The soundtrack to a reduced frame of mind and an expanding resource to encourage better self-care. Explore the archive.
Students of early hip-hop may be aware of the small print on the back sleeve of LL Cool K’s 1985 album Radio: “Reduced by Rick Rubin”, in homage to his pioneering minimalist arrangement. It’s with Rick’s same approach to musical minimalism that this series emerges: stripping sound back to its most transcendental, restorative and atmospheric textures to block out the noise and aid focus, attunement and relaxation.
Discussions have come a long way in recent years, but there still remains a taboo around not being okay. To accompany each audio presentation, we’ll speak to the creator about their experiences with self-care and, if they’re comfortable sharing, mental health. We’ll unpack personal processes, explore the nuances of self-care across cultures and raise awareness of charities with a personal connection. We hope this will grow into an evolving resource of knowledge and experience to provide solace, inspiration, reassurance and company in difficult times.
For the sixth instalment we welcome DJ, former mind behind the much-loved intimate London parties, Lift Party and Where Love Lives, and partner of music and culture marketing agency Heard, PAV. A full time explorer of music that helps you focus whilst working, and an advocate for daily self-care and wellbeing, PAV couldn’t be better placed to help us keep our minds clear and well-nourished.
Describing the inspirations behind his Reduced mix PAV explains that, “the electronic music I’ve loved over the years has always had a strong sense of melody to it, lots of pads and synths and more on the emotive, even melancholy, side of things. So this is a collection of ambient tracks that reflect that, in some way, shape of form.” This is accompanied by a candid interview about his own relationship to self-care and is paired with CALM, a charity focussed on suicide prevention. To donate or find out more about their work, visit their website.
If you’ve enjoyed the music in this mix, PAV has provided some more medicinal sonics in the form of four Spotify playlists called ‘The Zone In‘, which he created for people to work to during the first lock down, with each compiled to work as a flow from top to bottom.
We now premiere all our mixes a week early on Mixcloud. Subscribe to our channel to listen first, download all mixes, and ensure that the artists included in each one gets paid. Read more about our decision here.
First a nice easy one: what does self-care mean to you?
For myself personally, it is taking care of my mind, body and soul. Understanding what you need to feel safe and content and what habits and rituals you can put in place on a regular basis that helps cultivate that sense of contentment.
The word content is really important from my perspective as a lot of focus gets put on being ‘happy’ but it is literally impossible to be happy all the time, it’s a transient state which fluctuates in and out so, by putting the emphasis on contentment, I feel it’s much easier to see what that baseline is and how to cultivate it. Also, it takes the pressure off trying to be ‘happy’.
The combination of all three aspects: mind, body and soul seems completely obvious but only something I’m really starting to think of more and put more into practice. I learnt the other day that the biggest nerve in the body, the Vagus nerve, goes from the brain, around the heart and around the stomach which to me sort of illustrates this point that self-care is a much more holistic pursuit than just one focal point.
I also think a huge part of self-care is doing stuff that you love, that puts you in the moment through the enjoyment it gives you. That could be as simple as having a mix on a Saturday morning or (pre-covid) deciding you were going to take the afternoon off on a weekday to go and watch a film in the cinema by yourself (personal favourite).
What does your daily or weekly self-care routine look like?
To prefix this answer, I have struggled with my mental wellbeing since the beginning of my 30s. I got to a point where, after having worked for 10 years straight at what were deemed ‘great companies’, had loads of fun, surrounded by great people etc, I realised that I didn’t love the work I was doing. And more importantly, for me, I didn’t really have a clue about who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. The really existential stuff that slams you in the face.
The impact of this has mainly shown up through anxiety, a stingingly critical inner voice and low sense of self worth. Within that there has definitely been some depressive elements too. Because of this I’ve always put a lot of emphasis on my physical wellbeing and, at times, probably too much.
One thing I am really grateful for is that before I got slammed in the face with some of life’s existential questions, I had already been in a really good habit, from a fitness point of view, for a few years which has stood me in good stead but is definitely only one piece of the ongoing puzzle. Quieting the mind, for me, is the real battle.
