Getting over the overwhelm: Music Therapy and Anxiety


In one of the more extraordinary weeks of 21st century UK politics - where perhaps one of the more interesting points of note during the commencement of Parliament’s longest proroguing in possibly ever was the Welsh MPs protesting the shutdown by singing Calon Lan with harmonies - we could be forgiven for thinking that anxiety seems to be on the rise in the UK.


In fact, it’s pretty difficult to find accurate statistics about the causes of anxiety in the UK. Social media, economic uncertainty and a perceived increased dependence on technology often have the fingers pointed in their direction, but conclusive proof of that is another matter.


What does seem clear is that anxiety is becoming more common in the UK with those who experience severe symptoms. It’s been reported more since the 1990s, with only some of the increase due to people feeling more open to reporting symptoms. Statistics also tell us that women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men, and that young people aged 16-24 are particularly susceptible to experiencing anxious symptoms.


One of the most difficult aspects of anxiety is the overwhelmed feeling that can strike out of nowhere, suddenly feeling unable to cope and not knowing how to express the well of energy, feeling and emotion bubbling up from the inside.


How can music therapy help?


This is where the advantages of trying out a service that isn’t dependent on language become most apparent. The biggest benefit of music therapy for people with anxiety is that you don’t have to talk about it unless you want to - the therapy isn’t dependent on that. If it’s too difficult to use words, for whatever reason, it may feel easier to play instead, using any of the instruments available in the room or through singing.


Alex*, 23, came for music therapy after feeling overwhelmed due to changes at work - cost-cutting and job losses meant he was having to take on more tasks within his department, not all of which he felt equipped to know how to deal with. He felt completely out of his depth and like he was drowning in paperwork. He had been in bands as a teenager although had largely forgotten a lot of his guitar playing - but wanted to try and get over what he felt were unmanageable emotions and was curious to see if a more creative form of therapy might do it.


Sat at the piano Alex began to play long, slow, expansive clusters of notes - it didn’t matter which notes. He began to sing high phrases, quietly at first but building through a crescendo to something much louder, mirrored in his piano playing. His therapist sat nearby, accompanying his play on the cymbal.


A moment came where the music was loud and felt busy, with lots of notes played at the same time and not feeling rooted in a key - it was in danger of becoming too much. Together, Alex and his therapist decreased the volume slightly, with Alex still singing, gradually slowing down and decreasing in volume more until the improvisation came to a natural finish. Where Alex felt with words he felt overwhelmed, his music was able to hold his feelings and manage them - he was able to experience a surge in energy, but survive it.


To find out more about how North London Music Therapy could benefit you or someone you know experiencing anxiety, contact us here.

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