for getting organized, calming down a stressed, creative brain, and clearing the way for ideas to flow.


There are all sorts of apps and planners and things you can use to get organized and make sure you don’t forget to do things, but sometimes the simplest ways are best, and this tool is as simple as it gets: it’s Post-it notes. With lists. In bright colours. Stuck up on my computer screen, where they’re in my face.


When you write things down, you free up some mental bandwidth for creativity. You no longer need that little juggler who sits up there in your brain, trying to keep too many balls in the air.



Use Post-it notes to remember things,
and free up some mental bandwidth for creativity.


Essentially, I have three Post-Its, with different a type of list on each one.


The first Post-It list is my TO DO list – all the physical tasks I need to get done that day, in order of priority from top to bottom. So it might be “finish backing vocals on track two,” “create Facebook post,” and “give drummer chill pill.” I even write a reminder to color every day. (If you’re confused by that, go back and take a look at my previous videos!) If you write your TO DO list as you’re finishing up each day, when you come down to work the following morning, there’s no pressure to remember everything. As soon as you sit down at your computer, you can see it all there in front of you, and you just do what it says.


As musicians, we need to get to a skill level
where playing or singing is such second-
nature that our muscle-memory kicks in
and we don’t have to think any more.
Then we’re engaged in the moment.



On the second Post-It Note is a list of things I need to remember both while I’m “in training” and when I’m performing.


I want to have a certain level of vocal precision and technique before I go into the studio. Being a musician is like being an athlete. You don’t start training a week before the Olympics; you train for months – years – beforehand. When you first start out, your muscles get shaky because they’re not strong enough, and you need to strengthen them by practicing. As musicians, we need to get to a skill level where playing or singing is such second-nature that we can smile, let our muscle-memory kick in, and not have to think about technique any more. Then we’re engaged in the moment, and we can enjoy it.


So I write out tips for myself, to help with my training. The first tip is to smile before I sing. Smiling relaxes the body, which makes for a better vocal tone.



Our bodies associate smiling with relaxation.
My tone will be better when I smile before I sing.



The second tip is “visualize the notes I want to hit with ease.” Some people are skeptical about visualization. They think it’s mystical, or a little fishy. But a lot of my stumbling blocks come from my beliefs and the mental limitations I put on myself. I believe that God created our minds to be extremely powerful, and that it’s actually a really helpful mental technique to visualize the notes that I want to hit as though they’re easy.



A lot of my stumbling blocks come from my beliefs
and the mental limitations I put on myself.
God created our minds to be extremely powerful,
so I visualize myself hitting the notes with ease.



The final tip is for when I’m performing. My vocal teacher pointed out to me this week that I’ve been so focused on technique, technique, technique, that I’m neglecting to engage my emotions and just perform. So that’s what I’ve been working on this week – forgetting technique and feeling the song.



There’s a time and a season for technique.
There’s a season for preparation – for working out.
Then there’s a time to forget about all that, trust
in your hard work, and engage your emotions.



The final Post-It Note is a reminder of the things I’m doing to address my challenges. My greatest challenge at the moment is sleeping.


If you’re not sleeping, you’re not good for anything. I’ve had a good hard look at why I’m not sleeping well, and I believe that my cortisol level is actually the problem. I’m such an ambitious person that, even when my body isn’t active, my brain is thinking, creating, problem-solving . . . all of which raises cortisol levels. My internal drummer needs to take a chill pill. Even though I find what I do fun, my body perceives it as stress – something that uses up the mental bandwidth. I can’t be at peak performance-level unless I address this, so I’ve started taking some adaptogen herbs that balance hormones and help to manage stress, I make sure I do some belly dancing every day (I’ve been belly dancing for years!), I go to bed by a certain time, making sure I read beforehand, which I love to do, I try to stick to a low-carb diet, and I’m using essential oils.


So those are my Post-it note lists. How can I possibly remember all the little things on them at any given time? I can’t. But the Post-its ensure that I never forget, and that takes the pressure off.


A lot has happened this week. I’m tackling a lot. I’m addressing physical, mental and emotional issues. All of those things will affect creativity, and ultimately how our projects turn out, so remember to take care of yourself – your body, your mind and your emotions.


In the comments below, give me your own tips for calming an overactive or hysterical brain, or your creative uses for Post-it notes!


With love,



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Leah McHenry

It's become my absolute obsession to find out what will make musicians successful today. In the face of many obstacles, and in the vast sea of the internet, we have an opportunity that has NEVER been available to us in the history of the music business.

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Leah Mchenry

Leah McHenry understands the real world challenges for every-day musicians because she is one.

Having started her music career completely backwards, she found herself learning the NEW music business long after she already started a family and was unable to tour.

Leah now spends her time continuing her own music career while applying the real-world marketing strategies herself, and is also dedicated to helping other independent artists do the same.