Over the years there have been lots of different iterations of my self-care routine. Right now, I’m trying to cultivate a daily routine that taps into a little bit of mind, body and soul.
As I have a very racy mind, that can lead me off into all sorts of negative thought patterns, routine and structure are really important for me, particularly in the mornings as anxiety is highest then. This structure gives me a framework that allows my day to be calmer and more productive. It sets me off on the right foot. So, my current daily self-care routine is this:
– Get up at 6am
– Glass of lemon water and a green juice (athletic greens)
– 5 minutes of breathing exercises (breathwrk app)
– 10 minute meditation (headspace app)
– 10 minutes journaling (this is really new and still getting used to it)
– A Mushroom coffee (four sigmatic) with MCT oil and 20-30mins of reading (non fiction – no news or social media)
– 20 minutes of stretches and strength exercises
– 10k run / 10k dog walk alternated
– Eat dinner ridiculously early, like your grandma might
– Daily gratitudes: this is something my wife and I started doing at the beginning of lockdown last year over dinner. We each say 3 things we’re grateful for that day and then 1 ‘G’ that is specifically about the other person. This, I’ve found, has a surprisingly powerful effect.
– Rate my day: this is something I got from the author / researcher Jim Collins who, every day, rates his day between -2 to +2 with -2 being a really bad day and +2 being a really great day, with then increments of -1, 0, +1. The idea of it is to highlight that you may have your down periods / phases which, in the moment, seem like the majority but if you look at the bigger picture, there are going to be chunks of time when you are doing well. Super simple and helps create perspective.
– Bed, ridiculously early and reading (fiction) till I pass out. I find big, epic books, like Hyperion really do the trick.
Looking at that routine listed, it probably looks a bit ridiculous and a bit militant. And mornings definitely aren’t for everyone but it’s what works for me, at the moment. I think everyone’s version of this, whatever that may be, should really be focussed on what works for them. For example, my wife’s approach is very different to mine.
Can you tell us about the self-care spot at home you’ve photographed (above) and how you’ve optimised it?
This isn’t actually where I do my morning bits as otherwise you would have a picture of a chair in a not so nice kitchen. I shared this photo though as it’s the spot I work from and spend a lot of my time during the day. I have possibly the worst attention span and focus going, which does really impact on my mental wellbeing as well and feeds my racy mind, so it’s really important that I have a zone that I know I can achieve a sense of focus, as best I can.
It’s spacious, really light and has just the right amount of bits and pieces around to make it feel cosy. Alongside this I also have an incredible sound system that my dad’s friend used to make for mastering studios (there’s two big subs for it under the desk so it’s pretty full and enveloping).
It’s a space I love to work from and I think it’s important to cultivate a zone where you’re really happy working in, whatever shape that may take. If i’m uncomfortable in the space where i work, the first thing that goes is my focus and attention and then it all spirals from there. Lighting plays a massive part in this for me as well. Office lights actually make me physically sick.
Can you tell us about the outdoor location you’ve photographed (below) where you go to find tranquility.
This is Victoria Park on a pretty cold winter morning (was taken last year). I’m pretty lucky I have relatively quick access into a number of parks and could have picked a few but I love running and walking around Vicki park. If I’m running around it, then I’ll have an ambient playlist on and over the years I’ve had some pretty euphoric, endorphine highs running in the morning. It really calms the mind and sets you up for whatever the day has to throw at you.
What benefits has self-care brought you over the years?
I find it difficult to look at it from a point of view of really specific benefits. I think it’s a more broader, holistic benefit that you might not even notice until one day you catch yourself and are like “hmmm, I’ve been really good this past week”. Tracking stuff, through journaling and, as an example, the rate my day thing I mentioned, also gives you the opportunity to see this and not just rely on you happening to notice it. I think it’s really important to notice when you’ve had good patches because it’s all too easy to notice the bad ones and think that’s the majority.
