For as long as I can remember, music has always been part of my life. I have always felt a connection to music, despite having no talent of my own. Growing up, there was always a different CD in the car to sing along to. I used to “perform” karaoke to my teddies in my bedroom. As I got older, I was going to gigs nearly every week, constantly listening to up and coming bands, or listening to my favourite artists for the 1000th time. I always loved the idea of singing and performing, but alas, I am not gifted and resemble more of a strangled-cat-meets-child-on-helium kinda vibe.
People often write about their struggles with anxiety or depression after they have found some sort of lifeline and come out of the other side. They often reflect upon a darker time while standing in the warm glow of a newfound light, adding a new perspective borne from looking deeper into themselves and self-healing. Not me.
I have suffered from anxiety for most of my life, although I didn’t realise or seek help for it until I was around 22. When I was a teenager, my mental health went through the wars a bit as I was experiencing a lot of negativity in my life. It was then that I discovered the quote “Music speaks when words fail.” Music did speak to me when I couldn’t express into words how I felt.
I used to describe my anxiety to people as being similar to the buzzing of a refrigerator: it was always there, but it always blended into the background of life and I only noticed it when I stopped to listen for it. On occasion, my anxiety would become “loud” and overpowering, but it didn’t affect my life regularly until I began university.
As a rational and logical person, I find it incredibly uncomfortable to know that I am letting myself be governed by irrational fears. It is the strangest feeling to recognise in yourself that you are being irrational and then watch as you complete the irrational act anyway. The sense of powerlessness is extremely discomforting. But this is where music comes in for me.
How listening to music helps my mental health
Music for me is a great form of escapism. If I’m in a good mood, it elevates and supports that. But if I’m feeling a bit low or anxious or paranoid about something, music is a great way of taking my mind off things. It gives me something to focus my mind on to stop it wandering. Personally, I’ve found that different types of music work better for different moods and even different times of the day. For example, if I’m anxious and panicky in the afternoon, I find that upbeat pop music helps to relax me. Whereas if I feel like this in the evening or whilst in bed, listening to piano and instrumental music works far better.
Music also helps my mental health is less direct ways. Music provides a relatively easy connection to others – something that I can have trouble with and worry a lot about. When I find someone with the same taste in music as me, I instantly feel more relaxed and comfortable around them because I know that I have something in common with them. It calms me that I know I have a topic of conversation to talk about and removes some of the social anxiety that I experience.
It’s not just about listening to music…
Since moving back home, I’ve joined a pop / rock choir. Despite not being able to sing in the slightest, I’ve always loved it and for someone who is quite shy, I really enjoy being on a stage. The adrenaline and excitement of performing weirdly does wonders for my anxiety – yes I’m nervous beforehand, but in a controlled manner. And afterwards, man I feel so empowered and proud of myself for what I have achieved.
As part of the choir, I feel united to the rest of the group and I feel part of something. It’s hard to describe but I feel I have value and worth and I don’t feel alone. We always say we’re a choir family and although we aren’t all super close friends or anything, I know I can rely on the choir and the people involved with it to lift my spirits.
Going to concerts and gigs with anxiety
Again, like performing, I weirdly don’t get too anxious about concerts even though I don’t do well in rooms of crowded people. I think because I know that everyone is there for the same reason and I’ll have that connection to them, it doesn’t seem as daunting.
Going to gigs is one of my absolute favourite things to do and it brings me so much joy. Being fully immersed in this otherworldly experience where nothing else matters except what is happening in that room is something I will never get over and I hope to enjoy throughout my life.
Concerts and gigs are also a great opportunity for a shared experience with family or friends. It encourages you and gives you purpose for leaving the house and whilst it may involve other anxious experiences such as travelling, I always find these much easier to deal with when I know there is a ‘good thing’ at the end of it. It helps it all feel a bit more manageable when there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Does music help your mental health in similar ways, or do you have other coping strategies?