Relax to music. Soundtrack your workout. Build a playlist around a mood. All good. How are they working for you? For your family and friends? Want some new ideas to help engage deeply with the best self-care tool of the last few thousand years? Here are two novel ways to use music for relief of fear and anxiety.
Courage is an important result of relief from fear and anxiety, and we will get there, too. First, we’ll explore the mechanics of using music in a novel way as we connect music to fear. Then, we’ll use anxiety to discuss how to choose the “right” music. Finally, we’ll greet courage as a very welcome opportunity and a natural result of the work we’ve done with fear and anxiety.
In our era, the old adage “sex sells” is rapidly succumbing to a new one: “fear sells.” The media get this and offer lots of opportunities for us to engage with fear – and with the advertisers paying for its promotion. How does anyone respond to that with power? Ignore it? Stiff-upper-lip it?
Courage in the face of fear is different from ignoring fear. Music can boost our courage, sure, but first, we need to dig into what scares us to release the aspects of fear that shackle and immobilize us. Only then can we really be ready to engage courage.
Don’t get all caught up in mindset-based thinking please; trying to think your way out of an unwanted emotion is psychological suicide.
A Two-Step Intervention for Fear Using Music
To prepare for that courage we all want, here’s a two-step intervention for fear using music:
- Find your fear song. From your shortlist of music you love most, choose the one song that’s scariest. Don’t have a scary song? Movies are a good place to search for scary music; the shower scene music from Psycho is a good one. So are the curated mood-based playlists on idagio – Classical music can free us in some ways from the need to depend on the words to understand the mood in the music. Spotify also has some offerings, such as the Music of Fear playlist.
- Feel it fully. With the one song you’ve chosen for fear, put on some headphones, set your music player to “repeat one,” find a comfortable, safe place to listen, and just be with that music in your ears for as long as it takes. Get good and scared – you’re safe and fear is just an emotion you’re allowing right now. Let all the stuff that frightens you appear in your mind, notice it, and invite the next scary thing to come up. Do this until your mind stops offering scary stuff or you just get tired.
The evidence behind connecting an emotion to music is that the emotions process through us more quickly. Often, the processing itself can be energizing, even when the emotions are those we don’t like. If science isn’t your thing, rely on your own self-evident experience to determine what works for you.
You may feel very wrung out after your first listening session – that’s to be expected. With practice – keep using the song that does it best for you – you will build new neural pathways that become durable built-in conduits for reliably relieving fear, and, like physical exercise, repetition will strengthen your resilience.
Anxiety is a more specific form of fear: distress and worry about the future; the opposite of joyous anticipation. The opportunity here is to be even more specific with the music we use – music that helps focus and relieve the fear of what could happen. What music supports your anxiety-free forward focus by facing anxiety head-on?
As with fear, it takes courage to face anxiety, especially when the future seems empty of joyous anticipation, but for right now, the objective is simple: relief. Courage will come next. So, in another way, music for anxiety is also music that specifically anticipates courage. It’s music that transforms the unwanted aspects of one feeling we don’t like (anxiety) into other aspects we do want (anticipation).
That’s so important to understand! Those fear-based traits in anxiety can become powerful fuel for anticipation. All you need is a kind of catalytic converter to transform them. Music does that.
Music to Use for Anxiety
So, what’s your song for anxiety? As with fear, you only need one. Your one song may be different from anyone else’s and that’s OK. Unlike your song for present in-the-moment fear, your anxiety song needs to connect you with future fear – worry about some unwanted, terrifying unknown possibility.
Many people find that Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana is powerful for anxiety. When you hear it, you may recognize it – it has been used widely for this reason.
Scary movies are always a useful place to start hunting for anxiety music. If you are a fan of American Horror Story, for example, you’ll already be familiar with its expert use of anxiety-producing music, not just in the theme, but also as a subliminal lead-up to the many dramatic, scary moments that make AHS emotionally compelling.
You may want to try several different songs to see how they work on you. You may find that they have more than one kind of effect. Adrenalin-based feelings such as terror and fear can easily be led by visual or musical imagery, and AHS composer James S Levine has a great collection of possibilities on Spotify here. As you listen, notice how the music works both for anxiety and a kind of dark anticipation – at many times during his music, I feel terrified expectation and a desire to just get it over with! That’s the perfect kind of response you want for the anxiety song you choose.
Now, put your anxiety song to work the same way you did with your fear song: on repeat, with headphones, in a safe place without distractions. Listen until you’re spent. That’s when you’ll find relief, and the opportunity to welcome courage authentically and fully – not just as a willpower mindset, but as holistic energy for physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual action.
The remarkable thing about courage is that its emotional power is so closely tied to fear and/or anxiety. That is, without fear and anxiety, what reason would we have for courage? The relief we feel from fear or anxiety contains energy, too, and rather than just willing ourselves to be brave, which cuts us off the supply of energy in fear and anxiety, this novel musical practice of allowing feelings we don’t want also transforms the energy in those feelings for good.
When you’re wrung out after listening to your fear or anxiety music, take that beautiful, vulnerable moment to engage your music for courage. (Yes! You do have music for courage!) You’ll find yourself much more connected to the power in courage once you’ve safely shed the unwanted emotional aspects of fear and anxiety.
The best part? Practicing – listening with intent – to your song for fear or your song for anxiety or any other purpose-based song – develops and strengthens those durable neural pathways that help you re-wire your response to fear or anxiety triggers. And, since our guidance system – our brain – doesn’t know the difference between an actual sound and an imagined one, when you recall your music, your system responds almost immediately with the effect you’ve been practicing. You get relief, followed by the opportunity to engage powerful, holistic courage.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Most of us have a lifetime of unexperienced fear and anxiety to release, which is why practice is so useful. Practicing – intentionally listening to – your fear and anxiety music relieves some of that built-up pressure and strengthens a durable response to real-time triggers when they happen. And they will.
As you practice, drop your best songs in the comments below. As they begin this journey, other readers will want to know what’s working for you.
And, as always, Music Care is here for you. We offer breakthrough music consultations at no cost. Use this link to claim yours now.
Two Novel Ways to Use Music for Relief of Fear and Anxiety
This article is used by permission. It originally appeared on YourTango.com