It’s important to point out, it really is a constant journey, with lots of moments of feeling like you’ve taken a tonnes of steps backwards as well as forwards. Which is totally ok. For me I don’t think there will ever be a point where I’m like “I’m fixed” and the quest for that rigid end point will more than likely lead to more struggles. But, if I were to zoom out and look at my journey over the years I think my mind is probably at the calmest, least critical, it has been for a long time. And that, for me, is a massive win.
Are there any specific techniques you favour or come back to more frequently?
I think walking is the most underrated self care ‘technique’ out there. I’ve had a dog for seven years so it is the nature of having a beast. But, it really dawned on me a couple of years ago the wellbeing power of a good walk. For me it is just an incredible energiser. I can leave feeling terrible, racing thoughts, bad mood and almost always feel revitalised and full of ideas when I come back. I usually have a podcast on when I’m walking, quite often on topics of wellbeing or interesting people, things they’ve done and achieved. Real life inspiration and learning.
I’ve dug into this quite a bit and read a few books about walking and there is now quite a bit of science about the benefits of walking on depression, mood, stress, focus, creativity. It’s almost laughable that one of the easiest thing’s for anyone to do, if you have the privilege of being able to walk, is actually one of the best remedies for a lot of the problems we often have with ourselves.
Running provides a beautiful physical effect and feeling, which I love and definitely clears the mind. But walking, for me, connects the mind and body and gets the two in motion and working together in a really positive way. I feel like through the lockdown of last year and now, more and more people have cottoned on to this, which is a great thing.
Another thing, which isn’t really a technique, but I think it plays a huge part in your overall well-being: purpose. What I mean by that is having something that is guiding you, something that you’re trying to achieve and striving for, something that you want to make happen or something that you fundamentally love doing and plays a huge part in your life. A life direction.
I realised, ultimately, that the reason why I was struggling so much was because I didn’t have this. Once I was in the relationship I’m in now, it shone a massive light on this other part of my life – what I do and why I do it. And this lack of purpose has probably been the greatest source of discomfort for me over the years and a big trigger in my mental wellbeing. For some people it might not be the cause, or part of their well-being issues, but for me it definitely was.
The reason why having this sense of purpose is so important, for me at least, is because it becomes this centre point that, whenever stuff is tough, you can come back to it and it gives you a bit of anchor. It gives you a focus, a sense of perspective and a sense of direction. It helps you progress.
It’s a really painful awareness to have of yourself because it isn’t necessarily a quick fix and requires quite a bit of work. I also wouldn’t say I’m totally there, but I feel over the last couple of years, this sense of purpose has become clearer and having it really helps to offset some of the more everyday challenges that occur.
There is a quote that I love which for me sums up the importance of purpose amazingly, by the author and civil rights activist, Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive”.
What advice would you have for anyone who is either sceptical about the benefits of self-care, or is new to it and feels intimidated by the wealth of options available.
I think you just need to look at the science and the benefits, the practices that have been around longer than we have and are now starting to have more awareness – such as Breathwork – or have massively mainstreamed – Yoga / Meditation being two super obvious ones.
The issue, perhaps, with any scepticism is two fold: 1. Around the label itself, ‘self-care’. It sounds a little pretentious and off putting. What we’re really talking about is looking after yourself and others. Doing things that give more to you than they take. Actions for the self but also actions that are selfless. 2. A majority of people might not face any negative issues until later parts of their life, so proactively thinking about self-care and taking action as a preventative isn’t very top of mind. It’s not until a crisis hits that there is a need to consider ‘self-care’.
There is definitely a ton of bullshit out there, I don’t like a lot of the language used around it. I find it really off-putting, and I think there is a lot of over-selling and disingenuity around it. Loads of people promising quick fixes. More than anything it can be overwhelming about where one might find an entry point that works for them, confused but lots of ‘experts’ saying do this or do that. I also think, looking at the people I’m surrounded by, it’s still a challenging space for men to feel comfortable in, or even accept they need.
In terms of advice. My first point is, I am no expert and I’ve been lucky in that my mental wellbeing issues, whilst feeling big and existential for me, are not at the point where I can’t function. If you are in that position then speak to professionals.
