Music & Anxiety

Music & Anxiety - This piece was written in 2014 for Charlotte Hodgson's Dissertation whilst I was still suffering from my severe anxiety.

People say money makes the world go around, but what about music? Every day billions of people put on their headphones and listen to music, when they're going to work, on the train, bus or in the car. This motion helps people get through the morning or the day, it calms people down, cheers people up and even makes them emotional! It has been around for centuries, the Egyptians used it for rituals, in India they use music to charm snakes, even flowers grow faster if they are around music! It’s impossible to imagine the world without music - or is it?

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

I have anxiety and have had my whole life. It’s only recently I have got better. About 2 months ago I started listening to music again. For endless months I couldn’t listen to any form of music, not even classical, I couldn’t listen to any radio station, I muted every programme on television that played music, I became so controlling over the environment that I lived in, just to protect myself from having a music-induced panic attack. My whole world was silent, and in the silence was pain, suffering and fright. Anxiety sent error messages to my brain about music, the thoughts “No you can’t listen to that, it will make you panic, turn it off, get rid of it, quick” so I obeyed the message and every message I obeyed it became easier for my brain to send more of these messages, of which I responded to without thinking about it rationally. I protected myself from remembering the past and horrible memories of which music always brought back, this is why I couldn’t listen to it! But why couldn’t I listen to any form of music? I had trained myself to turn off anything and everything that made me panic. I became so afraid of any music, I was a recluse, staying in my bedroom for weeks, not going anywhere, not even with my family, because the thought in my brain was always “If you go out there you might hear something and that will make you panic”. If there was no choice and I had to go out there, any form of music changed my mood so quickly, I would go from being marginally stable to completely irrationally in seconds, panicking, wanting to control the environment, panicking again because I couldn’t control the environment.

“In a lightning flash as it were, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake, the thing that had not lasted ten seconds before I felt myself a wreck, that is, reduced from a state of firm vigorous, joyful manhood to one of almost helpless infancy” William James - Psychologist and Philosopher.

“It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.” - Benjamin Britten

But the clue is the fact that these were error messages, and by responding to them, I was only fuelling them. My doctor recently told me to stop listening to them and do more, and having done this I noticed that I started to listen to more of the music which I like, however, my music tastes have changed going through 2 years of severe anxiety and silence. Different kinds of music help anxiety, to sooth emotions, one with anxiety should listen to something that is happy, uplifting and interesting. For me at one stage I found classical music calmed me down, I could listen so carefully to the different instruments and appreciate how beautiful it was. But as I got better I began to listen to more music with lyrics. I still very much enjoy listening to classical music, but life needs variation, and with anxiety, I need something that will sometimes frighten me, so I get used to it. Music is so powerful, it affects emotions, it can bring back a memory from so many years ago, because you heard at that exact time, in that instance and in a few seconds you remember a whole memory. This was partly the problem I was having, but because I have anxiety, any form of music affected me severely. It is a fact that the type of music you listen to affects the way you perceive the world. The truth is, I think music helps my anxiety in certain situations, I now enjoy listening to Radio 2’s morning show on the way back from home, when a few months ago, I couldn’t have the radio on at all. However, certain pieces of music tend to increase my anxiety dramatically. It’s near impossible to explain why I didn’t want to listen to any form music anymore, apart from the fact it brought back disturbing memories. I’m still in denial about liking some forms of music, but sometimes I listen to it to escape my world of silence.

“Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.” - Ludwig van Beethoven

By George David Hodgson

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