Self-Care Through Singing: Trauma, Resilience, and Representation in Musicals

Stacey Shade-Ware smiles at the camera with music stands, a microphone, and others in the background
Stacey getting ready to sing with the American Military Spouses Choir

“Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that'll never stop,


Pressure that'll tip, tip, tip 'till you just go pop,


If you enjoy musical theater or have children, you have probably heard these lyrics. If you have younger children, you may have heard them over and over again. They are from “Surface Pressure” sung by Jessica Darrow, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda in Disney’s Encanto. As of the writing of this post, the official video had more than 46,000,000 views.

I will admit when I first watched Encanto I was not terribly impressed, though the songs in Miranda’s signature style are quite catchy. I have two little girls, 3 and 5, and for those of you with children or grandchildren, you know that they must watch something like Encanto again and again and again. So, suffice it to say, I had the opportunity to really listen and pay attention to the story more than once.

**SPOILER ALERT! Discussion of a characters in Encanto.**

Conversations about Encanto, “Surface Pressure,” and the character of Luisa have been making the rounds in both my military spouse and caregiver circles since the movie came out. We were all touched by the film but seemed to be drawn especially to Luisa’s story. Luisa is a strong woman. This is her gift — her superpower. She is so strong, she can carry donkeys or pallets of bricks as if they weighed nothing. She can move buildings with her bare hands. She is called upon by the whole village to literally do the heavy lifting. But she is overwhelmed. She feels the pressure because she is the only one who can help in this way. As Luisa begins to reflect on that overwhelming pressure, she starts to lose her abilities. She starts to question herself altogether.

As military spouses, we are told that we are strong. Strong for supporting our active duty military member by living through so much turmoil: moves, deployments, separations, unaccompanied tours, geo-baching, injuries, unstable political turmoil in the world, etc. Then, as veteran spouses and caregivers, we are told that we are resilient for caring for our loved ones. But all this talk of strength and resilience takes a toll on our self-worth. We are only those things in terms of what we do for others.

Like Luisa, I often feel like “under the surface I'm pretty sure I'm worthless if I can't be of service.” She is tired. She wants just a little free time, relaxation, or respite. But she can’t take time off because she is the only one who can do what she does; everyone relies on her. How many caregivers have felt this to their core? Too many. We are often exhausted. Just a little “me” time, that’s all we need. But we cannot possibly stop taking care of our loved ones. I’ve tried to take time for me but I get that nagging guilt that I should be doing something to help instead.

The truth is that “me” time is SELF-CARE. I preach self-care to the others all the time but I am absolutely terrible at it. There’s a saying that goes something like, if I don’t make time for wellness I will have to make time for illness. If I don’t care for myself first then I won’t be able to take care of others.

So, this past month I have really tried to be intentional in my self-care and carved out ME time. I started building plans for personal development by finding things that help me feel more like me. Yeah, I am so bad at self-care I don’t even know what it looks like. I went to my medical and mental health appointments without guilt of missing something at work. I moved — did some yoga and took walks. I cooked healthy foods and baked treats. I crafted/sewed (although technically this was in service since I was mending a garment but it was still fun for me). And, of course, I sang.

Singing is one of those self-care activities that is fun and helps me feel better both physically and mentally. It relaxes me and helps energize me. It can be music I’m learning for the American Military Spouses Choir, the latest pop, a little power ballad from Muse or Queen, a favorite sea shanty, lullabies to soothe kids, the latest Disney hit, or whatever is playing on the radio. It doesn’t matter if I know the lyrics or not, I can still sing along, harmonizing or not. I breathe in deeply and let the music move through me.

I know music is good for me and my brain. Singing changes your brain. Singing releases endorphins and happy neurochemicals like oxytocin. Even listening to the music you love will make your brain release more dopamine. So, I need to make music part of my daily self-care. Even if it is just singing in the shower. And now — thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda and my two girls — I can sing “Surface Pressure” to really remind myself that self-care is not selfish.


Encanto was released to cinemas on November 24, 2021 and available on the streaming service Disney+ on December 24, 2021.

Comments (1)

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Singing is medicine! Thank you for this!