My second point is that you are not alone. I don’t think I know one person in my life, whether they’ve admitted it or not, who hasn’t struggled or are struggling with their mental wellbeing. I really do think it is a fact of life for most human beings.
I would also say, take the pressure off. Self care is a long, long game. A life game. If you buy into the idea that self care is about mind, body and soul then identifying one thing you could do to benefit each area might be a good start point.
Understanding how you recharge and get your energy is really important to understand. I’m an introvert so I need plenty of solitude and solo time to feel good and ready for the world. If you find physical exertion easier, then develop a fitness routine as a start point and then look at other areas which you’re not so comfortable with e.g. meditation or therapy. If you find the mental side of stuff easier to address, start there and move to physical stuff afterwards.
Finally, I would say consistency and persistence are crucial. The annoying thing about the mind is: a) It is literally designed to fuck with you and; b) It takes the forming of habits and practices to shift the patterns of thinking which can create feelings and thoughts such as anxiety. I’ve still got trains of thought that have been around for decades, I’ve just learnt to lessen the power they have on impacting my overall wellbeing. If you find something that seems to work, nurture it, ruthlessly protect it, respect it and build from that.
Also, if you’re of the loose willpowered variety, like myself, then committing to something paid-for might be of use, if that’s an option. Over the years I’ve done quite a lot of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with a therapist and have found that to be a really useful framework to look at things. One of the fundamentals of CBT is around how to address your thoughts. My thought patterns over the years had become so rigid and demands-based, unbeknown to me, that when those demands weren’t met, I would enter into these trains of thoughts that would just snowball, be so enveloping and create a lot of anxiety. They were really destructive yet quite addictive / comforting at the same time. The practice of CBT helps you cultivate a more flexible and accepting response to thoughts. Being able to bring some awareness to those thoughts, understand you are not your thoughts and see them from a distance to process the truth or usefulness of them is really powerful.
There is an acceptance mantra that I developed through going to CBT which is worth sharing as I think it can take the sting out of those moments when you are deeply lost in negative thought patterns: “I am a normal, fallible, human being. Just like everyone else on the planet, with exactly the same choices. I choose to accept my positives. I choose to accept my negatives. I choose to accept myself fully. For I am exactly where I need to be. In this moment, right now.”
If you’re interested in CBT, then it could be worth speaking to your doctor, to see what support is available.
What was the idea behind your Reduced set?
I love ambient music. It is the music I listen to most of the time, from working to going for a run. I think there is something really quite medicinal and healing about it. This abundance of sonic textures that can wrap around you, move through you and can zone you in or out. The space the music provides kind of allows you to sit in it without distraction. Within the broad spectrum that ambient music encompasses, I tend to gravitate towards the area where there is still quite a strong sense of a song composition vs. it being purely spatial. Where there is something that gives it a bit of shape and rhythm, however abstract that might be.
The electronic music I’ve loved over the years has always had a strong sense of melody to it, lots of pads and synths and more on the emotive, even melancholy, side of things. So this is a collection of ambient tracks that reflect that, in some way, shape of form.
I’ve compiled it to (hopefully) work as a singular listening experience with some ups and downs, light parts and darker parts, some more balearic moments through to some more ravey, euphoric bits. Was great to be able to put my MasterSounds analogue effect box to use to add some extra delay on certain tracks and stitch things together a little.
If you manage to get through it in one sitting, then I hope it would leave a sense of audio nourishment. Like you’ve just had one of your five a day and that you’ve been cuddled by some nice sounds for a few hours.
Assuming it may not be a super familiar area for some, I’ve also included some tracks which I would deem as ambient ‘classics’, if there is such a thing. ‘Melt’ by leftfield, ‘Twilight’ and ‘A Wonderful Life’ by Carl Craig, though admittedly it does have some loose drums towards the end. ‘Orange Coloured Liquid’ by Spooky and more recently, ‘Cyber – Ambient Pass’ by secretsundaze, ‘Olson Waters’ by Alex Kassian and ‘Paradise Engineering’ by Barker.
