Dealing with Anxiety

Using music to cope

My grandma always told me that I was a “WW”. Also known as a worry wart. I was always concerned about everyone, everything, and just how situations would play themselves out. Even today, I deal with a certain level of anxiety. I would say it’s mostly the pressure I put on myself and the ideas of perfectionism. I think a lot of women struggle with anxiety more than they even realize. And here is one way I use music for dealing with anxiety.

I learned some really cool techniques in my undergrad as a music therapist. I learned a variety of music based interventions for mental health and how to use music to cope with anxiety. I’m going to share some of those techniques with you today.

To start, just think about what happens to your body when you’re highly anxious. You may have racing thoughts, sweating, elevated heart rate, shallow breathing, and heightened emotions. Since we process music in multiple areas of our brain, and our body functions rhythmically just like an instrument…we can address these automatic responses to anxiety by listening to music. The key is listening to music with purpose that are bodies naturally respond to. And there are certain types of music that adjust our bodies responses.

These two principles are the iso-principal and habituation. With the iso-principle it involves listening to music that is matches your current state of mind, mood, or racing heart rate. This looks like listening to music with a faster beat/tempo, more sporadic and complex. But instead of just continuing to listening to that music, you would start to gradually decrease the the beat of the music, change the mood of the music to a more relaxing sound. Imagine if you were anxious and worried about something and somebody told you to “relax”, “don’t worry” or “chill out”. If that makes you want to punch them in the face, then you might want to try the iso-principle when listening to music.

“[Iso-principle is] a technique by which music is matched with the mood of a client, then gradually altered to affect the desired mood state. This technique can also be used to affect physiological responses such as heart rate and blood pressure” (Davis, Gfeller, & Thaut, 2008).

Here is how you would create a playlist using the ISOprinciple.

  1. Start with the type of music you like!
  2. First song needs to be faster around 80 beats per minute, think fast walking music. This music can have lyrics.
  3. Second song needs to be slower and less complex. Possibly without lyrics.
  4. Third song even slower around 70 beats per minute. No lyrics on this selection.
  5. Last song needs to be something that would possibly put you to sleep. Very slow moving, think meditation music. Only 1–3 instruments.

If you are the type of person that gradually adapts to your environment, naturally responds to music, then you should try the habituation principle. It involves listening to relaxing music. with this principle the body will gently, slowly habituate to it. Similar to when you are listening to music at work or in the car and you start tapping your foot or nodding your head to the beat of music.

Managing anxiety can be that easy, by listening to music in the moment. But you might ask, “I can’t listen to music during a work meeting”, or “I don’t always have my music available”. To that I say, True! Using music to manage anxiety is a work in process, involving changing how your brain and body respond to music. Creating music memory for your anxiety or stress response in a positive way. So you have to practice it, just like the more you bake a cake…you memorize the recipe and it starts to taste better over time because you have perfected it.

Make playlists on your favorite music player for your practice and carry some headphones with you everyday. Keep your headphones in your wallet, car, desk, or bag.

Then plug in and tune out with this 5 minute Music Based meditation!

Originally published at on October 25, 2017.