This week I have the privilege to share a post from guest blogger Maya Benatar, a music therapist and psychotherapist in New York City. I've felt music's influence on me and on my moods throughout my life. Whether I'm dancing, driving with the radio cranked up, seeing live music, or using music for background entertainment, I find that it generates some very strong emotions. I love that Maya incorporates music into therapy. Check out her ideas on using music to manage anxiety, and leave a comment below!
I have found that the kind of music that helps people with their anxiety can vary greatly. Some people can really sink into slow and peaceful music that helps them breathe and calm, while others really need to move the anxiety out energetically – to “shake it off”, so to speak (apologies to Taylor Swift!). Some people love toning, and others have no idea what it is (if that’s you, keep reading!). You may find that on certain days or in certain situations you respond differently to different types of music. This is completely typical – music is not a “one size fits all” kind of thing.
Here are some ideas to try – if music is not part of your self-care routine, there’s no time like the present to start.
1. Sound it. Toning is singing a vowel sound, or syllable, for the length of an exhalation. Some vowel sounds I like to play around with are “ah” “oo” and “ee”. Take an inhale through your nose, and as you exhale allow the sound to slide out on top of the breath. It doesn’t matter what pitch you sing, the quality of the sound, or its duration. Just imagine your anxiety flowing out of your body with the tone. Try 5-10 of these and see if you notice any physical or emotional shifts. You can experiment with toning on low or high pitches, different vowel sounds, lying down or sitting up. You may notice that your voice will sound different depending on how you’re feeling physically, the time of day, or your mood – that’s perfectly okay. Toning is more about the release of emotion and sound, and much less about sounding like a rock star.
2. Listen to it. Experiment with different kinds of music to listen to. Sometimes when you’re anxious you may need to listen to something upbeat and rhythmic – try 80s music or hard rock or disco or whatever you like. At other times, you may find your anxiety soothed by slow, calm music – I’m personally partial to the cello, but there are many genres and artists that could potentially soothe you – maybe classical or Erykah Badu or John Legend. Allow yourself to not know exactly what will work for you, and give yourself some time and space to figure it out. You may be surprised by what you find – often my clients with anxiety feel soothed by music that’s not “typically relaxing” and that’s more than okay! Notice any pre-conceived ideas about what music you “should” find relaxing. Be open to something outside of the box – one of my go-to songs for anxious moments is “On My Way Home” by Pentatonix. Not your typical relaxing Bach piece, but it works for me!
3. Move it. This ties into the listening mentioned in number 2, but movement is often helpful for anxiety. Whether that’s dancing, playing air guitar, drumming on your steering wheel, or doing yoga to music is up to you. I also suggest noticing the rhythm and energy of your body as you move through your anxiety – what would your anxiety sound like if you played it on a drum? Where do you feel it in your body? What part of your body feels easy and free, instead of anxious? Sometimes anxiety needs to be expressed as it is – in its shakiness and stuckness – rather than just soothed. This relates directly to how sometimes you may need to have people hear and validate that you’re anxious, rather than just soothe or placate you.
4. Be still. If reading or journaling or meditating doesn’t work for you, perhaps try making a ritual of sound and stillness. You could sit quietly with eyes closed and listen to one favorite song, play a small bell or singing bowl – let each tone fade away before playing the next, or simply sit quietly and listen to the sounds around you, whether you’re inside or outside. See what sounds you notice if you pause right now, just for a moment. You may notice the sound of your own breathing, people around you, birds outside – or something completely unexpected!
Music can be a powerful way to practice gentle self-care and reduce your anxiety. What kind of music helps you feel less anxious? Leave me a comment below – I’d love to hear from you!
Maya Benattar, MA, MT-BC, LCAT is a music therapist and psychotherapist in New York City. She helps women slow down their busy lives, reduce anxiety and worry through creative expression & become confident and calm in relationships, at work, and in everyday life. Maya also offers engaging presentations for healthcare professionals, educators, and stressed out adults. Get Maya’s free guided relaxation audio track to slow down and practice gentle self-care today.
Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis therapist who helps people manage their anxiety and stress.