How would you advise listening to your set? (eg. environment, mindset, preparation, what senses to engage and how).
A question I’ve never been asked before but best situational listening advice would be: accompanying you if you’re got a really meaty bit of work to do and you want something to zone you in and help you focus for a few hours. Taking it for a long walk or a run (I honestly can’t recommend running with ambient music enough). If you happen to be in a sunny and warm place right now, then a good sunrise or sunset, or just rolling around a field somewhere. And maybe, when clubs return, unwinding after a good stomp.
What does good mental health mean to you?
Good mental health to me is having a calm mind, being present and being in ‘flow’ as much as possible.
In a way it’s about getting ‘out of your head’ and not being trapped by the thoughts that are always going on within, which can be so addictive. There is a great quote by one of the stoic philosophers, Senica, which says “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
For anyone interested, I would recommend reading the book Flow, the Psychology of Happiness by the scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He studied something like 150,000 people to understand why some people were ‘happier’ than others – though I would still say it’s content vs. happy – and it’s really interesting. Kind of goes back to the point I made earlier about your mind being designed to fuck with you. It’s not exactly a page turner but I’m pretty sure everyone reading this will have experienced a state of flow (optimal experience) many times in their lives, particularly if you make music or DJ, so it’s interesting to understand the basis of this, as I think once you do, you can think about how to cultivate those optimal experiences more. And, equally, have an awareness of when you’re not and what might have caused it.
Are there any experiences with mental health that you’d like to share to provide comforts or connections with others who are/have suffered? Dark times you’ve left behind you, or difficult moments you still struggle to overcome?
I think your body really is a good indicator of what might be going on and yet I don’t think we listen to it as much as we should. Gut instinct / intuition is so important to tune into. I took this job that I shouldn’t have and I knew on the first day, almost the first second, that it was wrong for me. It was the thing that really gave me anxiety proper, and it got so bad that on a few occasions I would actually have to go and be sick in the toilet. I’m not sure a paycheck is worth that. I should have left on day one and yet still stayed there for a year!?!
Going back to my earlier point about purpose. If I’d had something that was guiding me then: a) I wouldn’t have taken that job because it wouldn’t have been serving that purpose; or b) I would’ve been taking it because it served a greater good e.g. helping me save to do something I wanted to do or funded a passion / side project and therefore I could have reconciled my issues with the job against that. So many of us are stuck in work that we don’t enjoy and sooner or later it will catch up to us on some level and leave us really unhappy, so cultivating that ‘what and why’, is really important and I don’t think it’s ever too late to start.
I totally appreciate that given the last year, a lot of peoples’ worlds have been turned upside down, particularly on a work front, myself included. And for many, just having a job is the most important thing right now. I bring the work happiness / purpose point up because I just think it is such a fundamental part of our overall wellbeing, seeing as we’re likely to be spending most of our time doing it.
The other massive trap, which is so, so hard not to do, is comparison to others and those you deem to be better off than you, in whatever way that takes shape. It is probably one of the biggest, most destructive forces that exists and I’ve certainly wasted more than enough time in this space (and still do). I think this is where gratitude can play a huge role. Really noticing the things that are good in your life, or have happened that day – however small and insignificant they may seem – really does distance you from what you think you don’t have, that others do. A ridiculous example to give but whilst writing this I was just noticing how intently and lovingly my dog licks his plate clean after he’s eaten. So much TLC is given to that plate, it makes him so happy. Day in day out, always the same passion. And, noticing that little thing, appreciating it, just gave me a little good feeling bump.
What advice would you give to people who are suffering from poor mental health and either can’t understand why or don’t know where to turn?
Again, I want to say I AM NO EXPERT but, I would say, from personal experience, if you think you are suffering from poor mental health then you have an awareness of it. You’ve gone from being a passenger in something that’s happening to you to understanding that something is going on that isn’t right. That in itself is massive, and a huge step. If you have awareness, you can start to take action. Speak to your friends and professionals and start to go on a bit of a voyage of discovery that can hopefully provide some ways to help. In amongst the struggle, learning about what’s going on and trying to affect it can actually be quite fun and rewarding in itself.
