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Stop Anxiety & Stress With a Musical Mantra

Harness your love of music at the times you need it most. Find a musical mantra to ground you during times of stress and anxiety.

My love of music runs deep, unfortunately so do my anxious tendencies. I suppose it was only natural that the two converged at some point in my life. Music has been a constant source of joy for me from a very young age. My older siblings and parents exposed me to virtually every genre of music, schooling me in various styles and types of music that have stayed with me to this day. Music has been a companion for me in all of my highs and lows.

Recently, I had a memory surface for me that reminded me that music also helped me cultivate some resilience when my anxious bud began blooming as a young child. I didn't know it at the time, but now as I look back on my childhood I can see that I was an anxious child. On the eve of every family vacation I always had some kind of unexplained illness driven by fear and panic about the uncertainty in the days ahead. I have vivid memories of being sick almost every week in grade 2. Looking back now I think it was actually my anxiety over math class that I didn't know how to handle, so instead I hid out in the nurses office! I was hesitant to go fast on my bike, go on carnival rides, or do any other fear inducing activity that most kids my age were thrilled to do. I didn't want more fear, I wanted more safety. I have a vivid memory from when I was about 8 years old out with my family on one of our countless summer road trips. I was laying on the floor in the backseat of our suburban (it was the 80's and seat belts were optional!) and I remember petting the chocolate brown carpet with my fingers. I was feeling scared, panicky, and ill. I didn't know what to do but I knew that complaining about it wasn't going to be much help. I think I complained a lot about my mysterious illnesses and after a while my family just tuned me out. We were listening to the Best of Bob Marley tape, and as I was petting the carpet in a frantic state the song "No Woman No Cry" came on. I loved bob Marley and so I tried to focus on the song. At one point the song shifts into a chorus of "everything is going to be all right, everything is going to be all right." It was as though I had found a little light in the darkness. I just continued to repeat this line again and again in my head and it helped me through this one moment. It made me feel safe like I had something soft to hold onto. The melody and the chorus were like a joyful little ear worm working its way through me pushing out all the tension and making space for some light.

Here is the song. My little musical mantra kicks it at the 4 minute mark....

After that day this became the little song I would sing to myself when I felt the yuckyness coming in. There was something about the music paired with this lyric that formed some kind of alchemy. Someone could have told me to just repeat the phrase "everything is going to be alright" when I was in a frenzy, but my guess is that I wouldn't have cared, that it would have felt like well intentioned adult advice that had no meaning in my little world. Not like music, music mattered to me, songs mattered- melodies, rhythms, lyrics all of it, the whole package mattered deeply to me. Telling myself to calm down was just words without a soul, but a lyric felt like a thousand sounds holding my hand. Repeating a safety phrase, or a mantra to help keep you grounded is the kind of thing that adults or well intentioned people tell the anxious to do. I had been told many many times before that I was fine and that it was all for to be ok. But it wouldn't resonate with me. But when I sang this lyric in my mind, when I held onto the melody and the rhythm- this felt right. Music was the magic ingredient for this message. Music has become a tool for me to help shape my day, manage my feelings, and keep me grounded. In her wonderful book "Tune In" by music therapist extraordinaire Jennifer Buchanen (a former teacher of mine!) she discuses how to use music in an intentional way in your life, creating playlists to help you feel certain ways at certain times. A brilliant idea for those of us looking for another tool to help manage an impending panic attack or stressful time. Finding the right song for the right moment. Finding silence when sound is too much. Exploring new textures of sounds and rhythms when you are feeling uninspired. The opportunities are endless... There is a wealth of research to show that music can have a powerful and transformative effect on healing, but anyone who has been moved by a song doesn't need further convincing. So what happens if we try to replicate this little inspiration from my childhood and find our own song, or own melody, our own inspirational tune? What would your song be? How can it help you during your next moment of need? Here are some ideas and a process to help you find your own musical mantra.... 1. Write down 3 songs that you love. These are your, desert island top 3 "I am going to listen to them on replay for the rest of my life and never be tired of" kind of songs. :) 2. Next get a pen and piece of paper and collect the songs listen to them. If you don't have access to them anymore try finding them on YouTube or Spotify for free. Listen to them with your eyes closed (wearing headphones if at all possible!) with your full attention and awareness. At the end of each song write down any words or phrases that really stood out for you. They don't have to be particularly positive or uplifting maybe there is just something that connects with you about them. 3. Notice how each song makes you feel after you listen to it. Does it lift you up? Bring you down? Make you feel nostalgic? Write out a few words that describe the feeling you have when you listen to that song. 4. Look back at your notes and see if there is one phrase or line that makes you feel grounded or happy or alive, or something that you want to feel more of. 5. Sing it-out loud in the world if you can, while doing the dishes, or in the shower. Or at the very least sing it in your mind. Find a way to sing it, let it mix around your mind and body a bit. 6. Next time you are feeling a certain anxiety, yuckyness, stress, uncertainty. Notice that feeling and then prescribe yourself some musical mantras as a remedy.

Share your Musical Mantras on the Blog or the Workshop Muse Facebook page! If you are looking for another healing ear worm or lacking inspiration to find your own here is a new amazing song I just discovered waiting to be sung in a moment of need by Montreal Band Plants and Animals.

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