Sadly (for some, anyway), this is not a whole post dedicated to the Von Trapp Family. Rather, it contains musings on the joy of music, and how great a tool it can be for managing periods of anxiety.
I must be honest and say that reading has and always will be my favourite way to spend my spare time. I read voraciously and my favourite part of every week is the Sunday papers. I love reading the newspaper so much that I don’t allow myself to open it until after 6pm; it just feels wrong to experience the joy before then. Yes, I have self-imposed rules to control the fun. Form an orderly queue, gentlemen.
However, in the midst of great anxiety I cannot read. This may be familiar to some of you: one of the first symptoms of a bout of depression/anxiety can be a loss of concentration. I always recognise a bad patch is on the way when I lose the ability to concentrate on reading. The anxious thoughts become so persistent that I cannot read more than half a page. The past few months have been quite turbulent, and I haven’t read a book for about two months now. I have found music to be an absolute godsend during this difficult time. On particularly bad days the thing that gets me through is knowing I can get into bed at night, pull the covers over me, plug in my headphones and shut out the world.
Apologies in advance for a paragraph of fan-girling, but it may help to explain that, having been a teenager during the nineties Britpop era, I’ve long-since been a wannabe rock chick. My brother and I loved the Stone Roses and (thanks to a BBC Wales signal pilfered from our neighbours in Ireland) I also had a deep appreciation of many Welsh bands. My love for the Manic Street Preachers should probably have been an early warning sign for the years of introspection that lay ahead! My musical tastes evolved at university into a love of anything with guitars, and particularly Irish bands. One of my happiest memories of undergrad life was seeing The Frames (amazing Irish band) play during Freshers Week. I have since seen them play on many occasions over the years with my lovely cousin Laura, and these memories are some of the happiest I have.
Anyway, the point is that as a music-lover, I’ve learnt how to use it as a tool to manage anxiety. I once dated a wildly unsuitable drummer who passed on the following tip to me. Before I met him, I never really paid attention to the component parts of a piece of music, but he taught me to listen out for the rhythm of the drumming from the very beginning of a song. And I’m here to tell you it works: if you are feeling anxious or agitated, turn on a piece of music and listen out only for the drums. Allow yourself to concentrate on the rhythm, blocking out everything else. Your mind may drift and the anxieties will crowd back in, but keep pushing them out and pull yourself back to the beat of the drums. By the end of the song you should feel less anxious, and if not, try another one and then another until you feel calmer.
I guess this is the same as trying to use meditation to quieten your mind, but personally I have never been able to master meditation as my mind won’t stop chattering to me when I try. However, the drumming trick always works for me. I feel duty-bound to warn you that this technique may leave you with a grá for drummers. Then again, there are worse problems in life than having an enormous crush on Nathan Followill…
More generally, music can be incredibly uplifting and a brilliant way to motivate yourself. I rather shamefully have a playlist on my phone called ‘Let’s go!’ (thanks to Andy Murray for that phrase) which is very heavy on the independent woman vibe. (My flatmate is less fond of this playlist). Containing lots of Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson and Rihanna, it’s great for creating a strong woman vibe in your head when deep down you actually feel like a scared little girl. And herein lies the magic of music: it can help you to escape your head and become anyone you want to be. You can dance around your bedroom and pretend to be a pop star and have some fun for a few minutes! There is a serious lack of fun involved in being a depressive, so seize every opportunity you can to get away from your thoughts and enjoy yourself. It may only be a few minutes, and it may be when you’re alone in your flat, but sometimes that can be enough to get you through the day or night.
And that’s what it’s all about: getting through. Keep getting through those dark days and long nights. The dawn will come and you will be glad you stuck around to see it. I know I am.