Whilst having an awareness that you’re struggling on some level is so important, I’ve found being aware can have its own challenges because of that shift from being in it, to aware of it, can create a heightened sense of angst. Its very easy to slip into victim mode (whyyyyy meeeee). It’s really important to be compassionate to yourself as much as possible. Another useful quote, which is Buddhist (I believe): “if your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.“
Based on experiences where others have helped you, what advice would you give to those who are close to someone who’s suffering but doesn’t know how best to support them.
This is quite a difficult one to answer as I myself, have always tended to suffer in silence and take quite a solo approach to addressing this stuff, which isn’t healthy and definitely not the best approach. Getting stuff out of your head as quickly as possible means it doesn’t sit, fester and grow stronger. Unfortunately, I’m much better at giving advice than taking it a lot of the time.
I have a very strong protectionist ego that has been given a lot of power through some ‘dinks in the road’ of life, which has steered me very clear of opening up and being quite fearful. I’m often more comfortable speaking to people I don’t know about this stuff (eg. a therapist, or even a random) than a close mate. I’ve definitely got better at this and I think the best piece of advice I can give is to regularly check-in on the people you think are struggling.
A bit like grief, I think there are probably different stages that people can be at with their mental wellbeing and unless the person invites you in and opens up to you, the best thing you can do is: check in with them, make them know you are there for them and make sure they’re safe.
How is mental health viewed in your own culture or immediate surroundings? Have you faced challenges getting support if/when you needed it from your community?
I am a cis gendered, white, hetrosexual, able-bodied male so I have a huge number of privileges and advantages attached to this and afforded me. My struggles are minor in comparison to what a lot of other people experience.
I would say that my friends are pretty open and progressive in their world views but I do think this is still a really closed subject on the whole. Much more so on the male side of things, unfortunately. There just isn’t enough comfort in being vulnerable man to man yet – and I include myself in that – and therefore a lot gets brushed under the carpet in order to present a position of being ‘great’, ‘really good thanks’.
I take a lot of inspiration from my wife on this and her close female friends. They have a sisterhood circle (a simple whatsapp group) for the sole purpose of celebrating each other and being a space to share difficulties that are going on. Being on the other side of the sofa to witness this, I have seen how powerful this community is at both providing comfort, security and support. It’s like a security blanket made up of incredible women.
I did start up an attempt at something similar for a group of my male friends, ironically titled ‘the big up boys’. It was really well received and deemed necessary, which was great, but it never really caught on. It is just not an instinctive trait to share what is going on for most men. It really is a behaviour that has to be learned and invested in, which takes effort and time with no immediate, obvious benefits. It is there however so I do think that’s a great step.
Are there any initiatives or sources of knowledge doing important work in mental health that have benefited you, that others should check out?
I listen to a lot of Tim Ferris podcasts. He definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but he has amazing guests and I always learn something. He’s also really struggled with mental health, attempted suicide and is really open about it. He’s got a great TED episode on Fear Setting, which is kind of a reverse goal setting.
Some books for the readers out there:
- Philosophy for Life: and other dangerous situations, by Jules Evans – He was a teacher on a course I did, who had severe social anxiety and used philosophy as a way of dealing with it.
- The Daily Stoic, by Ryan Holiday – A collection of 366 meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living.
- The War of Art, by Stephen Pressfield – A great book that looks at how to get unstuck. Not about mental health per se but if you find procrastination a trigger for your mental health then it’s a worthwhile read.
- Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach – Looks at how Buddhist teachings can help deal with fear and shame.
I’ve also just come across this therapy practice called IFS (Internal Family Systems model), which has really resonated with me, which I can see being of huge benefit, so I’m going to look into this more.
Can you tell us more about your selected charity, the work it does and why it holds a personal significance?
The charity is CALM. I don’t have a personal connection with the charity but its focussed around suicide prevention, something that is scarily on the rise at the moment, of which 75% are male.