The night before an AP Physics test my senior year of high school, I walked up to my dad in my house kitchen and collapsed onto the ground in tears. This was my worst anxiety attack. Tension had been building in my mind throughout the semester. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what caused it, and that was the scariest part.
Throughout high school, anxiety had a crippling effect on my life, but only after that incident did I decide to properly confront it. This task was a long process. I talked to friends, saw several therapists, and confronted personal issues I previously didn’t know existed. My therapist I ended up sticking with, and still see to this day, gave me a list of easy–to–do tools to prevent anxiety attacks. I still keep a photo of that list on my phone: breathing exercises, fidgeting with things in my hand, analysis of the anxiety. My dad gave me this little white, wooden robot toy that I would keep around me at all times. In moments of minor anxiety, I would twiddle it in my hands, giving me a quirky, sensual serenity. However, the device on this list that worked best for me was music. Of course, it wasn’t a total cure, but it acted as a band–aid when I needed it most. I felt I could just place earbuds into my ear, close my eyes, and immerse myself in a different reality where my issues were nonexistent. Music transported me to a place of peace and calm.
Although I’d obviously listened to music before, I had previously just been a casual listener. I enjoyed radio pop and had a music library that didn’t explore further than the iTunes Top 10. Music was just a thing—I had enjoyed on occasion, but it was not something I had ever truly appreciated.
Once I began to understand music’s effect on me, I started to explore my musical tastes. I searched for what made me feel best. Depending on the struggle I faced, I needed the perfect voice, genre, and sound to take me away. Anderson .Paak makes me feel bubbly inside. Tame Impala gives me an odd, psychedelic pleasure. And Chance just fills me with pure joy. Music could help me regain control of my feelings and bring about total changes in my emotions. I began to create associations with songs to certain positive moments in my life. At times I was feeling up, I would listen to music to further fuel that positivity, and when I was feeling down, I would play those songs back to engross myself in those pleasant times of the past. My junior year of high school, I obsessed over Kendrick Lamar’s song “M.A.A.D City.” Anytime my friends granted me the AUX cord in their cars, I would blast it. The song brings me back to those times of high school, driving around with my friends and simply enjoying each other’s company. Now, although by no means a calm song, “M.A.A.D. City” puts me at ease with every listen. I’m reminded of the moments of ecstasy in life and the pleasures as simple as driving around with friends.
Thankfully, anxiety doesn’t plague me the way it once did, but the discovery of music has stayed with me. Music still has the power to calm me. At moments now in which I suddenly feel an unexplainable pit in my stomach and as if everything is caving in around me, I’ll find some solitude, sit down, and plug in my headphones. Sometimes, it takes 30 seconds for the effect to kick in, sometimes longer, but it always remedies my struggles. A few weeks ago, while studying for a midterm in the Van Pelt basement, my mind began to clog and I began to feel the helplessness that often preludes panic. I walked upstairs with my phone’s music library in hand, sat down in one of the 3rd floor carrels, popped in my earphones, closed my eyes, and pressed play on Frank Ocean’s “Nikes.” As that moment, when I heard the words “These bitches want Nikes,” this often claustrophobia–inducing carrel transformed into a place of comfort. I sat for about 10 minutes listening to Blonde, then returned downstairs feeling cleansed and in control.
With music in my back pocket, I feel safer. I have a tool on my side in beating my once debilitating anxiety. I truly believe that I rarely find myself uneasy anymore because I have the anxiety–fighting device that is music. Part of anxiety is its trapping nature, that it’s all–encompassing, and the ceiling feels as if it’s caving in. With music as my escape hatch, I have taken away one of anxiety's most powerful pawns. With music, I have disarmed anxiety of one of its strongest weapons.
Now, when I feel anxiety coming on, I’ve learned to channel my go–to artists to calm me down. Typically, music that is soothing with an R&B, soul feel is most effective. Anything by Frank Ocean will do the trick. Artists like Solange, Sampha, and Daniel Caesar have similar powers. These artists all produce soothing beats filled with deep, often relatable lyrics. They pull me out of reality and simply just make me feel good inside. At times when I feel despair and hopelessness, lyrics about love and life make me appreciate the beauty of what is going on around me: I have health, people that support me, and the mysteries of life to look forward to. Sampha’s “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” declares, “No one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home.” The nostalgia of this song reminds of all my positive memories of my carefree, naive childhood and experiences with my family. As Sampha’s velvety voice comes on, I’m transported to a place where I feel at ease, surrounded by the people I love. When I listen to Daniel Caesar’s ballad to a girl who completes him on “Best Part,” I think of girls I’ve had feelings for, family I want to please, and friends I want to spend more time with. I become eager to devote myself to the people I care most about and excited to hopefully receive their care back.
At this point in my life, I often don’t just appreciate music for music’s sake. My listening experience goes beyond a temporary audio–aesthetic pleasure. It provides me relief and safety when I need it most. It gives me confidence that everything will be okay and that there is so much potential in the world I have yet to tap. The right music for me is not just something I want. It is something I need.